Asking Important Questions
Middle School English teacher Bronwen Durocher discusses how students build skills to tackle difficult texts.
Our students focus on close reading and analysis of texts in increasingly interdisciplinary frameworks. We choose texts that expand and develop vocabulary, enhance students’ appreciation of various literary styles, and encourage an understanding of the world outside their own experience.
A course designed to develop students’ writing, vocabulary, grammar, reading, and textual analysis skills and to broaden understanding of the writer’s craft through the thematic study of literature. The works studied include Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, and Esther Hautzig’s The Endless Steppe, books whose common themes are social: diversity, belonging, and class. Other units feature such renowned short stories as “The Necklace,” “The Monkey’s Paw,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Students identify literary devices and discuss the elements of a story in relation to the form and content of the whole piece. They examine and discuss the impact of the deliberate choices a writer makes in word usage, story structure, and character development, and then, in turn, examine their own choices as writers, making use of their vocabulary study and grammar lessons. Students explore the interconnections between reading, writing, and language skills by drawing upon the literary works as inspiration for their own creative and expository writing. They are encouraged to develop their own writing voices by reading and writing in multiple genres, including poetry, memoir, and essays. An important goal of the course is to develop an appreciation of the power of literature to transform their lives through vicarious expansion of their experience and through critical and sympathetic understanding of literary characters.
English 7 develops students’ writing skills and introduces them to the thematic study of literature, using books that are accessible and interesting to young readers. The works studied include Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In all of these works, the authors address ambition and hope blocked by adversity or injustice. Separate units are devoted to the study of short stories and poetry. Class discussion emphasizes how action and dialogue reveal character and explores setting, symbolism, irony, and theme. Students are also encouraged to read closely for a thorough knowledge of each text and to cite the texts during class discussion. A digitally produced presentation is required of all students.
Creative and analytical writing are included in the curriculum, and different modes of writing are frequently assigned. Students are encouraged to use vivid words, imagery, and increasingly sophisticated sentence structure. For critical essays, students are required to create a coherent paragraph structure and use quotations and specific details to support their ideas. Peer and teacher feedback and frequent revisions of their written pieces demonstrate the powerful benefits of self-editing, collaboration, and rewriting.
Rules of the Game 2 is used to teach formal grammar and usage. Among the topics discussed are the parts of speech, sentence fragments, run-on sentences, verb tense, and subject-verb agreement. Vocabulary is drawn from the literature and class discussion. Grammar and vocabulary quizzes are given on a regular basis.
English 8 provides a study of selected novels, plays, memoirs and poems, with continual attention to developing skills in personal narrative and analytical writing, vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. The longer works include Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief (summer reading), J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Sophocles’s Antigone, and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Students also read selected poems, particularly sonnets, and essays, along with additional works selected by each teacher. Class discussion focuses on imagery and symbolism, character development, plot, style, and narrative points of view.
Significant time is devoted to the development of writing skills. Topics include diction, sentence style, and paragraph unity and coherence. In descriptive and narrative writing assignments, students are encouraged to draw on personal experience. Specific elements of personal writing (voice, style, structure, etc.) are addressed in such assignments as the third quarter autobiography project. Assignments in interpretation and analysis of the literature focus on clarity and persuasiveness of arguments. Grammar and syntax are taught as part of the writing program.