Frequently Asked Questions

What are the goals and objectives of the course(s)?

Each course has its own standards for student learning in the four core literacies (reading, writing, speaking, and listening).  These standards are sequenced to require students to learn and demonstrate mastery of more and more rigorous concepts, skills, and strategies.  York Department of English standards are consistent with Illinois State Standards, as well as those articulated by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the International Reading Association (IRA), and The College Board.  Teachers will provide students with the day’s lesson target, and as they progress throughout each unit, students will be asked to reflect upon their current ability in relation to the standard and what they need to do to meet the standard in the future.  Course goals and objectives are also visible in PowerSchool since entries reflect standards rather than tasks or assignments.

At the end of the year, what new (or enhanced ) skills will my child demonstrate? 

Students should continue to demonstrate more sophisticated abilities in the four core literacies (mentioned above) as a result of numerous inquiries into archetypal themes and enduring questions.  During their four years at York, a student’s writing ability should develop appreciably as a result of what they have written (and revised).  Students draft a minimum of eight pieces of writing per semester.  These formal essays should improve in numerous areas including argumentation, reasoning, organization, word choice, sentence structure, and style.  As readers, they should be able to analyze the author’s message in increasingly more challenging texts and then craft their own argument in support of or in response to those beliefs.  Similar growth should also be evident in speaking and listening skills.

How much reading is expected?

One of the targets or goals of the English department is to foster student interest in text.  Students should be able to identify authors and genres that deeply interest them, and they should also make daily reading for pleasure a habit.  In addition to personal choice or independent reading, students read and analyze a variety of kinds of texts.  Therefore, the amount of reading varies according to purpose of the reading, role in the unit, order in the sequence, etc.  Students may be assigned a close reading of a single poem, or they may be assigned  an entire chapter from a text.  Typical assignments for underclassmen may include ten pages of reading and annotation.  Upper level courses may require as much as twenty to twenty-five pages or more of nightly reading.

How much nightly (weekly, monthly) homework should my student expect?

English coursework at York requires a paradigm shift from homework to inquiry and pursuit of the achievement of standards.  On a daily basis, students are engaged in investigating an inquiry question such as “To what extent should a community change in response to an individual,” or “To what extent should an individual change to conform to a community?”  Students should be actively reading (or rereading) the unit text(s), writing in response to the pre, during, or after reading questions, or most often (significantly) revising one of the pieces of formal writing they have submitted.  English class, therefore, requires students to move beyond a nightly homework assignment to personal goal setting and self-assessment of their reading and writing abilities.  Moreover, students should always have an independent reading book they have chosen to read for pleasure.  Whether this is a graphic novel, romance, or four hundred page tome, students should always be reading on a nightly/weekly basis.

What is the entry requirement or entry expectation for honors or Advanced Placement coursework?

All English courses at York are college preparatory curricula.  Students who are working at grade level should enroll in college prep English 9, 10,  11.  Students whose formal writing ability and literary analysis skills are well beyond grade level should enroll in honors or Advanced Placement courses.  At the ninth grade level, students are placed in either English 9 or English 9 Honors as a result of standardized test scores, a writing sample, and teacher recommendation.  At the sophomore level and beyond, students may elect to enroll in college prep or honors/AP classes after considering the recommendation made by his or her York English teacher.  Please note that English 9 Honors and English 10 Honors are pre-advanced placement courses that lead to enrollment in Advanced Placement work in eleventh and twelfth grade.

Are students encouraged to work for extra credit?
Since standards-based grading focuses on meeting and exceeding skill targets or objectives rather than tasks, assignments, or points, extra credit is not available in English.  Students, however, are encouraged to meet with their teachers for one-on-one analysis of their essays or to discuss topic or texts of interest.  There are also numerous opportunities to participate in school literacy activities including the school newspaper and yearbook, literary magazine, and speech team, as well as opportunities to participate in writing contests sponsored by local colleges and national organizations.  Interested students should speak with their teacher about these opportunities.
What kind of feedback can parents expect to see on PowerSchool? Are there frequent assignments?

This question also reflects the impact of standards-based grading.  Since students are working toward developing abilities in relationship to particular targets—for example, “Students will be able to identify analyze the author’s use of satire and evaluate his/her meaning”— students will often first be introduced to the concept and be evaluated with a “diagnostic” grade that enables them to identify where they are in relation to the target.  Students then will have repeated exposure to the objective as a whole class, in small groups, and independently.  They will receive feedback from the teacher and their peers, and they will conduct their own self-evaluation.  These assessments may appear in PowerSchool as “formative” grades that demonstrate their progress toward the target.  Finally, students will complete a major assignment—most likely an essay—that reflects the student’s “summative” ability to meet or exceed the target.  (Students may then work with their teacher to continue to revise their writing and move closer toward the standard.)  Therefore, students and parents will see fewer PowerSchool entries due to the nature of standards-based grading.

What is the level of reading? How are books selected? Are any of the “classics” used?

Texts from a variety of genres, time periods, and cultures are represented throughout the English curricula.  Reading includes literature by Chicagoans, the English Canon, women of color, and myriad other writers published throughout time across the globe.  The texts have been selected for their role in informing the inquiry question that is at the heart of each unit.  It should be noted, however, that the culminating text of each unit—the novel, play, etc.—constitutes only a portion of the texts read by students.  Contemporary articles, short stories, poems, songs, etc. all provide “data” for the students to analyze and synthesize in an effort to answer the inquiry question.

What preparation do students receive for the ACT?

During the 2010-2011 school year, students and parents can anticipate further integration of ACT/PSAE preparation into the current curriculum.  This addition will entail the incorporation of passages from retired tests from The College Board, as well as strategy instruction in textual analysis to improve a student’s ability to summarize, make inferences, evaluate cause and effect, etc.  These additions will address the reading components of the test.  Students will also continue to construct and evaluate arguments on controversial topics without a data set just as they will later be required to do under test conditions.  Moreover, students will be taught to use their own background knowledge and life experience to construct evidence for these arguments. 

In addition, all freshmen students will complete and evaluate two ACT writing prompts per year.  Sophomores will work with three passages annually, and the junior class will complete a minimum of four writing samples prior to April of 2011.  Finally, students will receive instruction in grammar and mechanics—in their own writing—and will be required to apply this knowledge to future written assignments.

How does the English program address building oral expression skills (i.e. debate, speech, oral presentation)?

The inquiry approach utilized by the department requires students to engage in analysis and debate of the topic at hand.  Formal debate, speech making, and group presentations are fundamental components of the curriculum.  Each unit of the year incorporates speaking and listening targets that include both presentation and argument goals.  Therefore, students are expected to apply the argumentation skills learned in writing to their oral presentations just as they are also expected to develop their ability to speak orally in formal and informal situations—with sophistication, precision, and passion.

How are students engaged in research?

Research is a critical component of each English course.  Students engage in database research of primary and secondary sources in a variety contexts—as part of the pre, during, and after reading process.  Research is also valued as an avenue of literary criticism for both underclassmen and advanced students.  It is significant to note that research is an integral element of inquiry, so students are asked to investigate outside sources as part of the unit of study rather than in isolation.

How should I contact my student’s teacher if I have questions or concerns? 

Communication between parents and the department are critical for student success.  Parents are encouraged to email teachers with questions, concerns, or feedback.  Teacher contact information is also available on the website.  Please feel free to call and leave a voicemail for an individual teacher using the York main line:  630.617.2400 if you would prefer to do so.