From September 6-7, English teachers held their annual overnight retreat at the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove. This tradition, which has been held by the English department for 15 years, reflects not only the constant obstacle of aligning curriculum, but also the bonds of friendship that have made the process easier.
“I do think our retreats allow us to deepen our relationships,” World Lit Honors and English AP teacher April Oliver said. “It’s a lot easier to work through challenging alignment issues with people you consider to be friends, and not just colleagues.”
Every year, the English Department travels to an off campus site to discuss a certain aspect of the curriculum. This year’s English Retreat, whose goal is to help students synthesize multiple sources, built upon last year’s mission of helping high schoolers efficiently retrieve online information.
One of the assignments that was discussed at the English Retreat was the Senior Project.
The Senior Project is a research-oriented piece of writing that requires seniors to ask themselves a question and write multiple perspectives on it. As it is the largest research paper assigned to students, it is considered to be one of the most important assignments in English. However, unlike most other writing assignments, many of which are persuasive, the Senior Project is labelled as an inquiry writing paper. And because the current English curriculum does not include many tasks that deal with inquiry based writing, the project has become a problem for some seniors when they face the assignment.The main difficulty lies in the process of finding a topic.
“For the senior project, you have to come up with that [topic] by yourself,” librarian Gordon Jack said. “It’s a really hard skill for a lot of students.”
In order to address the issue, this year’s retreat discussed adding or modifying certain existing assignments to give more students more practice with the inquiry method of writing.
“We’re fine tuning at this point,” Oliver said.“[We’re] trying to make sure that the curriculum in each grade level enables students to learn what they‘ll need to be able to write a senior project and to be ready for college-level writing.”
Another part of the agenda for the English Retreat included deliberations over the adaptation of the English curriculum based on a new set of standards called Common Core.
“There is a lot more research infused in the common core and part of it is this idea of synthesis,” Jack said. “And so part of what we did in the retreat is research: how do we find all those different perspectives, but then how do we help kids synthesize those, that’s the thinking, the inquiry bit, into something new.”
However, any changes to the curriculum are still at its infancy.
“We haven’t actually made any firm commitments to changes yet.” Oliver said. “The retreat was the beginning of the conversation. We’ll be talking about it all year.”