Great Books Foundations is an introductory literature and logic course emphasizing skills development in critical thinking, reading comprehension, writing, and dialogue.
Grade Level: 6th-9th grade (recommended for 6th graders only if they are advanced)
Schedule: Tuesdays & Thursdays, 10:00am – 11:30am Central Time. Classes begin the week of Labor Day.
Classroom Setup: The class will meet using Webex online conferencing software. The software is accessible for free and requires high speed internet to use.
Great Books Foundations ushers students into the journey of their liberal arts education. Designed for students approaching or beginning their high school years, the class focuses on honing foundational learning capacities. Students will practice the skills of thinking logically and deeply, critically engaging texts of various forms, and clearly articulating their ideas in both written and spoken contexts. Along the way, they’ll be introduced to the types of literature they’ll encounter in their future studies, as well as bits of history to help contextualize the literature they read.
The approach of the course is based on the belief that the most meaningful learning happens when we engage first-hand with the ideas that are important to our lives. With this in mind, the first unit focuses on logic, the basic skill set involved in evaluating ideas. As they learn to identify arguments and logical fallacies, students will cultivate their logic skills by examining the ideas presented in a broad scope of texts, from articles hitting the news today, to cartoons and advertisements, to the dialogues of Socrates and the exhortations of Paul. They will also practice using logic as they converse with one another in class discussions.
In the following units of the class, students will apply their critical thinking skills as they explore various genres of literature. They will cultivate the tools that enable them to reach mature levels of reading comprehension and to read actively for learning. The purpose of the reading units in the class is not only for students to read good books, but to learn how to read good books for all they are worth. When focusing on non-fiction texts, class assignments and discussions will guide students in tasks such as identifying how an author is using important terms, locating the central arguments of a text, and evaluating the author’s ideas. In assignments featuring fictional texts, students will consider what it means to immerse themselves in an imaginary world created by an author, how images hold a communicative power unique from that of arguments, and how “false” stories can lead us to a greater grasp on the truth. Fiction and non-fiction readings will include selections from C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, and more.
Throughout the course, students will hone their written communication skills in regular writing assignments. The writing component of the class, which is designed to integrate with the logic and literature texts of the curriculum, will walk students through the process of writing a précis, two expository essays, and a creative narrative. In addition to written communication, students will practice group discussion on a weekly basis in class. While some class time will include lectures, most class activities will require the students’ active, vocal participation. Since most students are hesitant about speaking in class at first, our discussions will get off to a rolling start, and pick up speed as the students gain confidence.
PREVIEW OF COURSE UNITS
Note: The sequence & structure of these units is subject to change before the beginning of the fall semester, but the unit visions and activities will remain largely the same.
UNIT 1 – Logic, the Art of Thinking
Unit Vision: To build the critical thinking skills that students will need to examine texts and ideas well, both in the classroom and in life. To lay a foundation for the textual analysis and discussions that we will be engaging in later in the course.
Activities: Learning how to identify and construct sound logical arguments, learning how to identify logical fallacies, finding arguments in “normal life” contexts and evaluating them, writing a précis of an argument.
UNIT 2 – The Art of Reading Non-Fiction
Unit Vision: To equip students with the skills to read actively for learning, to comprehend texts accurately, and to engage thoughtfully with an author’s ideas.
Activities: Learning how to pre-read a book for initial understanding of its scope and highlights, learning how to read actively by asking good questions of the text, interpreting an author’s use of key terms, outlining and explicating the central points of a text, taking reading notes, discussing the ideas in a text, writing expository essays about the text.
UNIT 3 – The Art of Reading Fiction
Unit Vision: For students to engage holistically in fictional literature, considering the poetic and affective ways in which stories and poetry communicate with us, and analyzing the themes and messages of stories.
Activities: Charting out the settings and plots of short stories, identifying the themes of stories, discussing the imagery used, taking story notes, asking wonder-provoking questions about the stories, and writing a creative narrative.
An ongoing Writing Component accompanies each unit during the school year, and entails instruction in writing précis, expository essays, and creative narratives.
BOOKS WE’LL READ
Much of the reading material will be provided to students in the coursepack. Asterisks (*) indicate the books that students would need to purchase for the course. Stay tuned for updates to this list, particularly in the areas of Greco-Roman mythology and history.
The Art of Argument, Classical Academic Press*
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis*
Excerpts from Dawkin’s The God Delusion
Excerpts from Socratic Dialogues, including Laches, Gorgias, and Phaedo.
Excerpts from the Pauline Epistles
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis*
The Song of the Sunbird, by Ryan Swindoll
“The Golden Key” and “The History of Photogen and Nycteris”, short stories by George MacDonald
Selected poetry by George Herbert
ONLINE CLASSROOM INFORMATION & REQUIREMENTS
The class will meet online using web conferencing software by Cisco Webex. The online classroom is set up with video, audio, and text chat features that enable the students and teacher to see each other and to communicate in real time conversation. A document-sharing space and a digital whiteboard help give a sense of place to the virtual classroom, as well as providing ways to incorporate visual elements such as photos, PowerPoints, sketches and notes into the learning environment. The software is free and easy to use, and corresponds with the online platform that students will use in future Great Books classes if they continue with the tutorials through Escondido Tutorial Service or one of the many other excellent online tutorial services available.
In order to make online learning work, each student needs to have the appropriate setup, including:
1. High Speed Internet
2. Quality speakers, webcam and microphone
3. A quiet, uninterrupted place to work on the computer for class.
Students lacking one of these three essentials will not be permitted to enroll/participate in the class.