curriculum, education

Curriculum Overhaul

Netflix just came out with a documentary called “Making a Murderer”. Parts of it are profoundly sad; specifically the parts where law enforcement officers manipulate a young man into giving a false confession. How do they do this? One of the worst and best tools at our disposal–and certainly the least costly and most valuable: Language.  

 

When you think about it, language can start, and end, wars. Language can make or break a relationship. Language gives us access to–or blocks us from–opportunities. Language is love. Language is money. Language is life. If it wasn’t, then we wouldn’t need it to survive.

 

As a(n American) culture we have gotten away from viewing language with any sort of reverence, and it’s high time we begin to give language the respect it deserves. One way to do that is to offer a curriculum that truly values language and all of its complexities.

 

Here is my proposal.

 

Each year, the “themes” for the units would be the same, but the works/content/difficulty of language explored within each unit would vary. Here’s a skeleton outline of what I mean:

 

Q1: Types and Functions of Language

Essential Questions: Why do we read and write? What is the purpose of language/literature/essays?

Content: Literature and Nonfiction

Focus: varies from 9-12 (depending on the works)

Example: Grade 12: Literature-Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (propaganda)

        Nonfiction text-Supreme Court case transcripts (complex/specific language)

CCSS: varies from 9-12 (depending on the works); RL.1-10 and RI.1-10

Q2: Manipulation of Language

Essential Questions: How is language used as a means to achieve a particular end? How do we make language effective?

Content: Literature and Nonfiction

Focus: varies from 9-12 (depending on the works)

Example: Grade 10 or 11: Literature- Animal Farm by George Orwell (logical fallacies)

                                             Nonfiction text- Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal (satire)

CCSS: varies from 9-12 (depending on the works); RL.1-10 and RI.1-10

Q3: Persuasive Techniques

Essential Questions: What are persuasive strategies and how are they used?

Content: Nonfiction

Focus: varies from 9-12 (depending on the works)

Example: Grade 9: argumentative essays/speeches about various topics and discussion of arguments of definition; use of persuasive strategies such as logos, pathos, ethos, rhetorical questions; argumentative model: debate. (Students will write argumentative essays based on what they examined/learned.)

Example: Grade 12: argumentative essays/speeches about various topics and discussion about and practice with deductive and inductive arguments, use of persuasive strategies such as inclusive and exclusive language and connotation; argumentative models such as Toulmin or Rogerian. (Students will write argumentative essays based on what they examined/learned.)

CCSS: RI.1-10, W.1, and W.2

Q4: Narrative Techniques

Essential Questions: What are narrative strategies and how are they used?

Content: Fiction/Literature

Focus: Varies from 9-12 (depending on the works)

Example:  poems by Maya Angelou, Wm. Shakespeare, our current poet laureate, etc., various short stories, plays, narrative nonfiction, etc. as mentor texts (examining narrative techniques and modeling them) for writing their own poems, narrative nonfiction, and short stories

CCSS: RL.1-10, RI.1-10 (for narrative nonfiction), and W.3

 

The above is, of course, a rough outline–planning and implementing curricula takes years of prep, practice, and reflection–but I think this is a good start. It still keeps in mind what students will encounter on their state standardized tests and prepares them accordingly, but it makes more logical sense and focuses on the necessity and beauty of language in our culture and in our world. It also allows for a broader use of content depending on what is popular, interesting, or necessary to read (and write). The topics or themes stay the same while the content is flexible. (Which–side note–is part of the beauty of the CCSS.)

 

Maybe, someday, we can think about English curriculum from the standpoint of language as opposed to making sure we cover the necessary literature and standards. Such things will take care of themselves when language becomes the true focus of the curriculum.

 

What do you think?

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