Program Update: English

Your kids did it! You did it! WE did it!

Here we are at the end of academic classes. Reflecting on my first year teaching English at Explorer West, I think using the metaphor of a Seattle spring is apt: one minute class is gloriously sunny, and the next there may be showers out of nowhere that I probably should have seen coming. I sometimes end up drenched and uncomfortable, but I know the rain will ultimately contribute to the glorious green growing up around me. There have been invigorating class breezes that sometimes stir things up and bring a branch or two down, but twigs from those branches are picked up and woven into strong nests. At this point, you legitimately may be thinking, “Wait. I’m confused. Is my student the sunshine, the rain, the breeze, the branches, the birds in the strong nests? Aren’t you an English teacher?”  Fair. It’s been a very full year and I’m obviously mixing all the metaphors, but I guess that just goes to say your young people have been everything to me this year. Thank you for sharing them with us at Explorer West. They have taught me so much. So what have they been up to recently?


Eighth graders recently wrapped up a podcast unit. In doing so, they exercised skills in writing for an audio format, interview techniques, editing, and mixing audio recordings. Their creativity was so fun to experience! Today their graduation speeches are due. This assignment has been an opportunity to reflect on their experiences at Explorer West with an eye toward making meaning of and celebrating their years here, and then sharing those insights with others. What did your student choose to include in their speech text? Encourage them to consider speaking at graduation! 


In seventh grade, students explored creating compelling combinations of visual and written communication by creating zines about a subject of special interest to them. Genre-based book clubs were a great opportunity for students to practice reading for discussion and going deeper into texts from a more literary point of view. Tomorrow, seventh graders will be presenting their end-of-the-year passion projects to their peers. Ask your student what they chose to dig deeper into for this last assignment and what they learned. Finally, this Thursday, seventh-grade students will celebrate their hard work with a summer reading book swap and “beach party” during our last English class. If you have books at home that could use new readers, please consider sending them to class with your student. Extras will either be donated to the EW library or the White Center and West Seattle food bank bookshelves.


Sixth grade English students have been writing a literary analysis essay, paragraph by paragraph, about a character from the Iliad or Odyssey. They began with a close reading of a passage featuring a character that sparked their interest, annotated that passage and interpreted it in context. The key insight or character trait that arose from this exercise became their topic sentence. We color coded the sections of a body paragraph in class, using model paragraphs to identify the transitions that oriented the reader in the context and prepared for the quoted evidence, as well as the analysis or commentary that followed. The analysis component is new for many of the students. They are learning to connect the evidence in a passage  to their claims, and to explain how a particular detail reinforces their interpretation of their character in this context. I appreciate how varied their arguments and views of a character in the same episodes can be. Odysseus is especially hard to pin down. He is called polytropos, “of many turnings,” for good reason. In addition to writing and re-writing, students learned a little about the life and poetry of Shakespeare and enjoyed reading his poems and soliloquies aloud.


Finally, do encourage your student to read at least 20 minutes a day this summer! The benefits are many and it will keep them well-tuned for fall. I always look forward to Seattle Public Library’s Summer Book Bingo cards to broaden my to-be-read list horizons. There is one for young people, too!