The secondary language arts curriculum is a true integration of reading, writing, listening, speaking, and language. Our curriculum maps follow the key points of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards:
The standards establish a “staircase” of increasing complexity in what students must be able to read. This is to ensure all students are ready for the demands of college-and career-level reading upon high school graduation. The standards also require the progressive development of reading comprehension. As students mature and advance through the grades, they gain more insight and knowledge from text. Within this framework, the standards operate as building blocks for success, but recognize that teachers, school districts, and states have autonomy in determining curriculum; therefore, they do not mandate specific titles. At the elementary level, the standards offer sample texts to help teachers prepare for the school year, and to help parents know what to expect at the beginning of the year. At the secondary level, they provide exemplary literary and informational titles for possible inclusion in ELA curriculum.
Students are expected to read an array of classic and contemporary literature, as well as challenging informational texts in a range of subjects. Students are expected to build knowledge, gain insights, explore possibilities, and broaden perspectives.
The standards mandate certain critical types of content for all students, including classic myths and stories from around the world, foundational U.S. documents, seminal works of American literature, and the writings of Shakespeare. The standards appropriately defer the many remaining decisions about what and how to teach to states, districts, and schools.
The ability to write logical arguments based on substantive claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence is a cornerstone of the writing standards, with opinion writing—a basic form of argument—extending down into the earliest grades.
Research -- short, focused projects and long term, in-depth research -- is emphasized throughout the standards, most prominently in the writing strand. Written analysis and presentation of findings are a critical aspect of research.
Annotated samples of student writing accompany the standards and help establish adequate performance levels in argumentation, narration, and exposition in all grade levels.
Speaking and Listening
The standards require that students gain, evaluate, and present increasingly complex information, ideas, and evidence through listening and speaking as well as through media.
An important focus of the speaking and listening standards is academic discussion in one-on-one, small-group, and whole-class settings. Formal presentations are one important way such talk occurs, but so is the more informal discussion that takes place as students collaborate to answer questions, build understanding, and solve problems.
The standards require that students expand their vocabulary through a mix of conversation, direct instruction, and reading. These instructional methods help students determine word meanings, appreciate the nuances of words, and steadily expand their repertoire of words and phrases.
The standards help prepare students for real life experiences in college and careers. The standards recognize that students must use formal English in their writing and speaking and make informed, skillful choices when expressing themselves through language.
Vocabulary and conventions are outlined in a separate strand, not because skills in these areas should be handled in isolation, but because their use extends across reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Media and Technology
Just as media and technology are integrated in school and life in the twenty-first century, skills related to media use (both critical analysis and production of media) are integrated throughout the standards.
Half Hollow Hills Curriculum
Students learn and practice the skills of the Common Core by studying a variety of literary genres and learning to achieve mastery as readers and writers of these genres. Fiction choices such as short stories, novels, poetry and plays, and nonfiction choices such as essays, articles, biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs give students a broad lens from which to choose as they develop and learn to master the English language.
The Half Hollow Hills English Language Arts Department has a number of literacy initiatives designed to help students advance their skills:
The Always Reading Project, developed by middle school teachers, encourages students to select books of their own interest for the simple pleasure of reading. Book talks occur before and after school, and often during lunch periods, in which students sit together with their teachers to converse about their readings.
Independent reading libraries are now a part of the many resources available to students. These libraries, located in every ELA classroom, foster independence and self-directed study. Research shows that students who are exposed to classroom libraries have a better understanding of themselves as readers; they can identify genres that appeal to them and authors who write within a certain genre, and they can identify the idiosyncrasies that exist within the genres. As writers, they learn to mimic certain professional styles in their own writing, thereby growing their own writer’s craft and finding their own voice as writers.
Student choice is a highlight of our summer reading program. Students have autonomy in text choices for summer reading, provided their choices are within the thematic curriculum goals appropriate to their grade level.
High School Electives
Students have the opportunity for more in-depth study of literature and writing in honors courses, and many students elect to take Advanced Placement English Language and/or Advanced Placement English Literature in the 11th and 12th grades. In addition to the required yearly study of English, students can choose from a wide variety of elective course work: American Culture in the Age of Hollywood, Creative Writing, Debate, Film Criticism, The Hero’s Journey, Hip-Hop Literature and Culture, Journalism, Media Communications, Mythology, Public Speaking, Reading Strategies, S.A.T., Shakespeare, and Theater Arts and Production. We have also incorporated senior-specific courses such as College Writing, Poetry as Performance Art, Search for Identity, and Sports Literature.
Taking the 11th-grade AP Language and Composition and/or 12th-grade AP Literature and Composition course allows students to demonstrate a high level of English proficiency. These courses involve college-level rigor, whereby students can receive college credit from a number of universities by scoring well on the three-hour examination that culminates the course. Twenty-five percent of our total population take the 11AP, and 39 percent take the 12 AP course.
It is the belief of the English Language Arts Department that all students, regardless of their experiential background, capabilities, developmental and learning differences, interests or ambitions should have equal opportunities to achieve their potential.