While the current English curriculum offers a limited number of course options for juniors and seniors, it is looking to offer a more diverse selection of electives starting from the 2020–21 academic year.
The new curriculum will offer six or seven semester-long electives available to both juniors and seniors, allowing the department to increase the number of elective courses from four to 12 to 14 per year.
Currently, all 11th graders—if not enrolled in AP English Language and Composition (“AP Junior English”) or American Studies—are required to take English III, which follows a set syllabus. Seniors need to take English IV or AP English Literature (“AP Senior English”) in the first semester, while choosing from four electives for the second semester.
Although there currently are electives offered to seniors in the second semester, the number of electives offered has been limited since teachers instructing a full-year English III course are unable to teach seniors in the second half of the year. Only a handful of teachers offer a small number of electives that students can choose from. Even this is not the case for many, as their schedules restrict them to a single choice.
The revised curriculum will place juniors and seniors in the same class, allowing teachers instructing both grades to offer electives, according to Mr. Tom Robertson, who teaches sophomore and senior English courses.
The system will give the room for teachers to ask themselves more nuanced questions, according to Mrs. Karen Gold, the English department chair. “What’s more interesting? What do people want to read about? What are some relevant skills and issues in the 21st century?” Creating new electives will require teachers to be responsive to the students’ interests and be more creative with the materials they are teaching. “This is as important to teachers as it is to the students,” said Mrs. Gold.
Electives will give teachers the choice to closely align their interest with the course they teach, Mr. Robertson said. The current curriculum does not give the teachers much wiggle room to incorporate topics of their interest as they must adhere to specific course requirements. A teacher might focus only on short stories, whereas another might offer a course on plays. Some courses would rely more heavily on dramatic writings, while other courses would explore poetry. Some courses may require students to craft personal narratives, whereas others might be focused on improving analytical skills. The change will “[free] teachers from expectations that have been placed on teaching Junior and Senior English in the past,” Mr. Robertson observed.
The English department is also considering expanding the curriculum redesign to ninth and tenth graders, who are currently placed in mandatory full-year courses. However, it seems that for now, the changes will only affect upperclassmen. “It is challenging to completely revamp something like this,” said Mrs. Gold.
“It was not so much about the subject but about developing skills for sophomores and ninth-graders,” commented Mr. Robertson, explaining that the students will be able to explore a particular subject of their interests more freely once they acquire foundational English skills.
“I think the department does a really good job of establishing foundations,” said Mrs. Gold. Once that foundation is laid, it is valuable for students to have exposure to instructors of different teaching styles, as students may not retain the same teacher for both semesters, she added.
The new English curriculum may also reflect more positively on college applications as it better reflects a student’s academic curiosity. Courses such as “Poetry of Witness” or “Evil in Literature” focus on more nuanced areas of knowledge than those designed for an entire grade. This will allow the college admissions officers to have a better understanding of the student.
Students will be asked to rank three top choices, before the academic office places them into the course that best fits their schedule.
But Mr. Robertson has his concerns, too. “It might impinge students to choose not based on their interest in the material but on their perception of the easiest teacher,” he said. “We do not want it to be a competition to see which one of us can make the easiest class so that we get high enrollment.”
Nevertheless, changes are never easy. “It is comfortable to teach the familiar. I wanted us to have the challenge of starting something new,” said Mrs. Gold.