I’ve been tasked with putting together a curriculum for CHS’s English department.
Carrie took me aside a while ago and told me that one of the reasons she hired me was so that I could re-work the entire English curriculum; she’s been doubtful about the way English as been taught at CHS for a while now (and I can’t say that I blame her, really; as far as I can tell, there’s really no plan at all there, and there really should be, both for the teachers’ sake and the kids’). She asked me if I’d be willing to start from scratch and put together an ordered, careful curriculum that would span all four years and hit all the standards for a college-preparatory school.
Of course, I said “yes!” What teacher wouldn’t jump at the chance to design his or her own curriculum? Is it a shitload of work? Hell, yes! Is it worth it? You betcha.
The thing is, though, I don’t want to do it alone. If nothing else, I am well aware of the limitations of my “box.” There are certain books and poems that I like to teach, certain movies that I like to show, and certain aspects of grammar that I feel have a firm enough grasp of to be able to teach really well. I don’t want to limit myself, though, to only those things that I think of.
This is where you come in, Dear Readers. I want your input.
Here are the basics. I’m looking to assemble four years’ worth of English classes – freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior – that cover the standards of reading, writing, viewing, and communication. I’ve done some surface investigation and have discovered that the curriculum standards for secondary school English are pretty much the same in most states; there’s some variation of the wording of the frameworks, but for the most part, they all want kids to come out of high school with strong communication (both written and oral), interpretive, and critical thinking skills. You can go to your own DOE and look up the specifics if you want, but I think that common sense will tell you most of what you need to know about what the kids need to know.
My goal for this is to create a template that addresses the skills and competencies the kids need to demonstrate, and then use that template to fill in the materials – the books, the exercises, the films, etc. – that the teachers will offer the kids to help them get to those skills and competencies. I want for the curriculum to be flexible – for the individual teacher to be able to scratch out this book in favor of that one, as long as s/he can justify the usefulness of the substituted text – because I know for sure that one of the things that drew most of our staff to CHS is the fact that we’re not told that we HAVE to teach THIS book to THIS grade level.
I’ve not committed anything to paper yet, but I’m envisioning a sort of scaffolding scheme. The freshman class will start with the basics; the elements of fiction, an introduction to the writing process, some introductary work with poetry and drama, and a little bit of work with persuasion and media. The sophomores will work a little bit more with what we started as freshman; taking their reading into a more critical exercise, introducing the some fundamental research techniques, digging a little bit deeper into poetry and drama, and beginning work on public speaking and persuasive writing. The juniors will start getting into extended writing projects that take on both informative and critical approaches to the reading and viewing they do, they’ll start to make connections between literature (in whatever form the teacher chooses to present it) and culture, and they’ll work harder on the ethical practice of research.
The senior year ties it all together; those kids will start looking carefully and critically at the way literature informs (or is informed by) culture and how we express our humanity through the words we choose to commit to paper. They’ll make connections between literature and history and they’ll think critically about the ethical responsibilities of being a consumer of literature. They’ll take their writing practice up another level (my goal is to teach essentially the same writing skills to my seniors in high school that I teach to my freshman at Local U.) and focus on using the rhetorical skills they’ve picked up in the earlier grades.
What I’m asking for from you is critque, reading suggestions, and stories about your best high school experiences. What books did you read that you adored (or which do you think it’s vital for kids to read today)? What lessons stuck with you, lo these many years later? What do you wish your teachers had done when you were in high school English class? What would you like to see teachers focus harder on today – what do you want YOUR kids to come out of high school knowing?