English 11 Honors prerequisite to include summer reading

May 30, 2018 — by Kevin Sze and Jessica Wang

In an effort to help students complete the first-semester curriculum more efficiently, English 11 Honors teachers have decided to assign a summer reading assignment to incoming students.

For their assignment, incoming juniors will read the short 1953 play “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller and flag 10 to 15 passages that may be worthy of discussion and close reading, English teacher Natasha Ritchie said.

Ritchie said the English Department is always seeking to craft a curriculum that engages students and responds to a changing world, leading teachers to tweak and update their curriculum each year. Because students will begin school having already read the play, the English 11 Honors classes will start Socratic discussions and writing assignments immediately.

One of the main reasons for the summer homework is that the beginning of the year is packed with interruptions such as guidance presentations and writing assessments. Altogether the play was taking five or six weeks to complete.

The coming year will face similar interruptions, along with a new week-long social-emotional learning program that students will participate in, so the English teachers decided to assign the reading in hopes of getting the play finished earlier than in the past. “The Crucible” is also a good introduction to American literature.

“The novel corresponds beautifully to the curriculum history classes start with,” English teacher Amy Keys said. “In order to hit the ground running and match our curriculum content, we like to start right away with that play, but the beginning of the year is clouded with activities that disrupt the flow of reading.”

In the past five years, adjustments were made to the English 11 curriculum, and teachers cut core texts such as “Othello” and “The Scarlet Letter” in order to create a less impacted and more in-depth curriculum. Completing “The Crucible” unit earlier will free up more time to go in-depth in other more difficult first semester texts such as “Beloved” and “Hamlet,” and add more short stories and articles relevant to modern issues.

Additionally, with an immediate start to the unit, students will be able to have a better understanding of the workload and pace of an English 11 Honors class and have the option to switch to regular college-prep English if they feel the need.

“If we are just starting a text at the beginning of the year, it’s a little harder for students to gauge what the class is really going to be like, and as soon as they figure it out it’s past the drop deadline,” Ritchie said. “That’s maybe a handful of kids, though, so that’s not a predominant reason, but that’s something we’ve considered.”

Student responses have been mixed.

Sophomore Bryan Chu said he approves of the summer reading because he feels that students who have signed up for an honors class should be ready for the work.

“It’s an Honors class for a reason, so I feel like you can’t complain about the extra work,” Chu said. “It keeps you engaged and in the academic mindset to start the school year.”

Some other students, however, pointed out that jumping directly into class discussions and assignments the first week of school may be a demanding introduction to junior year.

“I don’t think the reading is that bad, but I don’t like how it adds to the stress of starting a new year,” sophomore Ashwini Achutharaman said.

Keys, who also teaches English 10, said the incoming junior class has many talented English students and it will be a good chance to test out the changes in the curriculum.

“We have a seemingly very strong incoming class,” Keys said. “So with more English 11H classes than before, we saw it as a good opportunity to revise our curriculum in response to continually evolving students’ needs and interests.”


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