Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What's coming down the track in English

So just what is coming down the track for middle school students when they hit English literature in a US high school? asks one of my friends today..... This was in response to yesterday's posting which bemoaned the anemic English/language arts curriculum at our daughter's middle school.

Fair question. I answered by giving a run-down of the reading, writing, and other activities that happen in 9th grade at New Trier high school. I actually taught this curriculum up until two years ago, when we moved to Indonesia:

Students began the year having read The Hobbit as a summer assignment; that way we could hit the ground running with discussion and classwork on the Joseph Campbell's hero cycle and archetypes in literature. Upper level students (New Trier tracks students in each grade into four ability-based levels) went on to read and study the following in my class (not as outside reading -- although students were required to read four books outside of class as well):
Lower level students read the same -- minus Gilamesh and Siddhartha -- but added Up Country. Each student purchased his or her own copy of the books, and therefore could learn to annotate properly by writing in the margins and highlighting key passages.

At the same time, students were busy writing about the literature they read, cranking out at least one major expository paper per quarter, in addition to the journal writing, homework assignments, and other miscellaneous writing opportunities that popped up each week. Students also created their own websites and technology-based projects, studied and practiced oral presentation, and learned about -- and facilitated -- Great Books discussions on the literature they read. (There's more, but even I'm starting to find this tedious.)

Are those expectations high? Did the students work their rear-ends off? Was the amount of grading hellish? Were the results astonishing? Yes to all four.

Would my daughter and the other kids in her 8th grade class be able to handle this load next year? Now that's a harder question.....


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