Valley Lutheran High School is dedicated to the well being of its students, and it’s never content leaving things “as is” if there’s a better way to prepare students to succeed in the future.
Every 3-to-5 years, departments at VLHS undergo exhaustive reviews to determine whether they’re still meeting the needs of students in today’s academic world, however, the English Department is in the process of undergoing the most extensive curriculum overhaul of any department in the school in the last 20 years.
We sat down with Ms. Weilnau, chair of the English Department, to learn more about the change.
Q — When did the idea for a curriculum change in the English Department first come up?
A — About two years ago the entire faculty was in a Tuesday morning professional development meeting. Dr. Meyers had us meeting in our departments and she said told us to imagine what our ideal curriculum would look like if we didn’t have any restrictions–schedule, budget, teaching staff, etc. She basically gave us permission to “blow up” our current curriculum — so over a couple of Tuesday mornings, we did just that! The three of us in the English department discussed the needs we saw in our students based on our experiences with them in the classroom and their scores on various national tests. We also discussed the strengths and weaknesses of our current curriculum in meeting (or failing to meet) those needs, and the ways that we could improve upon the good things we’re already doing in order to better meet the needs of all students. The new curriculum that we’ve implemented for next year was born out of those brain storming sessions.
A — In the brainstorming sessions that I mentioned, we determined that some of some of our biggest needs included a better way to differienate for students so that all students can work at the appropriate level of academic challange and rigor — whatever that looks like for each individual student — appealing to student interest and choice in an attempt to get them interested and excited about the literature they will be studying and, hopefully, take ownership of their English education, strenghening the research componenet of our curriculum, and having a writing curriuculum that helps us to focus more narrowly on the very specific writing skills that students need to be ready for the next step–whatever that step might be. We decided that the current English 1,2,3, and 4 system wasn’t the best way to meet those needs. We decided that making the English classes semester classes with specific skill focuses would help us meet students’ needs better–and determined that students would be required to take a semester writing course and a semester literature course (or a year long AP course) every year. Naturally, both writing AND reading we’ll be present in every course, but this new arrangement allows us to focus on a few specific skills to help ensure that students are moving towards mastery in those areas. The semester course arrangement also gives students more freedom to navigate the English curriculum in a way that makes sense for them given their individual strengths, interests, and needs. For example, perhaps we have a student who is a strong reader, but who needs additional support in writing. This new curriculum allows him or her to get the remediation in writing that he or she needs while allowing him or her to progress on-level in their literature instruction. Our old model would have forced that student into a class that remediated both–and that wouldn’t have best meet his or her unique learning needs. We drew A LOT of maps and graphic organizers as we tried to conceptualize what all this would look like as one cohesive program.