Starting in the 2014-15 school year, students at Riverside-Brookfield High School will no longer be able to take an English class focusing solely on the mystery novel or the literature of science fiction, horror and fantasy.
Those classes will be eliminated in the revamp of the senior year English curriculum that the District 208 school board unanimously approved at its July 9 meeting.
The senior year English curriculum at the school will look very different in 2014-15. The English Department, under the leadership of its new chairwoman, Sarah Johnson, revised its senior year courses to emphasize the core skills of reading and writing.
It will focus on more comprehensive year-long courses rather than the semester-long classes that currently dominate the senior year English curriculum at RBHS. Electives such as film study, journalism, debate and creative writing will still be offered, but they will no longer count as English class credits.
“We need more work in the senior year in reading and writing,” said Johnson, who took over as department chairwoman in 2012 after the longtime chairman of the department, George Miller, retired. “One of my goals this year as a new chair is to look at our writing instruction, especially in grade 12; all grades, but especially grade 12.”
The goal was to introduce more rigor in senior year English classes for all students to better prepare them for college or whatever they do after graduating and to align the curriculum with the new Common Core standards that are expected to be implemented in the 2014-15 school year.
Johnson said that the most recent Prairie State Achievement Exam results, in which one third of RBHS juniors scored below state standards in reading, indicated that students needed more focus on reading and writing.
The new Common Core standards emphasize argumentative writing and reading complex texts. When the new curriculum is implemented, all seniors will be forced to do rigorous reading and writing during their senior year.
Under the new curriculum, students will choose among four year-long English courses. Four current semester-long contemporary literature classes, which focus upon particular genres of literature or film, will become a yearlong contemporary literature, communication and critical thinking class.
The current semester-long World Lit A and B classes will be combined into a yearlong world literature and composition class. The current semester-long honors Shakespeare seminar will become a yearlong course called Honors Shakespeare Seminar and Composition. The current year-long Advanced Placement language and composition class will remain the same.
Existing electives in debate, creative writing, journalism and film studies will continue to be offered if there is sufficient enrollment, but will no longer qualify for English class credit.
Under the new curriculum students will be forced to take a senior year English class that includes a heavy dose of writing, something that does not always happen now.
“Students who are weak in that area tend to avoid what they don’t like doing, so they could make selections with their different electives to avoid writing all together, and they [the English Department] felt that this was disserving those students,” said Principal Pamela Bylsma, who began her career as an English teacher.