Program Update: English with Cilla and Lisa
8th grade: One of our guiding questions for 8th grade English this year is the importance of finding your voice and using it for positive change. As the week we returned from camping was Banned Books Week, our 8th graders took time to learn about the growing movement to silence the voices of certain communities via book challenges and removals in the United States. We discovered that it isn’t simply a matter of political party and that the majority of book bans target information by or for certain communities explicitly. Ask your student if they encountered any surprises when they examined records of challenged books, and which groups of people are most impacted by efforts to challenge books in schools.
After exploring why a variety of voices is important to a healthy society and the ways in which communities are making sure books can be widely available to all, students started studying the short story genre in preparation for writing their own short stories in a collaboration with their art class. Students reviewed the storytelling arc and are practicing close reading to look for the ‘writerly moves’ authors make when faced with a limited number of words to create a compelling narrative. We particularly focused on elements writers use to develop character. Students are currently writing a literary analysis paragraph or challenge essay to demonstrate their understanding of these concepts. Ask your student what the thesis of their analysis is.
7th Grade: Much like the 8th graders, 7th grade also spent some time looking into the issue of banned books. They then wrote haiku memoirs as an opportunity to practice using concise and evocative images to convey feeling and to get to know each other better. Sharing finished work as a class inspired both laughter and reflection on how many of us have faced difficult times. In the past couple weeks, we’ve embarked on an exploration of the dystopian genre through our all-class novel, the Newbery Award-winning The Last Cuentista. We have learned about prominent tropes in dystopian literature and are looking for them in our reading. Students are building up their close reading and annotation skills, particularly how to more deeply engage with the text by making inferential and critical notations. As the book features a Spanish-speaking family of scientists, we are expanding our vocabulary on two fronts. We also are carrying forward the concept from our banned books lessons that stories are capable of both helping heal and build community, so we will be paying close attention to how the main character uses stories as a form of resistance and a practice of hope. You can help your student be ready for class by asking them they night before if they have packed all the English materials they need and checking in with them on assignments and due dates.
6th grade: This September students created a “My Life in Books” poster. Discussing the books we loved and peer editing helped us to become a stronger community of readers. Students’ writing and poster designs are charming and compelling! I’m hanging these in the English classroom for now; you may want to display this on your refrigerator down the road! In October, students followed along as I read R. L. Stevenson’s story, The Bottle Imp. This story gave us the opportunity to identify elements of good storytelling—in particular, Stevenson’s genius for “showing, not telling” the character’s emotional state. Students tackled difficult vocabulary from this story with their first vocabulary quiz. And, as a warm up for a discussion on character, plotted character’s motives for each purchase and sale of the bottle. Analyzing this short story serves as a warm up for our upcoming personal narrative unit, when students will have the chance to “show, not tell” in a story from their own life.
All classes are encouraged to read and write for pleasure beyond classwork to build stamina and literacy skills. Some children will want to read more, which is wonderful. We ask that they strive for a minimum of 20 minutes of reading five days a week or 100 minutes total.