Traditionally, high school English is offered by grade level and there is a heavy emphasis on reading classic literature. However, research suggests that students engage more with reading if they are invested in the content. Even Maya Angelou says, “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” Therefore, beginning this year, the CSM English teachers wanted to change how students at Collegiate engaged with assigned reading material to move away from the traditional English classes and do more to grab students’ attention and excite them about reading and writing.
CSM English teacher Thomas Pillow shared that “A few years ago, me and a few other English teachers were reflecting on our time with students and realizing we weren’t satisfied with their volume of reading.” Pillow and his colleagues also realized students needed to be reading more diverse texts.
That dream for a more student-centered English experience is now a reality.
This semester at Collegiate, scholars in grades 10-12 can choose from a variety of genre-themed English classes: Coming of Age Literature, Women’s Literature, Mysteries and Psychological Thrillers, or Sci-Fi and Fantasy. All of these specialized courses will count toward the required English graduation credits. Through these high-interest classes, instructors aim to increase students’ engagement with the material while also growing their literacy skills.
Mr. Pillow explained, “In the past, students would come into 10th grade English and the teacher would choose what the class would read and write about. Now our students have agency in what they want to study, what they want to read, and what they want to write.”
Students are learning that their own lives can be turned into literature, too.
Caitlyn Kennedy, another CSM high school English teacher, said this about students in her Coming of Age literature class: “We’ve been doing a lot of quick writes to get in touch with the themes and it’s been interesting to see their level of engagement. As they’re reading they may realize a “coming-of-age” moment that’s happened to them, and then write about their own experiences.”
Justin Siebert, CSM’s STEM Department Chair, who now also teaches Sci-Fi and Fantasy, shared his hopes for the future of these new classes: “I’m excited to see [students] grow as writers--every time we work on a new story or a new draft they’re getting to implement things they learned from the previous draft. I’m also excited that Ms. Roberts is starting a literary magazine at CSM. I’m wanting my students to make it a goal to have something that they revise to submit [to the magazine]. It’s a very empowering thing to have your words published and printed.”
CSM hopes to continue to engage students through reading and writing in the spring semester when the content will shift from fiction to nonfiction literature.The English courses offered will be Business, Social Justice, Mental Health, and True Crime and Criminology.
In the words of Mr. Pillow, “Choice maximizes engagement. So we’re trying to maximize that choice so we can maximize engagement.”