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Holly Van Houten

Students will receive instruction from Holly Van Houten, who has decades of experience preparing young writers with the skills they need to succeed. In addition to teaching Literature and Writing at The HuckleBerry Center for Creative Learning, in Valencia, California since 2009, Holly taught in the USC Freshman Writing Department for 10 years, while completing her Ph.D. coursework in English and American Literature.  Holly has also taught in the English departments at Pepperdine University, California State University, Northridge, and California State University, Long Beach. She has helped young scholars become confident writers for over 30 years and has successfully prepared students of all abilities for college-level writing.

Novels to Knowledge
Writing with Robin Hood
Medieval History, Literature, and Writing

Live/Online Class

Ages 11-13

During this year long course on history, literary analysis and writing skills for middle schoolers, we will be reading Newbery Award winning novels, anchored by the classic tales of Robin Hood, King Arthur, and the Arabian Nights. These great works of literature will allow us to explore Feudalism, Life in a Medieval Village, Richard the Lion-Hearted, the Crusades, the Armor and Weapons of the Middle Ages, Coats of Arms, Tournaments, Medieval Ballads, Troubadours, William the Conqueror, The Battle of Hastings, Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Magna Carta, the Integration of Celtic, Saxon and French Culture, as well as Pagan & Christian Beliefs, the Quest for the Holy Grail, Castles, Cathedrals, Monasteries, health and disease (including the Bubonic plague), minstrels and entertainers, peasantry and village life; the concept of “freedom” in Medieval England, The Abbasid Empire - Folk Tales of Persia, Arabia, and India in the 9th-14th Centuries (today’s Iraq, Syria, Iran, India, Saudi Arabia), Mid to Late 12th Century Korea – social classes, homes, food, clothing, government, transportation, education, occupations – craftsmen (ceramics/pottery), 15th Century Poland – Slavic Culture, The Great Fire of Krakow, Alchemy, Copernicus, and the start of the Renaissance period.  


During the Fall Quarter, the Legendary Tales of Robin Hood will set the stage for our understanding of medieval England, but we will also read the Newbery winning Good Masters, Sweet Ladies! and Catherine, Called Birdy. These novels will give students a thorough overview of what life in the Middle Ages was like.  Our writing topics will explore the concept of honor. As we look at Robin Hood’s society of outlaws, we will consider what principles should form the basis of an “ideal” society, what rules should be established, how leaders should be selected and if and how new members should be allowed to join.  Students will consider if there is ever a time when it might be necessary, even right, for someone to break a law? Might a law breaker actually be a hero? What qualities make a hero?


During the Winter Quarter, we will begin with the Tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. As we read about the Knights of the Round Table, we will continue our look at the theme of honor, as we learn about their fight for right over might. Although the King Arthur stories take place in England, they emerge from a French storytelling tradition, so we will explore how these stories helped integrate French culture into England after the Norman Invasion. Many elements of feudal society will be explored as we combine our reading of the King Arthur stories with two fantastic, Newbery award-winning novels: Crispin, the Cross of Lead and The Door in the Wall. We’ll learn about castles and plagues and treachery, oh my! But never fear, we’ll also explore honor, truth, and courage, as we consider the ethical implications of feudalism.


Finally, in our Spring Quarter, we will take a more international perspective on the Middle Ages and focus on the power of storytelling. We will begin with tales from The Arabian Nights, exploring how stories shape and frame our experiences and memories. Having focused primarily on England in the Fall and Winter quarters, we will now branch out to medieval Arabia, Korea, and Poland at the cusp of the Renaissance period. We will pair our readings from The Arabian Nights with a novel of medieval Korea, A Single Shard, and a novel about late-medieval Poland, The Trumpeter of Krakow.  In addition to considering the power of story, these novels all share a focus on art and the power of the artist to change society. These stories each honor those who weave stories, craft exquisite artworks, and play the music that lifts our spirits and inspires our courage.


Using these stories of adventure, courage, and learning, students will hone their writing skills, as they explore Journeys as the powerful learning experiences they are.  I am confident that students will love these amazing books and will enjoy thinking critically about the significance of physical, mental, and spiritual journeys through history and time, as they write down their ideas about each book in essay form.  For our writing projects, we’ll be incorporating the "literary circles" approach -- where each student takes on a specific role (Character Analyst / Thematic Advisor / Historian) for each novel. Over the course of each quarter, students will write three essays (2-3 pages in length) related to their “role” for each book.  This class will take students step by step through the process of creating strong essays. We’ll be emphasizing the entire writing process – from planning through drafting and revision.  Writing well allows students to express their ideas, argue their opinions and demonstrate their knowledge.   As they write about these novels, students will go through the process of organizing, developing and clearly articulating their ideas -- an excellent way to learn about any subject.  We will use a Round Table Revision Workshop format to look at essays together, as a class, so students can also learn about the reactions their writing elicits from others and build their own critical thinking skills.  There is always a wide range of writing abilities in a class like this and every student just writes at their own level, challenging themselves to develop and mature as thinkers.  This class will be a great opportunity for students to work with their peers, as they enjoy some wonderful novels, learn many of the essential techniques of literary analysis, and hone their writing skills. 


In this class, we will be implementing technology to help us work on the Writing Process. Our classes will take place each week through live, interactive, and engaging online sessions, and we will utilize a variety of tools to enhance our classroom discussions and encourage collaboration (breakout rooms, polls/quizzes, video access, and screen sharing for our intensive essay revision sessions). The Zoom video platform will allow us to meet like a regular classroom for lecture and discussion purposes as we immerse ourselves in wonderful literature and the process of writing literary analysis essays. The class will also utilize Google Classroom for assignments and work-sharing both during class sessions and outside of class. Taking advantage of the incredible, collaborative power of Google Docs will allow us to share ideas and revision techniques far more efficiently. This class will be a great opportunity to enjoy some wonderful literature and practice essential literary analysis and writing skills.


NOTE:  There are no Materials Fees for this class, but parents must purchase the required books for their students. Holly will provide Amazon Purchase Links for the chosen edition of each. 



Holly Van Houten

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