Would you rather have a dumbed down curriculum for your children or a content-rich, rigorous one?
Which of these two examples would you rather have for your children’s middle or high school English course? They are pulled from two different teacher guides.
The Outsiders, a young adult novel with a 5th grade reading level, has become a standard assignment in many public schools. These lessons feature cooperative learning, hands on projects, and self-reflective writing.
1. Hands-On Project – “Tuff” collage
“Tough and tuff are two different words. Tough is the same as rough; tuff means cool, sharp–like a tuff-looking Mustang or a tuff record.” - Ponyboy
… For this project, make a collage or montage of what is tuff.
Suggested materials include: a large piece of posterboard for the display; magazines, newspapers, and other print media; fabric samples; jewelry; nail polish and lipstick; pictures of tuff people. (Not very gender neutral?) The finished display is shared with the class.
2. Cooperative Learning Activity – Making Rules
Students are assigned to work in small groups to plan how they would manage if their parents left them alone for a month. They assign jobs to each member, plan meals, make house rules, schedule activities, determine emergency procedures, and resolve conflicts. This activity relates to the main characters in The Outsiders who managed to live without their parents.
3. Reading Response Assignment – Personal Journal
Students are asked to create a reading response journal to record their thoughts, observations, ideas, and questions as they read The Outsiders. They can use a “diary-type” format, with personal reflections to be read by the teacher in a non-judgemental way with no corrections or letter grades. A list of suggested teacher responses is provided, including “Wow! That’s interesting stuff!”
The two other lessons included a social science group project and a quiz.
The Gettysburg Address (11/12th grade reading level) is typically studied in history class, but these lessons are intended for an English course.
1. Understanding The Gettysburg Address
Students are divided into groups and each group is assigned to “translate” one sentence from the Gettysburg Address. Students will use a dictionary and/or thesaurus to rewrite the sentence in their own words. These student sentences are compiled, and the meaning of Lincoln’s speech is discussed in class. Afterwards students complete a worksheet and a quiz that tests their understanding.
2. The Language Of The Gettysburg Address
Students receive instruction on rhetorical devices used by Lincoln – grammatical parallelism, antithesis,
alliteration, and repetition. Using a worksheet, students are asked to identify examples of these devices and then create a persuasive speech modeled on Lincoln’s presentation. It is suggested that students present their speeches to the class.
3. A Civil Conversation
This exercise takes the form of a respectful debate, where students are asked to discuss ideas from the Gettysburg Address. They select areas of agreement and disagreement, using the text to support their ideas. They are instructed to focus on ideas not on personalities, and to find areas of common ground among other class members.
Among the objectives of the Gettysburg Address lessons:
- Learn the main concepts of the Gettysburg Address and understand its place in history
- Apply word analysis and vocabulary skills in comprehending the speech.
- Write a concise persuasive speech.
- Identify and apply various literary devices
- Practice respectful and fact-based debate
A few observations:
- I would rather have the Gettysburg Address lessons for my own children.
- From what I have seen, The Outsiders lessons are more typical of public school English curriculum. Students spend hours and hours on poster projects and group projects, which apparently tend to lower IQ.
- When I say that I believe more rigorous curriculum could improve SAT scores, these examples are what I have in mind. Class days spent on poster projects, group discussions about menu planning, and uncorrected personal journals are not likely to teach the skills measured by SAT exams.