Tuesday, January 6, 2009


The best part of teaching, whether for homeschooling or for a class, is the research and planning. I love wandering through the stacks at the library, or searching through all the books that are cataloged under the same call number as the title that brought me to that particular shelf. I can google for hours, cluttering my bookmark folders with links to all kinds of sites that I might never visit again. I love learning about things I never knew, and I love planning on how I'm going to share all this with my students. To me it is like the best part of grad school, without having to fret over formatting footnotes and bibliographies.

The current topic that has caught my attention is Beowulf, and the intended victim, er, student, is my 13yo son. He actually listened to the Seamus Heaney version a year or more ago, and was totally underwhelmed by it. How this can be, I just don't know. He is your basic fantasy geek -- plays D&D, World of Warcraft, collects dragon figurines and knows all kinds of dragon mythology. Has read most every fantasy novel shelved in the "Young Adult" sections of bookstores. Beowulf has all those elements, is the foundation for all the fantasy he loves, what was he missing when he first listened to it?

I've decided now is the time to do my best to bring Beowulf to life for him. I've read the material about it in the English curriculum we are using this year (Literary Lessons from Lord of the Rings), I've spent several hours on line and found a wonderful lesson plan (amid many awful lesson plans) that has taken one section of the poem and has it in the original Old English along with about 10 different translations. Coolest of all, in my opinion, was the recording of someone reading that same section in Old English.

So, yesterday morning, full of optimism, armed with great ideas, I launched us into a 2 week study of Beowulf. The lesson for the day, after going through an introduction to the work, was to listen first to the Old English recording, get a feeling for the alliterative meter, then compare 3 of the translations and decide which best captures the work and why. Is it better to have a prose version, or a more literal translation, or one that tries to capture the original meter?

It all started out well enough. The introductory material was interesting, so we moved onto the issue of translations. We listened to the Old English version which I thought was exceptionally cool and wanted to keep listening to. But my son wasn't so easily swayed by either the Old English or my enthusiasm. "Nah, I get it already. I hear the alliteration, I get it." Meaning, can we move on so I can hurry up and finish school?

I left him after that to study the translations and decide upon the best, and will hear back from him later today as to which he likes and why. Then we'll start actually reading and re-listening to the Heaney version, and if he still is unimpressed, then so be it. At least I know, after 9 years of homeschooling, not take it personally when the kids don't get excited over all this wonderful material.

1 comment:

  1. We've actually just finished Beowulf with our boys. Since they are 5 and 7 now, not quite up to Seamus Heany yet, but we read a kid's version as a read aloud. They loved it, particularly the gory parts. "Beowulf vs. the Romans" has now been added to thier Playmobil repetoire--not because he fights Romans in the story, but because they have lots of Roman Playmobil.