Communication, through the use of spoken and written language, is something that sets us apart from, and indeed above, other sentient beings. Different world languages have varying degrees of difficulty with respect to speaking and writing. English is one language which is relatively easy to learn. As well, world citizens whose mother tongue is English can consider themselves extremely fortunate. Knowing how to speak English grants people access to a host of countries—even many whose native tongue is not English. The language of Shakespeare’s home has found thousands of niches all over the globe.
Mark Abley writes that “Every language is rooted in a homeland. No matter how cosmopolitan and far-flung English has become, it’s still packed with metaphors and phrases that reflect . . . a few small islands off the coast of Europe” (The Gazette, Oct. 10th/09). What began centuries ago as a vehicle of communication in the British Isles, now continues in high schools throughout Canada as an academic subject which stresses the importance of effective communication, and also determines a student’s graduating year.
Here at Riverdale, we remember that English is all about communication. Nothing is more important than being understood by others when we communicate, if our world is to remain a viable one. We all have a need to have others receive and react appropriately to our signals, our expressions, our gestures, our messages. If we cannot speak nor write clearly and succinctly, how can we expect others to understand and appreciate our own points of view?
The “new” Curriculum Reform has now reached grade 11, or Secondary V. The government-mandated competencies of speaking and listening (Competency 1), reading and understanding (Competency 2) and writing and media production (Competency 3) organize the basic pathways of communication into distinct areas which can be uniformly evaluated throughout the province. (N. B. In Cycle 1, the competencies are separated into four parts.)
The subject label “English” can be misleading to some. It is not enough simply to know how to speak the language. Successful English students display proficiency in a vast array of communication skills taught to, and absorbed by, them throughout their five years in high school. Can they organize their thoughts and speak publicly in a convincing manner? Do they show understanding for the possible reasons an author may have written the story the way she has? Are they able to stretch their imaginations and create significant productions which will demonstrate to others the unique ideas they have?
Riverdale English teachers at both the junior and senior levels, use their own creative passions for words and communication to help students find their voices, both literally and figuratively. Verbal communication is a key ingredient in all five levels of Riverdale’s English program. Our goal is to educate students who will be able to, upon graduation, speak to others with sensitivity, compassion, clarity and intelligence. Today’s young people are bombarded with many forms of technological and media communication; emphasis on interpersonal communication is a must. Through the grades, exercises and assignments such as the following, help students retain ‘the gift of [intelligent] gab.’
|• Storytelling/ poetry reading
• Peer editing
• Interviewing peers and adults
• Skit and play production
• Debating community and global issues
• Newspaper and magazine article discussions
|• Formal public speaking
• Oral discussion and analysis of films
• Song lyric discussion and interpretation
• Thematic/ethical discussions arising from school events/ activities
• Class discussions with the nurse on relationships/sexuality/health related issues
Literacy, and the pleasure of reading, makes our days more enjoyable. Those who can, and do, read have opened the door to a world of knowledge and imagination to which the illiterate person craves the key. Originally slated as one of the three R’s—“Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic”—reading continues to retain its important place in students’ educations. A number of successful strategies are implemented by Riverdale English teachers to encourage students to become life-long readers.
|• The use of codes and games to learn how to follow directions
• Exploration of different book genres in reading circles
• Media literacy units to help students see through the constructed veil of advertising
• Examination of themes/ issues in short stories, poems, novels, plays, newspaper and magazine articles
• Independent reading for the development of students’ tastes in both fiction and non-fiction
||• Working with literature, both classic (i.e. Shakespeare) and contemporary (i.e. Jodi Picoult)
• Viewing short film clips and feature length films during LES’s, as mandated by government Curriculum Reform
• Response, synthesis, analysis and defense of selected texts
• Daily silent reading-for-pleasure time in class
It is, of course, not enough for students to merely read and glean ideas only from the works of others. Inspirations to write or produce their own creations may come from a myriad of sources; without new works, the world’s reservoir of ideas would stagnate. Teachers are always searching for new Stephen Leacocks, Margaret Atwoods and poetic Leonard Cohens. A new Steven Spielberg would be splendid as well! Students are encouraged to expand their imaginations with a variety of task-oriented options.
• Letter writing
• Production of time capsules
• Writing and illustrating a children’s book
• Multi-media productions related to course content
• Shakespeare through performance
• Interior and dramatic monologues
|• Production of a volume of interviews of staff members
• Projects for Black History and Women’s Appreciation Months
• Extensive poetry writing units
• Essay, editorial and article writing
• Short story writing
• Portfolio of creative writing based on the topic of non-violence (in collaboration with L.O.V.E.)
Finally, excursions/field trips, guest speakers and dramatic productions by professional theatre groups are integral parts of our program. Students have participated in the annual International Student Conference on Human Trafficking, have enjoyed watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream and will be listening to guest speaker and author of young adults’ novels, James Heneghan on November 17th. Montreal Rap artists and Montreal actors who have performed Shakespearean plays visit classes at Riverdale for their enjoyment and enlightenment. Riverdale’s English teachers, in both the junior and senior classes, are always on the look-out for new and captivating ways to teach students the importance of connecting with others.