English department explores the idea of an electives-based curriculum

November 13, 2009 — by Vivian LeTran and Emily Williams

This year the English department decided to explore the idea of adding new English electives to the curriculum as an alternative to the current courses available for juniors and seniors.

English department chair Jason Friend said the proposed electives would include semester-long classes that focus more on specific subjects, increasing the options for students and teachers. The classes would be an alternative choice for students who prefer specific genres of literature, such as non-fiction or fantasy, to the standard English curriculum.

“They wouldn’t actually be electives that you would take in addition to your regular English classes; they would fulfill your English requirements for your junior and senior years,” said Friend.

If the department does decide to go the electives route, students would still have the choice of taking honors and A.P. classes at the junior and senior levels.

To assess the student interest in the idea, the department conducted a survey in English classes.

“We are just throwing around the idea right now,” said Friend. “It would be a way to teach literature and non-fiction that we don’t get a chance to talk about in traditional English classes.”

If the English department gets a good response from students and parents, the new classes might be offered as soon as two years from now, though the district’s shrinking budget could derail all plans.

“We want to do it right, so if everybody’s on board, it is going to take at least a year for us to really get the curriculum together,” said English teacher Valerie Arbizu. “We don’t want to do any thing hastily.”

The results for the survey will come out sometime in the next couple of weeks, but so far students seem to have responded favorably to the idea.

“I think it is a good idea because it lets students take what they want if they have different interests, such as Renaissance or Shakespeare,” said freshman Stephanie Payne.

The idea, already adopted by other high schools such as Palo Alto, Gunn and Bellarmine, is based on the college model in which English is offered through specific classes, not just the broad English curriculum. Although nothing is set in stone, many of the English teachers are exited about possible new classes.

“When [the teachers] were coming up with topics, we were like kids in a candy store,” said Friend. “Personally I would be happy to teach about 20 out of the 40 ideas.”

Arbizu thinks this new model would not only cater to students’ interests but also tap into each teacher passion and specialty, creating a better learning environment.

“When a teacher is teaching a subject they are passionate about,” said Arbizu, “students tend to feel it a little bit more.”

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