English Four: Questions for the New Direction

[Mrs. Gerken]

       Every year it seems like there is something new and exciting happening at Seabury. Unfortunately with so many changes, there often comes a degree of confusion. I sat down with Mrs. Gerken to have some of our questions answered and provide some clarity on the topic of the new English structure which will impact rising juniors and seniors and all classes thereafter. 


Can you give me a quick overview of what the changes to the English curriculum are and why they are being made?

       Of course. Okay, so what made me think that the change was necessary is because I really think that AP Language and Composition is a powerful course.  In this class, we look at non-literary and also non-fiction texts and that’s the type of texts that students will be inundated with for the rest of their lives. I think the ability to critically analyze and evaluate these texts and to understand and appreciate the rhetorical situation is an essential skill for life. I thought it remiss that we weren’t offering this experience to everyone, that everyone wasn’t getting that in their junior year. So that was the incentive to make sure that everyone had access to this course and all that’s being taught in it. And then, similarly, because of all the amazing skills taught in AP Literature and Composition, we thought that every student should also be exposed and have access to the rigor and the beauty of that course in their senior year.


Can you explain the reasoning behind the decision to not offer a GPA boost for those who are taking the AP course?

       The actual AP course will be dedicated to test prep for the College Board exam. Thus the focus will be on multiple choice practice, and perhaps some additional access to prompts and exam practice.  Thus, it didn’t seem ethical to have to give a grade boost or even a grade for something that’s test prep because it’s practice. We thought that just the nature of English class  – and the lifelong skills being taught in the course – are valuable for everyone, and that is a boost in and of itself. 


Do you have any advice for students who were not planning on taking AP English and are now concerned about taking an additional AP, either due to their strengths lying in other areas or the level of rigor of their overall schedule?

       They shouldn’t think of it as an AP. Obviously, I’ll be seen as a biased source but I can’t think of more important skill-building than being able to critically think and then communicate in a really clear and effective way.  I believe that no matter what major or career you want to pursue, these skills are essential. So it’s not about “oh my goodness,  this course is going to be too much.”  Rather, it’s going to be the rigor that should be expected for every high school student in the US or internationally.   One thing  I’ve learned and appreciated from 23 years of teaching comes from former students who have written to me from university and have said that by having experienced really strong English classes in high school, they were set apart from their peers in university because of the strength of their writing skills, no matter what major they were in.  The teachers here at Seabury are compassionate, and we all hope to help students achieve the best versions of themselves.  Thus, students should have no fear in entering English 3 or English 4, as they will have great support and encouragement from their teachers.


On the topic of teachers, do you have any concerns about teachers structuring curriculum for such a wide variety of skill levels?

       Mr. Van Amburgh could probably answer this with even more wisdom because of the years he’s been here, but the separation of students into AP English or non-AP English is just two years old.   Prior to these two years, the English classes were always mixed.  Our lovely, Ms. Janssen, experienced the mixed classes, and she shared that it was an excellent experience.   She appreciated how the higher-performing students helped to raise up the struggling students, and how it was an opportunity for students to take on more leadership roles.  Again, Mr. Van Amburgh is the expert to speak to this, but Seabury Hall has had a strong tradition of a really effective and rigorous English program that has served many, many students very well as they journeyed on to the next chapter of their lives.


As I understand it, there is now going to be test prep within the class and the English department has eliminated the additional course requirement for the AP Class?

       For students taking the exam, there will be some differentiated instruction for those students to practice exam prep strategies.  And, if students and the teacher feel it necessary, then additional study sessions may be arranged.  Additionally, all students who wish to take the AP English exam (Language or Literature) will be required to take a Mock Exam.


Thank you so much, do you have any final comments you’d like to share?

       Just one more note: In the past at Seabury Hall (before we had official AP Lang & Comp and AP Lit and Comp courses), students who wanted to take the College Board exam attended some extra help sessions in which they worked on test prep skills, and these students fared really well. So, I do hope that by knowing this, more students might be inspired to want to try and take the test because they will understand how the coursework of English 3 and English 4 will provide them with the critical thinking and critical writing that they will need to achieve success on the exam.  Yeah, I am excited for next year, as I think it’s going to be a beautiful adventure!