Academic Insights: TCS English Department

Travel History-English in Europe

Since our return from the March Break, the energy in the English department at Trinity College School has been palpable. Experiences over the break, as well as recent professional development opportunities, have inspired many of our teachers and re-energized them for this final term.

C.S. Lewis wrote that “Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it.” Department members Ms. Barb Brough, Ms. Nichola Bendle and Mr. Brent Hurley had the pleasure of being part of the chaperone team for the Grade 10 Canadian History/English Travel Education trip to Europe. This trip afforded both students and chaperones the opportunity to see first-hand how the literature they have read this year has enhanced their understanding of the historical sites they were visiting. The students visited the World War I battlefields and towns described in their first novel, Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden, and the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau featured in their graphic novel, Maus by Art Spiegelman.

A similar experience was had on the Northern adventure to Camp Onakawana, where students and faculty, including English department member Mrs. Kim Vojnov, travelled with author Joseph Boyden. While the focus of this trip was multi-faceted, Mr. Boyden played a significant role in making this hands-on learning experience memorable for students and staff alike. He spent a great deal of time teaching about the history of the Indigenous peoples of Canada, including topics such as the First Nations involvement in World War I and why he writes about matters so dear to him. While this was not an English department field trip, it did highlight many of the First Nations’ issues in this time of Truth and Reconciliation that have been studied in the English department through such texts as the Grade 9 novel Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, the Grade 10 texts The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie and Three Day Road, and the Grade 12 novel Motorcycles and Sweetgrass by Drew Hayden Taylor.

Small group discussions throughout both trips regularly reinforced the benefits of experiential learning while also highlighting the connections the students were drawing between the literature they have read and the material they were learning.

Meanwhile, this past weekend, teachers Mr. Brandon Black, Ms. Kristen Richardson and Mr. Brent Hurley attended the Google for Education Summit in Cambridge, Ontario where they participated in workshops focusing on various tools to improve student learning. They returned to the School excited about the many ideas shared over the weekend, and the English department looks forward to exploring new applications to improve student engagement and to enhance teacher feedback on student work.

This year saw some changes in the department. In September, we were excited to introduce our students to two new members of the faculty. Mr. Brandon Black came to us after teaching for two years at Toronto Prep School, where he was an English, business and learning strategies teacher as well as a rugby and ball hockey coach. Mr. Black, himself, is an active rugby player whose highlights include winning the Canadian Rugby Championship as a member of the Ontario Senior men’s team in 2016. Mr. Black’s passion for literature was apparent from the first moment we met him, making him a natural fit for our Advanced Placement Literature & Composition course. His energetic disposition, sense of humour and creativity fully engage his students in his lessons, and we are delighted to welcome him into the department.

The department was also thrilled to welcome Ms. Kristen Richardson into the fold. Ms. Richardson is a familiar face around the School as she was our department’s faculty intern last year. During her time at TCS, Ms. Richardson’s compassion, enthusiasm and creativity have been undeniable. Her caring and approachable disposition makes her a perfect fit in not only our English classes but also in the Touchstones program. Ms. Richardson’s innovative and creative approaches in the classroom have influenced many of her colleagues, and she is a wonderful addition to the department.

The spring term will be a busy one for students in our English courses. In Grade 9, the students are currently studying debating, and they will finish the spring term with Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. The Grade 10 students are fully engaged in a speech unit as they prepare for the Osler Speaking Competition. The finals for this contest will take place on Monday, May 7th. Meanwhile, the Grade 11 students are busy enjoying an historical fiction literature circles unit, which affords them their choice of both book and activities. The Grade 12 students are fully immersed in their second thematic course. Topics of study for this term include: Holocaust literature, Middle Eastern literature, dystopian literature, social justice literature, defining questions, and banned texts in the 20th century. These students soon will be starting their summative project where they will create a media piece that explores one or more of the themes in their topic. Additionally, the Writer’s Craft students are working with the “New Journalism” style while researching and writing profiles. They also will be starting their culminating task for the course, a multi-genre paper where they will write on a single, unified topic or theme that will highlight the skills they have built over the year. Finally, students in the AP English Literature & Composition and the AP English Language & Composition courses are preparing for their Advanced Placement exams in May.

The second floor of the W.A. Johnson Classroom Block remains an active and creative location in the School. It is a privilege to work with such a dynamic and innovative department.

- By Barb Brough, head of English