Now in my fourth year of homeschooling, I’ve tried my fair share of literature curriculum for my kids. I’ve been on a search for diverse high school literature curriculum for the last two years, and if it’s free it’s even better. Curriculum can get expensive.
We’ve done Memoria Press, with its classical (borderline boring) approach to analyzing a narrative. We’ve tried The Good and the Beautiful, with its all-in-one packaged approach with a focus on “good and beautiful” books from romanticized times gone by. We’ve tried—with the best luck so far— individual novel study downloads from Teachers Pay Teachers, but with a lot of adaptation for homeschool since most are written for classroom teachers and tend to contain unnecessary “busy work.” Does my kid really need to write a sample tweet that Romeo might have posted after the party at the Capulets’ house?
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So I was thrilled to recently discover Fishtank Learning. This site offers free ELA Curriculum for grades K-12, in a unit study format. I hesitate to say it’s a full ELA curriculum, because there’s no grammar component. It does include literature, writing, and vocabulary. (They also offer a free math curriculum for 3rd grade through Algebra 2, but I haven’t tried that myself. And for 2nd through 5th grade, there’s a science and social studies component as well.)
The approach is centered on critical thinking with lots of discussion and analysis. They choose diverse texts that represent student voices and experiences. Which brings me to the point that this site was originally created as a curriculum resource for teachers in charter schools. It assumes the teacher has some knowledge of the subject and it isn’t a scripted curriculum. It aligns with state standards, is built on best practices, and is a rigorous program with lots of reading and writing. In fact, there’s a short writing assignment most days, with several longer essays over the course of the year in the upper grades.
Each year of study has an overall theme divided into unit studies that focus on various aspects of that theme. Take 7th grade, for example. The theme is the American Experience (my own name for it), and the units are 1) “defining America” in poems, short stories, and essays, 2) fighting injustice in Uprising and Flesh & Blood So Cheap, 3) “pursuing dreams” in A Raisin in the Sun, 4) “finding home” in A House on Mango Street, 5) “exploring identity” in American Born Chinese, and 6) “claiming our place” looks at the LGBTQ experience in the USA.
From a quick glance over the different grades, there is a clear intention to have Black, Asian, Hispanic, LGBTQ, and Muslim voices represented. For young children, it’s through folk tales from around the world. For upperclass students, the focus is on much more complex issues.
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Each unit provides the instructor with a summary lesson plan, daily lesson guides (with discussion questions, assignments, and more), unit prep materials, and assessments. Each unit also has a variety of outside texts, videos, and/or audio recordings for students to engage with as they study the anchor text. So, when you study Of Mice and Men, the students analyze it alongside the case of the Central Park Five and look at how mental health plays a role in criminal cases. When reading Persepolis, students watch a travel video about Iran, read different perspectives on the hijab from Muslim women, and listen to female voices from the Iranian revolution.
One thing I really like about the assessments is that they take the concepts and skills students learn in the unit, then ask them to apply those to a new text rather than just rehashing their comprehension of the anchor text.
Some details to keep in mind: For the high school levels there’s not a “British Lit” year and an “American Lit” year. There are several plays, but only one Shakespeare — Taming of the Shrew in 9th grade — although there is an archive of retired unit studies you can browse through to supplement.
The curriculum covers classics like The Scarlet Letter and Of Mice and Men alongside very modern (new release) books like All American Boys which will be more expensive to purchase. The supporting materials range from authors like Sherman Alexie or Barack Obama to (not joking here) Megan Thee Stallion. If nothing else, it should pique your kids’ interest.
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To that point, I do some picking and choosing when it comes to these materials. They’re written to be a support for teachers, not a scripted lesson plan you just open and read. I’ve chosen to focus more on anchor texts with only some of the supporting materials rather than all of them.
As a homeschool family, some readings may not (more likely, will not) align with your personal values. I know plenty of homeschool parents who draw the line there: if it doesn’t align, we don’t read it, watch it, or study it.
That’s not my approach.
I find reading these diverse perspectives to be a great springboard for discussion with my kids. We’re able to process an argument or perspective, analyze it according to our own point of view (which, to be honest, varies between our different family members), and compare it to Scripture.
And at the end of the day, my kids seem to see the world they really live in when they read these books, and that point of connection makes them much more interesting to discuss. I would pay for this program—and there is an upgraded version with extra resources that you can pay for—but I’m thrilled to have this diverse high school literature curriculum available for free.