As a veteran homeschooler (I am in my sixth year of homeschooling my two sons), I had heard of Andrew Pudewa's writing products many times. I knew, for example, that they were spoken of highly by my homeschooling acquaintances, but my first real contact with his products came when I was handed the materials from this poetry memorization program and given the opportunity to review them.
Thus, I began flipping through the spiral-bound, softcover book, trying to get an initial understanding of Mr. Pudewa's writing/teaching techniques. I read through the book's 12-page introduction (more on that later), and my interest was piqued. Out of the blue, I called Mr. Pudewa and began to pump him for basic information about his writing theories and his methods of teaching writing.
No, I told him, I have not had the pleasure of listening to any of your other writing seminars. No, I have not had the opportunity to review any of your other writing materials. Yes, this is my first exposure to your theories and techniques. Poor Mr. Pudewa. He started from the beginning (how he teaches writing) and caught me up to speed. Therefore, if you, dear Reader, find yourself in what formerly was my position, if this is the first Andrew Pudewa product that you have researched, please feel free to pop on over to my other review of Mr. Pudewa's foundational writing program, Teaching Writing: Structure and Style (TWSS), for that is his bedrock program of writing instruction. In that review, I discuss his techniques for teaching writing and the contents of his writing programs. This poetry program that I am about to discuss is supplemental and does not teach writing.
If it doesn't teach writing, what does it do? It teaches linguistic development through poetry memorization. What on earth does that mean? Yes, I also found the title a little intimidating, but now that I've become very familiar with the program, I can translate the title for you. Here we go!
Andrew Pudewa for Dummies, Part 2: His Poetry Program
According to Mr. Pudewa, one cannot pull out of a brain what was not there to begin with. For example, if one has not learned algebra, algebra will not be stored in one's brain and therefore cannot be pulled out of one's brain upon demand. This seems elementary to many of us. My brain, for example, has no stored up knowledge of the Chinese language. Should my brain be required to regurgitate Chinese, it would fail miserably. According to Mr. Pudewa, this helps explain why many students have enormous difficulties with writing skillfully.
Most students today have very few stored language patterns in their brains. Mr. Pudewa asks us to look around at the linguistic environment surrounding students today. The average student on an average day sees or hears spoken language from peers, the media, his or her family, and maybe (if very lucky) from books. Peers are not known for their extensive use of sophisticated language; the media (TV, electronic games, or popular music) is no better. Contact with family members or adults conducting conversation using sophisticated language patterns is usually brief to nonexistent. Book reading, even when undertaken by accomplished bibliophiles, often does not result in the internalization of that book's sophisticated language patterns because accomplished readers (I am guilty of this myself) are usually quite skilled in skipping portions of the text for one reason or another (like skipping scenery descriptions in order to get to the action) or reading so quickly that the wonderfully written text is not internalized for future regurgitation during writing.
So if talking to friends, listening to the media, eating dinner with parents, or reading a book doesn?t equip a student with the tools required to become an effective writer, what can be done? To begin with, Mr. Pudewa answers this question by telling you, in language that could not be stronger, to read aloud to your children. Read aloud to your children, he says, as often as you can, for as long as you can, regardless of their age or the fact that they might be otherwise able to read on their own independently. When you read to your children, you are not rushing; you are not skipping portions of text. Instead, you are concentrating wholly on the spoken word, and your students are given the opportunity to listen to the passage and absorb its language patterns for future use in writing. He believes so strongly in this that he tells parents and teachers that if they are having difficulty finding the time to read aloud to their children, it is better even to dump whole subjects from a lesson plan (or, better yet, convert those subjects to read-aloud subjects) in order to make room for large amounts of reading aloud.
In addition to reading aloud as much as possible (and/or supplementing with the use of books on tape), it is very beneficial to have students memorize poetry. Poetry, he says, is most effective for memorization because the repetition and memorization of poetry serves to internalize the sophisticated language patterns and vocabulary that can be found most concentrated in poetry. In poetry, you can hear and learn to use words not normally used, for a poet must use very sophisticated language patterns and vocabulary in order to write within the confines of poetic meter. In a well-written poem you can find sophisticated sentences, phrases, verbs, vocabulary, rhymes, and other building blocks of excellent speech and writing.
For hundreds of years, learning was done via memorization and recitation. Off the top of my head, without deep thinking or researching, the Anne of Green Gables book series and Little House on the Prairie series spring to mind. Anne Shirley was constantly memorizing elegant, complicated poetic works (and other writings) during her education (as were her peers). Laura, Mary, and Carrie Ingalls can be seen memorizing and reciting poetry, speeches, and Scripture verses (most concentrated in the book The Long Winter) also. Recently, our society has gotten away from this practice, but Mr. Pudewa believes that our students' writing ability will suffer greatly as a result.
It is for these reasons that Mr. Pudewa developed this poetry memorization program. In this program you will find poetry that he has chosen for your child to memorize. Young children, he says, are naturally drawn to humorous, silly, interesting, or unusual things, and his choices of specific poems were predicated upon different criteria. For example, if a poem was especially fun or if it offered classic value, he selected it. Any poem included in this program had to first be linguistically and grammatically correct, for he wants the children to memorize these poems in order to internalize correct sentence structure. He felt that it was quite important that the poems be appealing to not just girls but also to boys, and the more difficult poetry found later in the memorization program was often chosen for its depiction of excellent character.
Now the title of the program, Linguistic Development through Poetry Memorization, is understandable - meaning that this program was created to be a tool for developing a student's rich linguistic (or language) patterns by memorizing excellent poetry.
Program Specifics: What Do I Get?
When you order this program, you will receive two tangible items (if ordered as a set. Each of the two items can be purchased separately). The first is a softcovered, spiral-bound book containing roughly 84 pages of text.
The first 11 pages are an introduction to the reasoning behind the development of the course and the suggested use for the sets of poetry selected for memorization. Mr. Pudewa, also a violin teacher who teaches the Suzuki method, has suggested that the poems be memorized the same way that Suzuki violin students memorize musical pieces. For example, a memorized poem is to be repeated extensively in order to make certain that the poem is mastered. In this way, Mr. Pudewa has included in the program booklet a set of charts that are to assist with the Suzuki routine of poetry memorization.
Next in the book are the four levels (or sets) of poems (there is a Level Five to the program, but Level Five is a list of suggested speeches and soliloquies to memorize) arranged by difficulty. Level One includes 19 poems and is the level with the most basic, least complicated, and shortest poems in the program. These poems range in length from just a few lines to five or six small paragraphs. The poems are often funny, and most of them are entertaining and would be fine for even very early elementary students to memorize. My 7-year-old son, for example, loved them and had no problem memorizing them. I would say that at this time he would probably stick mostly with the Level One poems (with some Level Two poems thrown in).
Level Two is to be memorized after all 19 Level One poems have been mastered. Level Two poems are more complicated (longer, more serious) than the Level One poems. The 19 Level Two poems include some that I learned in school, such as "Jabberwocky" (Carroll) and "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" (Frost). I would say that the Level Two poems would be quite easy for my sixth-grade son to memorize (after he has mastered the Level Ones, he would continue on quite comfortably into the Level Twos and later into the Level Threes), while my first grader would probably need to stop somewhere in the Level Twos until he is a bit older.
Level Three poems become even more complicated, more mature, and longer. I could see a sixth or seventh grader perhaps tackling the Level Three poems slowly, after Levels One and Two. As with the prior levels, Level Three contains 19 poems for memorization, such as "O Captain! My Captain!" by Walt Whitman.
Level Four contains 19 poems that are the most complicated in the program. In Level Four you will find selections by Shakespeare, Melville, and Sir Walter Scott. Level Four is the last level in which the pieces are published in the booklet in their entirety; Level Five that follows is actually a list of the titles of speeches and soliloquies that can be memorized after all of the poetry from Levels One through Four have been mastered.
Following the five levels, Mr. Pudewa has included a short section in which biographies of the writers are given (just a few lines per author). When you purchase the complete program, in addition to the spiral-bound book you also receive a package of three CDs and a DVD in plastic sleeves enclosed in a hard plastic case. The CDs are of Mr. Pudewa reading the selected poems dramatically, and the DVD is part of a seminar that he gave in which he discussed in more depth the reasons for the development of the poetry program (as set forth briefly above in this review and in the first few pages of the program's spiral booklet).
The CDs of Mr. Pudewa reciting the selected poems are absolutely beautiful and masterfully produced. He has a lovely, rich speaking voice and a flair for the dramatic. He does a fabulous job reading the poems; it is a joy to listen to them. It is also helpful, if you are going to be reading the poems to your children, to first listen to him read them in order to fully understand and appreciate the poems (and to work out the pronunciation of the difficult vocabulary - I'm not kidding when I say that the vocabulary in some of these poems is much more complicated than I could handle on my own). The discs and the spiral book come together as a set for $65, or the book itself can be purchased for $24; but Mr. Pudewa's recitation of the poems is so very charming and well done that it would be a shame to miss it (you would also miss the included DVD).
Areas That Could Be Improved
Most of the poems chosen are wonderful, deep, meaningful, lasting poems that are well worth memorizing. The recordings of Mr. Pudewa reciting the poems are well done and very entertaining in and of themselves. But, as I always say, there's no such thing as a completely perfect curriculum, and as such, it is my job to point out areas that could be improved.
While I don't think that this is a major downside, the DVD of Mr. Pudewa giving part of a seminar could be improved upon (basically it looks like a recorded writing seminar was cropped and placed on DVD for inclusion in this product). The first four minutes of the DVD are audio only, and once the visual kicks in you watch Mr. Pudewa standing in front of a white board at close range for almost an hour and a half. He's a wonderful lecturer, and he treats you to pieces of a dramatic reading of "Jabberwocky," but all in all the production quality isn't the greatest, and I think it could be shorter in length without sacrificing depth. However, even though I?m critical of it, I'm glad that it's included along with the program's CDs, because those who are not already familiar with Mr. Pudewa's other programs will be well served to watch it.
Also, while the spiral-bound book is clear and well organized, I found myself annoyed that the Level Five offerings (a list of the speeches and soliloquies recommended for memorization after the poems are mastered) were only listed but not included in text form. I would really like to have had those in text form (like the poems) and not just listed. Perhaps the speeches and such are so long that they would have added too much bulk to the spiral booklet? The reason for leaving them out is not stated, but I found myself wishing they were there. And no, none of them are recited by Mr. Pudewa on the CDs either (the CDs include Mr. Pudewa reciting all 76 of the poems from Levels 1-4 but not any of the speeches listed in Level 5). If he had chosen his favorite speech from the Level 5 list and snuck it in there, it would have been a nice touch.
Let's be brutally honest here. Part of the reason I'm annoyed that these weren't printed in the book is that I don't know that I'm smart enough to go out in the world and successfully find these speeches and such on my own. Pitiful, I know, but honest.
I am so thankful for some of Mr. Pudewa's heartfelt messages to parents/teachers that were included on the DVD. Hearing how strongly he believes in parents reading aloud to their children (and the many reasons why he feels that this is important) was so comforting to me. I have often hoped to make reading aloud to my children more of a priority, but, let's face it, life and other subjects get in the way and all of us are terrified of leaving "gaps" in our children's educations. But hearing Mr. Pudewa, a pioneer in the area of teaching writing, so forcefully advocate reading aloud to my children has given me the freedom to make reading aloud a very high priority for our home. For this, I personally thank him.
Furthermore, I am thankful, as a mother of boys who are reluctant to write, to have a program written by a man who also used to hate to write and who understands how to make a writing program more attractive to boys. Of all the writing programs I have viewed (and there have been many), Mr. Pudewa's makes the most sense to me and gives me the most hope that I will be able to mold my sons into competent writers. The poems included in this program have been carefully chosen to appeal not just to girls but also to growing boys, and I am putting my eggs in the Andrew Pudewa basket (so to speak) in that I truly believe in his methods (which he has also borrowed from other great writing instructors). The program's methodology makes perfect sense to me, the poems are excellent choices, the CDs are wonderfully done, and the DVD includes some profound thoughts on writing. This latest Pudewa course is a winner.