Literature of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation

Posted on October 18, 2012

One of the things I love about homeschooling is the opportunity for students to read whole books rather than textbook snippets. Every Friday I teach 18 students in grades 9-12 as part of a weekly homeschool co-op, and it’s thrilling to see these young people reading and discussing classic literature.

We spend most of our classroom time on discussion, not lecture. I discovered several years ago that if I let students do most of the talking, they end up addressing most of the issues in my carefully prepared lecture notes. Encouraging them to think deeply about what they read, to journal about it, and to share their opinions in class has a much more powerful impact than, for example, giving multiple-choice tests about the factual details of the books.

Our literature books coordinate with the time period we’re studying in history. This year we’re studying the literature of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation. Here’s our reading list:

  • Confessions by St. Augustine
  • Beowulf
  • The Song of Roland
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  • The Inferno by Dante
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Fierce Wars and Faithful Loves (adapted from Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Book I)
  • Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton
  • Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
  • Selected poetry and essays

So far, Augustine’s Confessions and Beowulf have been big hits with my students. The Song of Roland didn’t go over so well; one student described it as “a morbid Dr. Seuss,” while another called it “a sing-along murder song.” I’ll be eager to see what they think about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight this week.

How do you teach literature in your homeschool?

P.S. – You may also be interested in these posts about the literature of antiquity and modernity:


One Response to “Literature of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation”

  1. Susan_in_LA says:

    Thank you for this post, Mary Jo. We are using King’s Meadow (American Culture) for the first time this year. Overall, I am pleased with what we are doing: reading journals. The children are thinking, not just checking off the boxes. I would like to “beef up” our literature studies a bit next year, however. Do you have any suggestions for how to do that? How do you prepare for/guide discussion? Any tips will be greatly appreciated! Susan

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