News, updates, and happenings at Burlington High School (MA)
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Summer Reading Update
As previously posted on this blog, Burlington High School will be bringing back Summer Reading this summer. The Program was also discussed last night at the School Committee meeting.
BHS Department Head, Ben Lally, has linked a great overview of BHS Summer Reading on his blog, I have re-blogged it below. There is a list of frequently asked questions as well as an overview of the assignments that students will have too complete when they return from summer vacation.
Starting in 2014-15, BHS will reinstitute a mandatory summer reading component. On this page, you will find the books that we have selected, our rationale for this significant change, and answers to some of the more common questions that have come up since our March announcement.
The Titles for 2014-15 For incoming freshmen: Friday Night Lights by H. G. Bissinger
Here in the northeast, we don’t really know about how much high school football matters in other parts of the country. In West Texas, it’s almost a religion. Friday Night Lights is the true story of the 1988 Permian Panthers, a team from Odessa, Texas, and the pressures that the team faces in its attempts to win the state championship.
Connections to freshmen curriculum / Rationale: A recurring theme in the freshmen year is the “Coming of Age” story, which we feel is well suited to students who are embarking on their first high school experience. Freshmen will see characters in modes of deep self-discovery in To Kill a Mockingbird, The House on Mango Street, Lord of the Flies, Romeo and Juliet. The protagonists in these stories end their stories with a much greater self-awareness than they had on the first page. The students who grow together as a team in Friday Night Lights gain a similar self-awareness as do Scout Finch, Romeo Montague, or Ralph and Piggy. Furthermore, any student who anticipates participating on any sports squad or after school group will be able to identify with the book’s theme of being a part of a team.
For incoming sophomores: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
This story was nominated for the 2003 Booker Prize, and is part mystery novel, part family drama, and part character study. The most remarkable element of the book is it’s first-person narration, told by a 15-year-old autistic boy. The book is both daring and touching in its approach. A great read.
Connections to sophomore curriculum / Rationale: The emerging theme in our sophomore curriculum is variety in perspective and style. Our sophomore year covers the greatest range in the chronology of its core texts, going from classical Greek plays up to 21st century fiction. We have also enhanced the number of cultural perspectives with the addition of novels such as The Kite Runner, The Interpreter of Maladies, Life of Pi, The Metamorphosis, and Persepolis. The sophomore year also includes the greatest variety in the ways that writers write, ranging from traditional novels and plays to short story and poetry units, graphic novels (starting in 2014-15) and what are arguably our most experimental works. This novel’s unusual delivery and narrative choice are an excellent fit. Also, several of our core texts in the sophomore year present the question of the reliability of the first-person narrator, and this novel reinforces that theme as well.
For incoming juniors: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
We recently (in 2012) introduced this text as a part of our junior curriculum, and next year, it will simply shift in its location to the summer. This book tells the true story of Christopher McCandless and what compelled him to abandon society in the 1990s and head off into the trackless northwest on his own, where he ultimately died. Some view McCandless as a modern-day Thoreau, others see him as a foolhardy kid who got in over his head, but he is charismatic, and his story is compelling.
Connections to junior curriculum / Rationale: As stated above, this book has been a part of our mandatory American Literature curriculum for the past three years. Teachers have already found several excellent connections between in and the other core material in the junior year. Also, this title remains one of the few non-fiction texts we require of all students over their four-year study at BHS.
For incoming seniors: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Another Book Prize nominee, this 1986 novel will fit nicely with another new addition to the BHS reading list, George Orwell’s 1984. Like 1984, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a future dystopia where society’s power has become horribly imbalanced. The novel explores gender imbalance, governmental corruption, international paranoia, and one woman’s attempts to stand up against it.
Connections to senior curriculum / Rationale: Of our four texts, this is the one that has the greatest literary merit on its own – Neal Bowers recently compiled a wide range of Top 100 Novels lists from all sorts of various sources to create what can be regarded as the most definitive list Top 100 list of great fiction. The Handmaid’s Tale ranks #64 on his list, higher than Huck Finn, higher than Don Quixote. The 2013 list of Greatest Novels of All Time published by Entertainment Weekly rated it even higher, placing it at #29, a few slots ahead of The Catcher in the Rye (in fact, according to that list, The Handmaid’s Tale is the third-best novel we teach at BHS, behind only The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird!) Simply stated, it is a great book. More particular to BHS, it becomes the most contemporary work (1985) that we teach to our seniors, and further bolsters the growing list of living authors whom we teach at BHS, which was pitifully low only 3 years ago. This title pairs excellently well with 1984, another new addition to British Literature, to give two very different looks at the 20th-century dystopian novel.
Why are you making this change?
Summer reading is not unusual – in fact, BHS was in the minority in NOT requiring summer reading of all of its students. Here’s a map of the towns in Middlesex county. The towns in blue have mandatory summer reading for all students as of the 2013-14 school year. Towns in red do not. (The Ayer-Shirley school district states that it does require summer reading, but we could not find proof of it)
This isn’t merely about jumping on a bandwagon however. Studies show that summer reading programs have been linked to the lessening (or elimination) of the learning drain that occurs during summer months. These programs also diminish the performance gap between higher and lower-performing students.
The English Department has been talking about reinstating the summer reading program for the past six years. More important to the department, however, were the creation of our vocabulary textbook, and the alignment of the departmental writing expectations, both of which were completed in the past 12 months. With those projects out of the way, we are now able to initiate our summer reading changes.
What about students enrolled in AP classes – they already have a summer reading requirement.
Students enrolled in our AP Language (grade 11) or AP Literature (grade 12) classes do not have to read the books listed above. They are the only students who are exempt from this requirement.
What are the assignments attached to these books?
Summer Reading Assignments
Here are the assignments attached to our summer reading program:
DUE DATES: Written assignments (all grades) are due at the teacher’s discretion, but will be no later than the first Thursday of the school year. Annotations (grades 11 & 12) are due on the first day of the school year.
WRITTEN ASSIGNMENT – After reading the novel, write a one-paragraph response to ONE of the following questions:
1) Which character in this novel do you most relate to, and why? Provide moments from the text where you feel like you and your character are similar, and explain how so. You may discuss any aspect of the character’s personality or qualities that you choose, but avoid obvious, factual comparisons (like having the same last name, playing the same position in football, etc). Also, you do not have to choose a football player, or even a student for that matter.
2) Several sections of this book examine a number of topics that are not directly football related (economics, racial relations, education, etc). Select any ONE of the sections of the book that look beyond the football field and explain why you think this Bissinger included this section in the book. What connections can you make between your section and the main storyline of the Permian Panthers’ football season?
For whichever topic you choose, you need to provide at least three distinctly different moments from the story that support your response. These points should not be from the same general section of the book.
WRITTEN ASSIGNMENT - After reading the novel, write a one-paragraph response to ONE of the following questions:
1) Any time a character is telling a story (a first-person narrator), you need to be aware of the filter that the story is going through – that the facts of the story might not be entirely factual, and that the story might be biased based on the narrator. In this novel, Christopher, who is usually perceived as autistic, is unable to perceive the emotions of the people around him. Does this make him an unreliable narrator? Or do you trust his storytelling even more because of his situation? Choose one side and defend it.
2) This novel begins with a “Whodunit?” – there is a murdered dog, and the protagonist wants to find out the identity of the criminal. But this novel is a quest for truth in a variety of other, less obvious ways, including several different major and minor characters. In a well-developed paragraph, choose three different ways, beyond the murder mystery, that this novel concerns itself with the theme of knowing or understanding something. What do your different scenes have in common? What is Haddon saying about this theme?
3) Fiction, in general, can be divided into two categories: Plot-driven novels, where the story is the most important focal point, and Character-driven novels, where the character’s development is more important than the specific events of the plot. Mysteries tend to be plot-driven stories, while family dramas are more often character driven. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is both a mystery and a family drama, but as the story progresses, the “mystery” becomes less and less central to the plot. In a well-developed paragraph, choose three elements of Christopher’s personality that evolve or that develop during the course of the novel, and show how Haddon causes that development.
For whichever topic you choose, you need to provide a strong topic sentence (one that is arguable and provable), and defend it with AT LEAST 3 “P.I.E.” supports. Do not forget to use quotes from the book to support your argument. You do not need an introductory section; begin with your main point – your topic sentence. Your writing should reflect the writing rules and skills that you went over in your freshmen year (please see the “Grammar/Writing” tab in the header above if you need any information or reminders.)
ANNOTATION ASSIGNMENT: After reading the novel, choose an 8-page section of the text to annotate. Your annotations should be thorough and specific, and should take up a full 8-page section. You need to take into consideration Krakauer’s use of literary devices. Determine what is significant about his use of these devices and articulate this significance. You must include observations about the main ideas and topics of the section. You should include questions the section brings up. You should define and/or explain all problematic vocabulary and unfamiliar concepts in the section. You should make observations about McCandless’s beliefs and actions, and the effect he has on the people around him. You need to bring these annotations to class on the first day of school, September 2nd.
SAMPLE ANNOTATION (COMING SOON)
WRITTEN ASSIGNMENT: Once you have completed this annotation, you need to write a well-developed paragraph indicating why you chose this section of the book. Indicate its significance to the book as a whole. Feel free to include in your paragraph some of the analysis you incorporated in your annotations. Your paragraph cannot exceed one double-spaced page with an MLA heading at the top.
ANNOTATION ASSIGNMENT: After reading the novel, choose a 15-page section of the text to annotate. Your annotations should be thorough and specific, and should take up a full 15-page section. You need to take into consideration Atwood’s use of literary devices. Determine what is significant about her use of these devices and articulate this significance. Focus on themes, characters, symbols, imagery, motifs, and other main concepts evident in the section. You must include analytical observations about the main ideas and topics of the section. You should include questions the section brings up. You should define and/or explain all problematic vocabulary and unfamiliar concepts in the section. You should make observations about the culture reflected in the literature. You need to bring these annotations to class on the first day of school, September 2nd.
SAMPLE ANNOTATION (COMING SOON)
WRITTEN ASSIGNMENT: Once you have completed this annotation, you need to write a well-developed paragraph indicating why you chose this section of the novel. Indicate its significance to the novel as a whole. Feel free to include in your paragraph some of the analysis you incorporated in your annotations. Your paragraph cannot exceed one double-spaced page with an MLA heading at the top.
Teachers also reserve the individual right to give a single reading-check assessment at the beginning of the year, and information about these titles may be included on the course’s midterm exam.
The due date of the written work will be at the discretion of the teacher, but will be due NO LATER THAN the first Thursday of the school year.
In our research of various Massachusetts schools, we found our assignment to be far less than nearly every other school district, while still holding students accountable for the reading. Our goal is to focus on the text, not on a project, presentation, or full essay that accompanies it.
Finally, our selection of assignments also correspond with what we teach in the specific grade levels (freshmen, for instance, learn PIE paragraphing, annotation becomes crucially important in the junior year, with our custom-printed textbooks)
How do students get a copy of the book? From the school? On their own?
Students will be responsible for acquiring a copy of this book. We have put in a request to both Barnes & Noble and to the Used Book Superstore in Burlington and The Book Oasis in Stoneham to pick up copies (shop local!) – the ones at Barnes & Noble will be new, but the ones at the other two stores will be a reduced cost, and their books are generally in very good shape. Also, here are links to the pages on half.com (requires an ebay account) and Alibris (used book store online) – at either location, you can almost always find a used paperback copy of the book for under $5, which includes the shipping cost. And the used copies are usually in pretty decent shape. But we in the English Department support real, brick-and-mortar bookstores!
Also, any student in need is entitled to a free copy of the book, courtesy of the English Department.
Why not let students choose their own books?
For three main reasons.
1) We have selected books that connect to the themes of our four years of study at BHS
2) We found that the schools that provide a short list of options have to either assign a broad project (like an essay or poster) that seems more like busywork than a useful assignment, or they do not connect the book to their curricula at all, which potentially removes all accountability from the students, as they soon discover that the whole exercise ended up going nowhere. This type of situation is egregiously unfair to the students who actually did the work.
3) We feel that we have selected books that the students will actually enjoy, by and large
Will these always be the BHS summer reading books?
No. If we find that they aren’t useful, we’ll change them.
What if I, as a parent, do not approve of the book choice?
If you have a legitimate concern about the appropriateness of a book, an alternate title will be provided by the English Department, and the request for a book change must be made to Mr. Lally, the BHS Department Head. The written / annotation assignment remains unchanged. When the school year begins, if a request has not been put in for a different title, the student is not exempted from the assignment or assessment attached to that book. Requests that arrive after mid-August may not be honored.
We hope this clarifies the rationale behind this update to what we teach at BHS. We will add information to this page as needed. If you have further questions, please contact Benjamin Lally, the English Department Head, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 781.270.1877