Lit Crit: Reducing the Number of Books in English Classes
February 6, 2017 • 192 views
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It’s the end of the semester, finals are only a week away, and you still have a hundred pages left to read in Defending Jacob. If you have ever been in this situation, you have experienced first hand the hassle that is rushing through that last book of the semester.
While reading is the priority of all English classes at Pres, non AP/honors classes should not have to read more than four novels/stories in each semester class. Decreasing the number of novels to four a semester is beneficial to both students and teachers by creating a more realistic and in depth academic experience.
Many upper division non honors/AP English classes cover five books in a semester. The exceptions are Shakespeare and Death in Literature, the former being inherently difficult to understand given its historical diction and the latter adds a unit using a series of nonfiction articles rather than a fifth book. American Literature only has four books and Literary Analysis examines excerpts rather than whole books.
Having less material to cover creates an opportunity to go more in depth with each work and really understand the novel/short story/poem. A limited time frame and an excess number of pages to read creates superficial discussion and analysis, while decreasing the material would easily allow for time to fully discuss the complexities of the most important works and lead to more sustainable academic development.
On the surface, it may seem like we are trying to get out of doing extra work, but in reality, this change is fundamentally better for our long term learning. Cramming as much information as possible into the minds of students hardly ever yields the best results.
An article published by Daniel Stamm in the Nonpartisan Education Review focuses on the disparities between U.S. curricula and that of the academically high achieving Japan.
Stamm found that the United States covers many more topics per grade than Japan and that Japan spends more time solidifying those concepts through repetition in later grades. He also compares American textbooks with Japanese ones and found that American elementary math and science textbooks were three times longer than those of Japan.
These findings suggest an inverse correlation between curriculum length and student performance. An excessive and poorly covered curriculum is potentially very damaging to the quality of our education.
A comprehensive and thorough approach benefits the student because we can really understand the book and use our critical thinking to actually analyze it instead of improvising at the last minute.
Not only would this reduction benefit students, it would also aid teachers. Having fewer novels would enable them to teach each work in detail and facilitate more in depth learning.
Many of the books that Pres students read are incredibly complex, intricate, and famous, and they deserve to be taught in a manner that reflects the depth of the work instead of having them skimmed through at the end of a semester.
While improving the academic quality of the class, reading only four or fewer works also would help decrease the stress levels of students and teachers. Forcing your way through five or more books a semester is not an easy task and is one that some may not even complete. Powering through a CRP while also juggling the reading and analysis of three other books is something most students have experienced at some point, and they can attest to the stress that accompanies this kind of structure.
Teachers also struggle in this situation. They must comprehensively teach each book to the best of their ability while also teaching and grading writing and trying to cover vocab. All of these tasks take a toll on them, too, and add to their stress, which only increases student stress. This format is not beneficial to anyone and warrants a positive change.
Classes with more than four novels can have a tendency to develop a lopsided curriculum. In the beginning of the semester, the first few books are covered extensively and in depth, but once the CRP hits, the following works go by the wayside. In the rush to the finish, the last work is neglected in terms of analysis and discussion and occasionally goes unfinished.
This could negatively affect a student’s grade in the class. If a teacher also decides to add a test to the last unit; poor comprehension of the work would cause lower than average test scores. This would result a grade drop right before finals adding to student stress and poorly reflecting that student’s work over the course of the whole semester.
Lack of discussion also causes students to miss out on the nuances of a potentially great novel. It does no good to include classic or poignant works to only have them be neglected at the end of the semester.
Lengthy curricula that do not provide for adequate time to comprehensively cover the material have proven to be less effective for student development than shorter and more in depth class structures.
Having less than five works per English semester course would benefit students and teachers by improving the quality of content covered and reducing stress for everyone. It is in the entire Pres community’s best interest to make the switch.