English department to revise standard level


The problem is complex. It is not just a matter of the distribution of honors and standard English classes. It’s also English teachers’ concerns about the pace of the classes, students’ interest in classes and whether or not students have the right skill set for the classes they sign up for.

As a result, the English department plans to revise their standard curriculum.

According to English Curriculum Coordinator Mary Burchenal, there is no set proposal for the curriculum change yet. However, the English department plans to start with the sophomore curriculum and expand changes to all grades.

According to English teacher Rebecca Hayden, some of the problems stem from the community’s mindset.

“I think we live in a school system that tends to focus on high achievement. There is a sense that whether you have the skills or not, or you want to or not, that it’s better to take honors than standard,” said Hayden.

Hayden grapples with the misconception that honors classes are better than standard classes.

“I think that students need to think about the whole picture. They need to think about their own needs, they need to think about the fact that they often have clubs, hobbies and jobs outside of school and that they need a certain amount of sleep and that they need time to hang out with their friends. I think a balanced approach to life is much healthier,” said Hayden.

English teacher Ben Berman recognizes a similar phenomenon.

“I think students sometimes have certain pressures as to why they would want to take an honors class versus a standard class without necessarily having a genuine interest in the subject,” said Berman. “Sometimes they have assumptions about what goes in the classes that they don’t typically take.”

Moreover, according to Hayden, every year, there are students who struggle in honors classes.

“It depends from year to year but I’ve always had, I would say in my honors classes, a solid percentage of kids who were struggling. Some have really developed and grown over the year, but it’s a challenge all the way though, and their needs would have been better met if they hadn’t taken honors,” said Hayden.

Berman, who has taught both standard and honors classes, sees a wide range of abilities in both levels. According to Berman, this results from a limited course leveling system.

“I think that just having two choices, just honors and standards, without thinking about all the different styles of approaches you might have towards English, is the bigger problem,” said Berman.

This large range of student ability, partially caused by misconceptions of the leveling system, can result in pace issues, according to Burchenal.

“You could see that as a positive fact that so many Brookline High School students take honors classes. So many students want to challenge themselves, read a lot and write a lot,” said Burchenal. “But I think many honors classes teachers think they can’t go at the pace they used to and that they sometimes can’t teach the books the way they used to teach because they’re dealing with a wider range of skills in their classrooms than they used to.”

According to Hayden, to compensate for these issues, the English department plans to propose different courses that seem attractive to students.

“We want do the best for the students. We want to make them even more outwardly appealing and we want them to meet the needs of the kids who take those classes,” said Hayden.

Burchenal also said that the English department hopes to make the standard classes “solely engaging and compelling,” which could encourage students who currently take honors to choose these courses instead.

“No matter which way we go, it’s challenging,” Burchenal said. “There is no perfect leveling system.”

Although junior Tyreik Mosley does not think that the imbalance in student distribution is a problem, he thinks having different or unleveled courses for future students is a good idea.

“I could get the opportunity to study and learn with honors students in my class and maybe I could learn from them with their help,” Mosley said. “Also I could learn in different environment being in an unleveled class.”

Although there will not be immediate change, the department plans to propose new courses next fall, according to Burchenal.

“Every department has their own challenges with trying to meet every student’s needs, and I’m glad that the English department is trying to do something about it,” said Hayden.

“I don’t think kids should sacrifice every waking hour to academic striving. I think you need to have a balanced approach to everything.”


Andrea Kim can be contacted at [email protected]