This course will focus on the development of critical thinking skills applied in the context of literary genres: poetry, drama, short story, and novel. Students will explore the interconnections between reading and writing, and thinking. One emphasis will be on reading as writers; that is, students will read with specific attention not only to the content (what the writer has said) but also to elements of craft (how the writer has managed to say it.) A second emphasis will be on writing as readers; that is, students will write about what they read and write in the genres they are studying. The third - and primary - emphasis will be on learning to think; that is, students will be asked to monitor and reflect upon the decisions they make while they are reading, writing, and thinking, and to make a conscious effort to refine their critical thinking skills.
This full-year sophomore course will have two main strands. First of all, it is an English course, in which you will be asked to read, reflect on, and respond to many of the materials traditionally associated with the study of English: poems, short stories, novels, and plays. As in all English courses, you will be expected to use the assigned readings to help you practice and develop your reading, writing, and speaking skills.
However, this course also has a strong critical thinking emphasis. The purpose of the course is therefore also to help you become more aware of exactly what it is that you do when you are thinking, how you approach problems, what resources you possess for solving those problems, and how you can learn to become a better thinker: more resourceful, more flexible, more perceptive, more self-aware.
Richard Paul says that there are two principles that will make you a better problem solver. The first principle is “There’s always a way.” The second principle is, “There’s always another way.” Once you’ve come up with what you think is a clearly written and plausible response to an assignment, look for opportunities to challenge yourself by saying to yourself, “Okay, I did that one way. What’s another way I could do it?” This move, and the many variations on it which we will be discussing in class, is a very powerful way to help yourself to learn and grow as a thinker.
You may find that this year’s readings are both lengthier and more demanding than those you have been asked to do in the past. This is part of the design of the course. We are looking to take you out of your “comfort zone” and into some territories which may seem unfamiliar or strange to you. Many of the activities you do will require that you stop and think about what you are doing, how you are doing it, and what other ways there might be of approaching the task at hand.
You will be expected to complete all reading and writing assignments to the best of your ability at the time they are given. You may very well find yourself struggling with a particular assignment. Try not to let that bother you. If you were being asked to do something that you could already do easily, there would be little point in asking you to do it. Each time you are faced with a problem, it is an opportunity for you to learn something. If you approach the tasks with that in mind, you will find not only that you will learn more, but that you will enjoy the process more as well.
The course is driven by several assumptions. One of them is that even though you are still underclassmen, you are old enough to be capable of the sustained intellectual effort necessary to master challenging materials. Another assumption is that there is a close connection between reading, writing, speaking, and thinking; these activities reinforce one another in ways that are always present even though they are not always obvious. One of the goals of this course will be to make some of these connections visible and discussable. You will be asked to write frequently and for a variety of purposes: to generate ideas, to collect your thoughts, to analyze and to persuade, to monitor your thinking, and to get a sense of “style,” both your own style and the style of each of the writers we will read. A third assumption is that you will have the initiative and common sense to communicate with the teacher if you have questions or are encountering difficulties along the way.
I realize that I am are asking a lot of you as sophomores. But one of the advantages of challenging yourself in a course of this kind during sophomore year is that you will be able to apply what you have learned to your studies in all subject areas during your junior and senior years, as well as in the years beyond.
Each homework assignment is designed with a particular purpose in mind. I will expect to be looking at your best work on each of these assignments. Most homework assignments flow from class activities and discussions. If you pay close attention and participate in class, you’ll find that your homework will come more easily. Likewise, careful attention to your homework will enrich your class experience. Written responses to literature texts should include (correctly cited) specific references to the text under discussion.
Quarterly grades for the course will be based a combination of factors including
Graded in-class and homework assignments, tests and quizzes, writing samples
Quarter and Semester Reflection papers
Another factor in the grade - one which will not be reflected directly in your class average but will have an influence on whether your grade moves up or down from the calculated average - will be class participation, attitude, and effort. Each quarter grade will count 50% of your semester grade. The averages will be calculated numerically, which means that I will be expecting your best effort during both quarters. If at any time you have questions about your current grade or how to go about improving it, please come and talk with me.
The departmental guidelines for absence will apply. One unexcused absence will lower your quarter grade one full grade. Two unexcused absences will lower your quarter grade two full grades. Three unexcused absences will result in a failing grade for the quarter. Three unexcused tardies will count as an unexcused absence.
You will be expected to meet in conference with me at least twice during each quarter. You can see me as often as you like, or whenever you feel you have a question or something you would like to discuss. Even if you have no specific idea in mind, I would still like to meet with you just to get to know you better and to get some sense of how things are going for you. If you have questions for me when you are not in school, you are welcome to get in touch with me via email. I check my email often and will get back to you as soon as possible. Tell your parents they are welcome to email me at any time if they have questions or concerns.