Academic English II Curriculum Guide

Course Description

Prerequisite: English I

Full year, 1 credit

Making decisions based upon a rational process, supporting an opinion with thoughtful evidence, understanding another’s viewpoint without — or at least before — criticizing it, discovering the principles and values that underlie basic issues in society: these are fundamental critical thinking skills that students need today to become full participants in the democratic process. Academic English II at Mt. Ararat attempts to address these needs in a concrete way, through writing and literary studies that develop the skills students need to formulate a point of view and develop it systematically. At the heart of the course is the “I-Search,” a reference paper in which students draw on a variety of sources, including personal interviews, to articulate the differences among viewpoints on an issue.

• Course Overview

The centerpiece of Academic English II is the “I-Search,” the reference paper which occupies students for approximately one quarter of their sophomore English studies. Recognizing the complexity of skills needed to successfully complete this project, the curriculum for Academic English II structures a series of assignments throughout the first semester designed systematically to introduce and hone these skills, so that students will be ready to synthesize them when the I-Search comes due.

  • Separating fact from opinion
  • Paraphrasing
  • Representing fairly and accurately the point of view of a text
  • Understanding and representing more than one side of an issue
  • Articulating the differences between different points of view on an issue
  • Exploring an issue by creating scenarios, making analogies, and identifying underlying principles
  • Using quotations effectively and correctly to support an idea
  • Structuring paragraphs (and papers) to shape an argument rather than present facts
  • Citing sources correctly in a text and in a Works Cited
  • Arranging, planning, and carrying out recorded interviews as a source of information
  • Developing skills appropriate to interviewing
  • Using on-line resources from the school library databases and the internet to locate appropriate materials
  • Using bibliographic and reference materials in print to locate appropriate materials
  • Taking notes effectively from print, audio, and video sources
  • Organizing notes to make a coherent structure or outline
  • Using a word-processing program effectively
  • Using journals or freewrites to discover and explore one’s own thinking
  • Drawing conclusions or making decisions about an issue after gathering and examining evidence

Though the actual assignments may differ from teacher to teacher, and from year to year, the intent is to isolate skills, where possible, so that students can focus their attention, and then practice their accumulating skills with more and more complex tasks. For example, an assignment early in the year might ask students to make a decision about a controversial issue based only on a minimal amount of evidence. Later, students would be asked to perform a similar task but with a greater body of evidence (and conflicting opinion) to draw on, and with the additional requirement of using quotations from the evidence to support their points. Still later, students might be required to find their own sources of evidence rather than work with those supplied by the teacher. Similarly, students might at first use relatively simple texts, such as news articles or editorials, to practice the task of representing fairly and accurately the point of view of a text. Later they deal with more difficult texts and the more complex task of articulating the differences between different points of view on an issue. A typical mid-term examine might ask students to read two articles with opposing viewpoints, summarize each, articulate the main differences, and draw some conclusions.

The culmination of this skill-building is the I-Search paper completed during the second semester. For this assignment, students draw on a variety of sources, including personal interviews, and must demonstrate a dialectical process which articulates and perhaps resolves the differences among view points on an issue. The “I” of the I-Search paper is that personal element, beginning with the selection of a topic, when students need to explain how their choice of topics will make a personal difference in their lives, and extending to students’ journals, which record and reflect on their experiences as learners over the I -Search process. Students follow a calendar of incremental steps which guide them through a deliberate, rational process of locating sources, collecting information, consolidating ideas, and then reporting the results. Students complete the I-Search process by reporting on their topics in formal speeches to their classmates.

As with other courses in the English Department, Academic English II places great emphasis on writing and recognizes that students gain the most when they can work one-on-one with a teacher.  In addition to formal papers, students also regularly employ “write-to-learn” techniques, such as freewriting and journal-keeping.

In many ways, the study of literature in 10th grade is consonant with the work done on the I-Search paper. That is, the work is analytical and systematic in its approach to building interpretive skills. Students focus on such skills as identifying thematic issues in a text, locating and using quoted evidence to support their readings of a text, recognizing patterns and finding meaning in those patterns, comparing genres, and relating thematic concerns of a text to issues in their own lives and culture. It is worth noting, however, that applying analytical and interpretive skills to literary works is generally more difficult and problematic for sophomores than applying many of the same skills to the kinds of social, psychological, and cultural issues that tend to form the basis for I-Search topics. Moreover, students at the academic level in sophomore English exhibit a wide range in both ability and willingness to read literary works; many of the willing readers, in fact, make up the approximately 25 per cent of each sophomore class that form the Advanced English sections. As a consequence, the approach to literature on the 10th grade is generally to go slowly in building a foundation for literary study that will continue into the junior and senior years of academic English.

Texts and assignments differ from teacher to teacher, and from year to year, but share goals and objectives. As with the sequencing of assignments toward the I-Search paper, the study of literature is also cumulative, with texts and tasks becoming increasingly more complex. As texts become more sophisticated, so do the demands on students to develop a complex thesis about a literary work and explore it through writing.

Along with formal study of literary texts in the classroom, students in Academic English II participate in an independent reading program, in which they are expected to read one or more works each quarter, selected from a variety of texts.

• Scope and Sequence of Course Units

As with any thoughtful curriculum, the Academic English II curriculum is dynamic, subject to the continual process of revision, invention, and reflection that is the hallmark of professional teaching. Thus we hesitate to present a scope and sequence that would appear as a “finished product.” The curriculum described here represents a snapshot of what has happened in the course in the past and a framework for revising the course in the future. It might also be noted that any given section of a course is subject to contingency. Since the object is to help students learn rather than cover material, decisions about what materials to use and how to follow them are inevitably a judgment call on the teacher’s part.

Academic English II currently uses 4 common assessment points to determine whether students have met the learning goals of the course. Though assignments may differ from class to class, teachers use common rubrics to assess student achievement. These include:

Common Assessment List June 2010 (updated from May 2007)

Assessment Title is underlined and accompanied by ELA Standard achievement indicator and clustering information

  • Two Viewpoints: Identify Thesis and Main Points
  • Research Writing: Demonstrate Command of Research Process
  • Patterns in Literature: Examine and Explore Literary Ideas
  • Patterns in Literature: Write Correctly

The units below are a sampling of how teachers have approached learning goals for English II.

On Trial

In this unit students use literal trials as a method to practice the process of  marshaling evidence to support a decision. Texts have included Of Mice and Men and Twelve Angry Men — or both.

Weighing the Evidence

The focus of the unit is on understanding different written points of view on a controversial topic, coming to a conclusion based  on the evidence, and supporting that conclusion through effective use of quotation. Some classes approach this through a case involving the legalization of a new (fictional) psychotropic drug, or a case involving a doctor’s decision whether or not to operate; others make use of the Opposing Viewpoints series of textbooks.

Midyear Exam

This exam presents itself as a review of the first quarter writing curriculum and a launching pad for the I-Search. It commonly asks students to summarize two articles from opposing viewpoints,  identify the thesis and main points of each, analyze the differences between the viewpoints, and finally to come to a conclusion based on the evidence.

I-Search Paper

This research project, drawn from both print and live interview sources, represents the culmination of the students’ work to date. Students also give oral presentations on their research.

Independent Reading Strand

This is an ongoing strand that continues throughout the entire year. Students read a minimum of one book per quarter (in addition to those texts that are taught as part of the class), drawn from a limited choice of titles. Emphasis is on completing the reading and understanding the literal story, which is evaluated in a number of ways.

Reading for Depth and Pattern

The study of the text Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, asks students to approach a work of literature on a more analytical basis than before. Typically students are asked to identify and follow a pattern of imagery or symbolism that permeates the text, and then write a paper using that imagery as a key to understanding the book thematically.  Other texts may be used to serve the same general objectives.

From Text to Performance

The year usually ends with the study of a Shakespeare text. The emphasis is on performance of a play script as a form of interpretation. Students study one or more recorded versions of the play, and may compare various interpretations. They perform selected scenes from the play and/or write a critical paper.

• Grading Standards and Student Evaluation

Core assignment (Level Two Assessment) scoring guides tell students what they have to do and how they are doing. The teacher designates an overall grade for each core assignment based on the A-B-C-D-F system, and provides feedback to the student on individual items from the rubric. In general, student work that on the whole is exemplary earns from an A- to an A+. Proficient student work results in a grade between C and B+. Work that is generally ineffective or only partially satisfies performance expectations results in grades from C- down to D. Deficient work results in grades of D- or F.

Students are expected to meet deadlines on all assignments. Late core assignments receive a reduced grade. Failure to successfully complete a core assignment results in repeating the course the following year or through a summer school program, if available.