English Department Reacts to Previous Rank&File Opinion: ‘Setting Up for Failure: Preliminary English courses do not prepare for the IB path’

The English opinion written in the Rank&File’s November issue prompted discussion amongst the English department, bringing new attention to the curriculum.

A few English teachers shared their opinions with our staffers regarding their reaction to the opinion piece, “Setting Up for Failure: Preliminary English courses do not prepare for the IB path”, with mainly positive comments.

English 9 Honors and IB Literature HL teacher Matthew Horne comments on his initial reaction to the headline.

“I was obviously shocked by the title,” Horne said. “I think the title is a little bit alarming.”

Despite his initial surprise from the headline, Horne took the content as constructive criticism and commented positively on how the opinion piece expressed its argument.

“I think this article was able to do it in a way that straddles the line of saying that their experience could have been better and asking for a better education, without saying that it’s anyone’s fault,” Horne said.

However, Horne expressed that there are very different expectations of rigor across the three levels of IB English.

Students select which English course to take in their upperclassmen years.

“IB HL is going to be a big jump,” Horne said. “That’s the whole idea with HL, right? You can’t just assume it’s going to be the same thing as there’s always a level of jump because students in [English] 10 Honors are tracked for three different [IB] courses.”

Horne emphasized the importance of rigor in HL classes as it properly sets students up to do well on future IB exams.

“We need to prepare them for the IB exams which are difficult and the IB rubrics which grade you in a difficult way,” Horne said.

By taking in the criticism of the curriculum written in the opinion piece, Horne believes that proposing a more difficult curriculum for the preliminary courses will inflict future change.

“It was advocating for making the earlier levels more challenging,” Horne said. “In that way, I completely jive with what I see as the way forward to make the English department and English curriculum better.”

The English department met to discuss certain factors of the curriculum and they all emphasized the impact COVID-19 had on the rigor of the content.

“Over COVID we had a look at our curriculum and we pared it down because we knew that students were less engaged in school,” English 10 Honors team lead and IB Literature HL 2 teacher Margaret Hemmingson said.

Now, reflecting on the curriculum for ninth and tenth grade students, the English department has begun to plan how they will re-establish the curriculum for underclassmen, to better prepare students for rigorous courses.

“We looked at some of the criticisms that the students had, and a lot of them were things that we had already decided to not do this year,” Hemmingson said.

Horne evaluated the books studied across the preliminary courses and said it could be modified.

“I do think we have books that prepare them, but there are not enough and there needs to be some shedding of the [Young Adult] curriculum in favor of more challenging books,” Horne said.

Horne also expressed that the day the opinion piece was issued, the English Department had already decided to exclude the ninth grade required novel, “Scythe”.

“We’re gonna replace it with three rigorous books, two of them in translation, one of them in English to prepare for IB,” Horne said.

English 10 Honors and IB Language and Literature SL 1 teacher Paul Fauteux said that there is a complex process behind approving books for the curriculum.

“If we are going to teach a new book, we’ve got to go to committee, have everybody sign off on it,” Fauteux said. “There’s a bunch of legislative stuff and community stuff that makes it arduous [to approve books] for different reasons, at different times, and for different books.”

Fauteux said he chose to exclude the film unit last year and this year, the rest of the department has decided to adopt that idea for this year.

“I didn’t do the fourth quarter film unit, I taught a book instead and people are doing more moves like that,” Fauteux said.

With there being constant shifts in the content of English courses, teachers have expressed their commitment to keeping students engaged in class.

“The curriculum is always changing,” Hemmingson said. “We always want to do something that is going to be interesting for our students while also preparing them for wherever they go next.”