High School parents-- what has your child learned in English class? - Mothering Forums

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Old 03-31-2012, 09:08 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm teaching  English again, after years of teaching other things.  My students are complaining that the work is "too much," and "too hard."  They complain in other classes, so I don't think it's me!  I am curious, though, what other students are learning, and how fast-- it always seems like there's way more to cover than we possibly could.

 

We read and discuss one novel per quarter.  They write one 3-7 page paper every quarter.  They learn how to do research, and to use MLA style for their essays, bibliographies, etc..  They have 20 vocabulary words each week.  We don't have much time for grammar.

 

For a week's homework, they have to: study the vocab words, complete two Reading Plus sessions (program that increases reading vocab, speed, and comprehension, at about 30 min. per session), and read around 70 pages of their novel OR work on their essay.

 

FWIW, that's a lot less work than I had to do in HS English!

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Old 03-31-2012, 09:37 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Tomoe Gozen View Post

I'm teaching  English again, after years of teaching other things.  My students are complaining that the work is "too much," and "too hard."  They complain in other classes, so I don't think it's me!  I am curious, though, what other students are learning, and how fast-- it always seems like there's way more to cover than we possibly could.

 

We read and discuss one novel per quarter.  They write one 3-7 page paper every quarter.  They learn how to do research, and to use MLA style for their essays, bibliographies, etc..  They have 20 vocabulary words each week.  We don't have much time for grammar.

 

For a week's homework, they have to: study the vocab words, complete two Reading Plus sessions (program that increases reading vocab, speed, and comprehension, at about 30 min. per session), and read around 70 pages of their novel OR work on their essay.

 

FWIW, that's a lot less work than I had to do in HS English!


That is a lot less than I had in hs 9-10 years ago.  I was in AP and we read 4-6 novels a semester, plus weekly vocab and a paper every week to week and a half.  I think our first read was a large chunk of Canterbury Tales and our second was Dante's Inferno.


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Old 04-01-2012, 11:15 AM
 
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That is really VERY minimal work, IMO.  Both of mine took AP English, at two different schools. I no longer remember all the details, but... Two assigned works of literature over the summer, two assigned papers due the first day of class. Assigned reading was 6-8 books during the semester and at least 2 books of their choice (subject to approval), one to two 5-7 page papers weekly, in addition to 2-3 page essays due the other days. Yes, they had writing assignments daily. A research paper (15 pages) due at the end of term, There was a running theme through the book selections (so the self-selected books were expected to somehow echo that theme), and the final paper involved comparing/contrasting how at least one selected book and one self-selected book handled that theme.

 

Challenging courses, no doubt. And yes, there were some complaints as to the course load. Lots of late nights. BUT... My oldest placed out of his university's English requirement, and we'll see how the youngest one does.

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Old 04-01-2012, 12:05 PM
 
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Well, it's minimal work but it also seems a bit more "busy work" than what my teen is getting. Vocab lists and reading programs are very elementary/middle school in our area and certainly, I could see teens complaining about it more than "read and reflect," compare and contrast, defend your position, creative writing, play writing, research paper sorts of work that is more challenging but also more engaging. Teenagers do have heavy loads both in and out of school and so anything that smacks of pointless busywork is resented by both children and parents even if it is technically less work.  

 

Now, it's really hard to for me to gauge what you are doing based on one little post. Your curriculum could very well be perfectly suited for your particular students. I just know my own DD hasn't had a class like your short description since 6th grade and absolutely, she would resent it and find the work more laborious than her current honors English course with much higher expectations.


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Old 04-01-2012, 12:13 PM
 
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Well, I don't know about the workload, it seems fine to me. What you're describing is similar to the workload I had when I was taking high school English, and perhaps a little more than what my kids currently experience, because much of what you describe as homework is completed by my kids in class. I think they do a fair bit more literary reading than you describe but considerably less supplementary work (vocabulary, reading comp). At their school that stuff stopped in Grade 7.

 

There is a tendency to believe that more work is better, and results in more learning, and is more challenging. I actually really like the way English is taught to my kids. They read a fair bit, but most of the analysis and critical thinking about the literature is in the form of guided literature circle discussions: both on-line through a multi-school website / discussion board or in-class. The courses seem to focus more on clarity of thinking and the ability to formulate cogent arguments, with the writing skills following fairly naturally out of that. My kids are learning a tremendous amount about literature from the lively discussions and deep questions they examine in their English courses. The courses are not challenging in terms of time-management, but they are certainly intellectually challenging with the strong focus on critical thinking, communication and analysis skills. 

 

Miranda

 

ETA: I cross-posted with whatsnextmom. I think we're kind of saying the same thing.


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Old 04-01-2012, 01:42 PM
 
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I have to say that I'd be pretty ticked off if my kids were doing Vocab lists in HS. By that point, i expected them to have a pretty decent vocab and to know how to look up words they didn't know (heck - I still have to look up words!).

 

Out of curiosity - what are they reading?

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Old 04-01-2012, 01:55 PM
 
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I have to say that I'd be pretty ticked off if my kids were doing Vocab lists in HS. By that point, i expected them to have a pretty decent vocab and to know how to look up words they didn't know (heck - I still have to look up words!).

 

Out of curiosity - what are they reading?



I remember doing vocab lists in gifted and talented and AP English classes in high school.  There is a big difference between having a large speaking vocabulary and understanding rarely-used words as they relate to literature, especially in older texts like Shakespeare, Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, etc.


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Old 04-01-2012, 02:28 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Bokonon View Post

I remember doing vocab lists in gifted and talented and AP English classes in high school.  There is a big difference between having a large speaking vocabulary and understanding rarely-used words as they relate to literature, especially in older texts like Shakespeare, Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, etc.

 

Yes, there's definitely a difference. But to me it just seems odd that one would assume students aged 14-18 would have to have this kind of learning structured for them. This is part of reading and understanding: figuring out the words you don't know. What if a student already knows most of the words on the list? What if he doesn't know some of the others that aren't on the list? The list approach seems like spoon-feeding to me. By high school I would think students should be able to identify words they don't understand and learn them without that kind of micro-management. If they don't understand the vocabulary, they can't discuss the texts meaningfully and their gaps will become apparent that way.

 

Miranda


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Old 04-01-2012, 02:46 PM
 
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I remember doing vocab lists in gifted and talented and AP English classes in high school.  There is a big difference between having a large speaking vocabulary and understanding rarely-used words as they relate to literature, especially in older texts like Shakespeare, Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, etc.



We, too, did vocab in HS. I recall it fondly actually since I love words in general and do  very well on vocabulary-related discussions/assessment. I ran into words that I was unfamiliar with all the time in HS Literature classes ( British Lit. and Early American Lit. were both rife with words that were uncommon and worthy of discussion) There is a lot to be said about discussing origins or words, uses, and their place in non-modern texts.

 

I also know that we did vocabulary in French classes, the exposure and 'word sorts' helped identify common patterns/roots/origins of words that in turn helped decode new words rather than simply memorizing.

 

Yes, I know *I* (and likely many other) could decipher English based words from context or look them up. But there is value in discussing a word in conversation- simply the repetition is helpful for recall, but it more than a superficial exercise to see how it applies to a text, where it came from, how and why the author chooses that particular word, or relate it to another text. Those are real-life connections that are beneficial to share when discussing vocabulary.

 

 

That said-- the book load itself of the course seems low to me. We read 8-12 books an academic year (about one a month) and did papers about every other book (depending on how they related), daily journals, weekly vocabulary studies, and a project or essay (that varied again depending on the books or theme for a set of books). I had daily Literature based homework as far as I recall-- and I enjoyed it since I liked reading/book & word discussion. We did not do grammar with the exception of some quick studies if a common problem was seen in a majority of the class. We did a lot of discussion, practice/rewriting on essay and MLA/ APA formats.

 

In preparation for college, A 15 week course may read 3-4 (or more) novels and related papers so to expect AP students to do the same is not outrageous and would be good practice. A 3-7 page paper.....they need to be prepared to write longer ones for essays in college. A simple response or 'test' essay could easily be 3 pages. Some of my college papers for Literature were 10-20 pages easily-- so I would aim for 7-12 for AP classes.

 

** I guarantee that my speaking vocabulary is much lower than my written or reading vocabulary, partially since I have been exposed to so many words through reading that simply do not apply to modern casual conversation nor do they fit with conversational speech (at least not most of the ones I have!)**

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Old 04-01-2012, 04:19 PM
 
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Yes, there's definitely a difference. But to me it just seems odd that one would assume students aged 14-18 would have to have this kind of learning structured for them. This is part of reading and understanding: figuring out the words you don't know. What if a student already knows most of the words on the list? What if he doesn't know some of the others that aren't on the list? The list approach seems like spoon-feeding to me. By high school I would think students should be able to identify words they don't understand and learn them without that kind of micro-management. If they don't understand the vocabulary, they can't discuss the texts meaningfully and their gaps will become apparent that way.

 

Miranda



Yes, I agree with this. Vocabulary comes with extensive reading and in high school, students should be reading large quantities of quality  and varied material in all their classes. If they aren't using appropriate level vocabulary it'll come out in their writing and a teacher can deal with that then. I didn't have vocab lists in GATE or AP. I don't remember having them past 7th grade. My DS still has them in 6th grade but my DD hasn't for years. It's something you see in remedial classes in our county. Of course, the OP may be dealing with remedial students or in a district where reading skills aren't developed as strongly or rapidly as they should in earlier grades. If that is the case, perhaps it's appropriate. 


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Old 04-01-2012, 04:51 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Well, it's minimal work but it also seems a bit more "busy work" than what my teen is getting. Vocab lists and reading programs are very elementary/middle school in our area and certainly, I could see teens complaining about it more than "read and reflect," compare and contrast, defend your position, creative writing, play writing, research paper sorts of work that is more challenging but also more engaging. Teenagers do have heavy loads both in and out of school and so anything that smacks of pointless busywork is resented by both children and parents even if it is technically less work.  

 

Now, it's really hard to for me to gauge what you are doing based on one little post. Your curriculum could very well be perfectly suited for your particular students. I just know my own DD hasn't had a class like your short description since 6th grade and absolutely, she would resent it and find the work more laborious than her current honors English course with much higher expectations.



OP, here.  The classes I'm talking about are "regular;" my AP has a lot more, and deeper, work.

 

I wish my students wanted challenge and engagement!  Their first choice would be to not have to go to classes at all.  Considering they do have to, they want busy work.  They prefer no-brainers that they can plow through (or copy from someone else) with minimal effort.  It's ridiculous to force teens to come to class and then complain that they don't show effort, I realize!  But, for the majority of the kids, it's pointless to give them "read and reflect" (they don't read), or any kind of writing (they hate it, and honestly, most of them are bad at it, and don't care to improve).

 

The vocab lists are challenging-- they're "SAT words."  I'd prefer to do vocab from our readings,, but the administration wants a "strong vocabulary program," in the hopes that our students' SAT scores will rise.  As an educator, and as someone who just plain doesn't like to beat the same dead horse over and over, I'm tearing my hair out!  For most of the kids, the vocab lists are way above them.  They are "normal," intelligent kids, but they do not read, and they have very limited vocabularies.  Even though we use "grade leveled" lists, about 1/4 of the students consistently fail the tests.

 

I was skeptical of the Reading Plus program, but it's actually pretty good.  It does seem like busywork for the highest students, but for most, it does seem to be helping.  FWIW, my students are largely middle class kids whose families place a lot of emphasis on good grades, but not always on actual learning

 

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Old 04-01-2012, 09:43 PM
 
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Originally Posted by moominmamma View Post

 

Yes, there's definitely a difference. But to me it just seems odd that one would assume students aged 14-18 would have to have this kind of learning structured for them. This is part of reading and understanding: figuring out the words you don't know. What if a student already knows most of the words on the list? What if he doesn't know some of the others that aren't on the list? The list approach seems like spoon-feeding to me. By high school I would think students should be able to identify words they don't understand and learn them without that kind of micro-management. If they don't understand the vocabulary, they can't discuss the texts meaningfully and their gaps will become apparent that way.

 

Miranda



In the high school English courses at my kids' school, vocabulary is tailored to the reading being done. Some novels would have more vocab words, some less. Part of it IS spoon feeding them, but part is because one can often gloss over words assuming from context, but not really understand what the words means or the subtle difference between it and another word.

 

Only the true word lovers look up words that they can *mostly* understand from context without a teacher enforcing that sort of learning. (Honestly, even though I am an avid reader, if I'm really into a story, I don't stop to look up words. That slows down the plot! )

 

How much my kids are required to read by week is difficult to judge - it varies with the difficulty of the reading.

 

The writing assignments are all over the place and seem more about attempting to get the kids engaged in writing. For example, recently of one my DDs' class read "A Dog's Purpose," which is written from the point of view of a dog. All the kids had to write a story from the point of view of a animal. Earlier, they read "Catcher and the Rye" and wrote in the style of JD Salinger.

 

When I was in school, English class was about learning to write 5 paragraph essays. I  find my kids writing assignments to be more open ended and creative.


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Old 04-01-2012, 11:18 PM
 
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(Honestly, even though I am an avid reader, if I'm really into a story, I don't stop to look up words. That slows down the plot! )


This is the reason I *so* love using an e-reader. Double-tap, definition pops up, keep reading.

 

Miranda


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Old 04-02-2012, 09:20 AM
 
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OP, here.  The classes I'm talking about are "regular;" my AP has a lot more, and deeper, work.

 

I wish my students wanted challenge and engagement!  Their first choice would be to not have to go to classes at all.  Considering they do have to, they want busy work.  They prefer no-brainers that they can plow through (or copy from someone else) with minimal effort.  It's ridiculous to force teens to come to class and then complain that they don't show effort, I realize!  But, for the majority of the kids, it's pointless to give them "read and reflect" (they don't read), or any kind of writing (they hate it, and honestly, most of them are bad at it, and don't care to improve).

 

The vocab lists are challenging-- they're "SAT words."  I'd prefer to do vocab from our readings,, but the administration wants a "strong vocabulary program," in the hopes that our students' SAT scores will rise.  As an educator, and as someone who just plain doesn't like to beat the same dead horse over and over, I'm tearing my hair out!  For most of the kids, the vocab lists are way above them.  They are "normal," intelligent kids, but they do not read, and they have very limited vocabularies.  Even though we use "grade leveled" lists, about 1/4 of the students consistently fail the tests.

 

I was skeptical of the Reading Plus program, but it's actually pretty good.  It does seem like busywork for the highest students, but for most, it does seem to be helping.  FWIW, my students are largely middle class kids whose families place a lot of emphasis on good grades, but not always on actual learning

 


I have very strong feelings about this post but I don't want to get too adversarial. I'll just say that we do our kids a disservice when we give mundane work and expect they will be inspired into high achievement. Vocab lists and computerized reading programs will never impassion your students and you will lose teens who are open and waiting for something to grab them. I just don't come across kids who are apathetic without their having some valid reasons to be. I'm not suggesting you are a bad teacher and to be fair, I'm in a volatile position at the moment due to DD's current high school situation. Clearly, you are looking for something to make things better. I just hoping you find your own inspiration to keep trying to pull the best out of your kids.

 

 


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Old 04-02-2012, 01:40 PM
 
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DD is in 10th grade. I don't have the syllabus in front of me, so I'm working from memory, but I believe so far this year they have covered: 

 

- poetry unit (including epic poems, lyric poetry, sonnets, ballads, haiku, spoken word, poetry slams) 

- short story unit 

- play (Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

- a few novel studies - right now they are studying Like Water for Chocolate and they will finish the year with an individual choice of novel. DD has been torturing me lately by picking something, deciding it isn't something she wants to study and then changing it (so far she's gone from Watership Down to Obasan to American Gods to something else....) I can't recall the other books they have done this year, but there was at least one from the classic Western canon - Dickens, maybe. Someone around here was reading Great Expectations recently, but I'm not sure that was for school.

 

There were assignments for each unit.  While most are traditional creative writing (poems and short stories and scripts) and essay-type assignments, there was some other kinds of creative work too. DD burned a CD of music as an interpretation of one of the short stories (I can't recall if it was a published story or one she had written for class) and made a graphic booklet insert for the CD case using a desktop publishing program. For Like Water for Chocolate, the students had a choice of any medium to re-interpret an aspect of the novel (themes, mood, setting, a character etc.). One student baked some of the recipes in the novel and brought the food in. Some filmed scenes from the novel, others produced artwork. I should note that she attends a performing and visual arts high school and the students regularly place near the top in standardized testing for math and English. 

 

I'm not aware of any specific vocabulary study, although I'm sure some vocabulary would have been covered in the Shakespeare unit, and probably in other units too. Possibly there has been more routine vocab work throughout the year, but DD hasn't mentioned it. 

 

 

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Old 04-02-2012, 02:05 PM
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I have to say that I'd be pretty ticked off if my kids were doing Vocab lists in HS. By that point, i expected them to have a pretty decent vocab and to know how to look up words they didn't know (heck - I still have to look up words!).

 

Out of curiosity - what are they reading?



As another teacher, I feel compelled to defend vocabulary lists.  If I have an instructional goal for students, whatever that goal is, it is my job as a professional educator to make a systematic effort to help students achieve that goal.  Expecting them to have a pretty decent vocab and the skills to look up words they don't know doesn't mean they actually have those things.  If I rest on that expectation without any assessment to make sure that they actually have the vocabulary and skills I expect them to, I am contributing to educational inequality - I have not assessed, and therefore I don't know which students have the prerequisite knowledge and skills and which don't, and if I use that as an excuse to not teach certain knowledge and skills (because I expect them to have that at this level!), I have done a huge disservice to students who are struggling (plus, BONUS, they and their families may not even know that they are struggling because they have no assessment data, so I have deprived them of information that they might need to see in order to figure out that they need help - not all parents can instinctively tell when their kids are struggling in school). 

 

If I want students to improve their vocabularies (and if I am a high school teacher, than this is an important goal), I need to offer them some routes for improvement.  One of those routes is the good old-fashioned vocabulary list.  It's an old-fashioned strategy.  It's battle-tested.  It works.  Students know what to do with a vocabulary list.  Parents know how to help kids study a vocabulary list.  Studying vocabulary lists results in measurable learning - I can test them on the words, I can see the words show up in their writing and in classroom discussions or presentations.  Is it the be all and end all of vocabulary acquisition? No.  But it IS a good strategy.  I had vocabulary lists in my college math and science classes, and in every language class I've ever taken.  Doctors spend a lot of time in med school learning vocabulary, from lists.  There is no shame in a vocabulary list. 

 

Tomoe Gozen, I think your curriculum and expectations sound highly reasonable  You could step up from there without over-working them. 

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Old 04-04-2012, 02:22 PM
 
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Ds is in Grade 10, academic stream, Ontario.

 

He did English last semester ( 2 semesters per year) 

 

he read: 

various poems

short stories

newspapers

2 shortish novels with the class - Animal Farm and To Kill a Mockingbird

Romeo and Juliet

he had to read a total of 1000 pages on his own in addition to the above novels

 

He had a project or assignment for each of the above items.  

He had numerous tests

he had an exam at the end.

 

I do not remember any vocab lists from his class - but there might have been vocab words he needed to know for quizzes.  

 

As per whether or not it is too much homework - I think you need to look at how many classes the kids in your school have  (keeping in mind things like gym rarely have homework) and go from there.  Ds has 4 classes.  I would expect no more than 1/2 hour per evening for homework per class - or 2.5 hours per week per class.  YMMV depending on the homework expectations of your school. 

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Old 04-12-2012, 12:11 PM
 
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I teach 10th grade English. We are on the 4x4 block schedule, so I see my students for 90 minutes a say for one semester. Each quearter is about 4 weeks.

1st quarter- To Kill a Mockingbird (vocab, non-fiction reading, descriptive essays, short research project on themes of the novel)

 

2nd quarter- research paper (controversial topic of their choice) Poetry- for vocab we do words often confused and other ways to help the writing.

 

3rd quarter- Drama- we do Antigone and Julius Caesar- each of those comes with vocab, literary analysis papers, non-fiction readings.

 

4th quarter- short stories- nonfiction readings that relate to the themes of the stories. We try as much as possible to show connections to real life.

 

We never keep to this time line. I end up having about 2 weeks for short stories. Along with this, I do grammar and prepare the students for the EOC test. They do not have much homework. I assign one chapter a night in the novel and they whine about that. We do lots of interactive things in class- debates, discussions, gallery walks, Kagan type activities, etc.

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Old 04-26-2012, 02:34 AM
 
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My daughter is in year 11, which would be 10th grade in the USA.  She will do her IGCSE this spring.

 

Here is a copy of the syllabus:

http://www.cie.org.uk/docs/dynamic/41059.pdf

 

Her school is doing a bit different - one of the novels is Mishima's "The Sound of the Waves" and the drama is Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People".

 

Here's an example of the sorts of questions that were asked in the 2010 papers

http://www.cie.org.uk/docs/dynamic/41228.pdf

 

In previous years she has also done Macbeth & Romeo & Juliet.

 

My son is in Y9 (8th grade in USA) and this term they did The Merchant of Venice.

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