Park City High School’s English department to roll out realigned classes
When class schedules start making the rounds at Park City High School in a few months, English classes focusing on topics like dystopian novels and literature of the outdoors and the American West will be on the list.
The high school’s English department was given the go-ahead to implement a realignment of courses during the most recent Park City Board of Education meeting. The goal, according to English teachers, is to provide students with more choices to improve student engagement.
Starting in the fall, the traditional English classes divided by grades will be nixed in favor of more diverse offerings. Students will instead get to choose among semester-length classes that focus on specific themes, such as Shakespeare and public speaking.
Under the new structure, the 23 proposed classes are separated into three categories: academic literacy, literacy of citizenship and literacy of enrichment. The only required class is sophomore academy, which all sophomores must take. In order to graduate, students are required to complete two semesters in the academic literacy track, one semester in the literacy of citizenship track, one semester in the literacy of enrichment track and one additional semester in any of the tracks.
Kelly Yeates, an English teacher at the school, said the academic literacy track focuses on the fundamentals of writing and rhetoric, while the literacy of citizenship and enrichment tracks cover literature and specific themes.
Yeates said the department has been looking to change English classes for a few years, but teachers hesitated because they wanted to ensure the classes covered Utah standards. They were inspired to push for the changes after Principal Roger Arbabi had all teachers in the school spend a month studying how they could improve their teaching. Together, the English department discussed ways to boost student engagement in their classes, and they decided offering classes students were interested in would help.
“We are trying to increase engagement by making interest the reason to take the course,” said Matt Nagel, another English teacher at the school.
Nagel divided the necessary skills students need to graduate into three categories. He and the other teachers brainstormed different classes that could cover the skills while looking through diverse lenses that tailored to students’ and teachers’ interests.
A majority of the curriculum comes directly from the current classes being taught, Yeates said. For example, the current sophomore English class focuses on world literature, so the teachers pulled that material and created a world novels class.
“Really, it is just breaking down what we are already teaching, and focusing on that,” she said. “We looked at what resources we currently have and how can we focus them into a specific curriculum.”
Other topics that were covered only briefly, such as film adaptations from novels, were expanded to create a course like literature on the screen, Nagel said. He said teachers were able to pick topics that interested them, but the offerings will likely change over time based on which classes students opt for.
Students will be able to pick their top three classes for each semester. If there is not sufficient interest in a particular class, it will not be offered, Nagel said.
Overall, the skills the students learn will be the same, Yeates said, but the changes will be significant for the teachers. She said they will need to work together to create common assessments across the courses. The teachers will likely meet during the summer to determine the curriculum and divide the courses among themselves.
Plus, the new classes will be mixed with students from all grades, so teachers will need to be aware of a range of student needs. Yeates said most of the teachers are in favor of creating composite English courses, because seniors bring more life experience and they can be leaders in the classroom.
“I think the maturity of the seniors will model the expectations that we have for all of our student body, and I feel like the sophomores and juniors will step up to that,” she said.
Many classes in other subjects at the school have a mix of grades already, she said.
“Even though it is more complex for the teacher, we feel like it will be a more dynamic environment for the students,” Yeates said.
The Advanced Placement program has also been a challenge to tackle. Students who want to take the AP Language test should take one semester of the art of argument class and one semester of rhetorical analysis class, and students who plan to take the AP Literature test should take poetry and one of three determined literature classes. Students who are on the AP track will have additional work compared to the students not preparing for the test, Nagel said.
The concurrent enrollment class through Utah Valley University will remain in place, and will continue to be limited to seniors.
Nagel said he hopes that the realignment of courses will encourage students to take the preparatory AP classes because they are interested in taking the test or in the subject matter itself. With the current courses, students often take AP classes because the alternative is the regular English class, and they want a course that is more challenging. Many times, they don’t intend to take the test.
Now, Nagel said, students will have the ability to choose a course that resonates with them. He, Yeates and the rest of the English department believe this will lead to students being more interested in the material. “If you can meet the need of the standards with graphic novels and that is also really fascinating to some students, then we’ve got a win,” Nagel said.
Another possible benefit is that the classes will be able to go “further and faster” because students who are interested in the topic choose to take the class, Yeates said.
The English department plans to host an informational meeting on Feb. 5, at the high school.