Academic Insights: TCS English Department

The past 12 months have brought much change to the English department at Trinity College School, not only to the way we deliver our curriculum but also to the texts we are studying. COVID-19 has challenged us to design engaging lessons that can be delivered simultaneously online and in-person, often with students distanced between two different teaching spaces. Additionally, while recent years have seen us attempt to diversify the texts we have taught, the School’s commitment to standing against anti-Black racism led us to conduct a thorough audit of our texts this past summer. We noted such traits as the ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability and socioeconomic class of our texts’ authors, protagonists and secondary characters. The goal of our audit was to be informed and intentional when choosing to add or remove a text. As a result of this audit, we changed at least one text in each of our grade levels this year in order to create an even more inclusive curriculum. Please read on to learn more about what we are specifically doing in each grade.

The Grade 9 English course continues to centre its curriculum on the five habits of the heart and mind. In their first term, students focused on courage, studying short stories from the anthology Fresh Ink. This text is curated by Lamar Giles, the founder of We Need Diverse Books, and contains stories from contemporary, diverse, young adult authors. This was followed by the theme of compassion, which was explored through literature circles featuring texts all by female authors and containing only female or non-binary protagonists. As they begin their second term, which focuses on integrity and perseverance, Grade 9 students are currently reading Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse, where they are learning about residential schools and Indigenous youth and culture. This will be paired with a media unit that will not only introduce the basics of analyzing media texts but also will explore Indigenous portrayal in media and the importance of representing different viewpoints and stories. Through persuasive and descriptive writing, debating, literature circles and so much more, Grade 9 is once again proving itself to be a fun year that will lay a foundation for future years in English.

Meanwhile, the Grade 10 students started the year by reading Dear Evan Hansen. This text allowed for meaningful connections to be made to the students’ lives as they discussed such topics as truth, digital citizenship, mental health and friendship. Next, the Grade 10 classes completed a media study that examined the impact of technology on relationships, communication, gender and body image. As they begin their second term, students are participating in literature circles, which are examining social justice issues from Indigenous, African American, South African, Jamaican Canadian and North Korean perspectives. This second term also features the Grade 10 Public Speaking Competition in which students speak about a Canadian who has made a significant contribution to their field. As part of our audit, we added many new names to the list of potential topics in order to diversify the options from which students could choose. Students also were welcome to suggest topics. The finals of this speaking competition run in May – please stay tuned for further details.

At the Grade 11 level, students began their first term by exploring the Atlantic slave trade through the novel Homegoing, by the Ghanaian American novelist Yaa Gyasi. During this term, students also participated in the Grade 11 Public Speaking Competition in which students spoke about an international figure who has made a significant contribution to their field. We also diversified this list of potential topics, adding many new options and encouraging students to suggest topics. The online finals for this speaking competition are scheduled for February 25th and 26th. Please stay tuned for further details. As the Grade 11 students begin their new term, they currently are exploring multiple perspectives through short stories by diverse authors. The essential question for this unit focuses on the importance of understanding diverse cultures in order to not only understand our current world but also to improve our future. This theme will be expanded upon through their final novel study of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, a coming of age story set in Afghanistan about familial relations, redemption and inequality.

In Grade 12, students pick two topics of interest to study, one each term. The options were wide-ranging, including: medicine in literature; the mystery genre; banned texts of the 20th century; science fiction; gender, sex and sexuality; myths and monsters; Holocaust literature; and social justice. While studying their two topics, Grade 12 students are introduced to a diverse array of writers and protagonists through a variety of texts, including fiction, non-fiction, plays, poetry and podcasts. In the Grade 12 year, our goal is to foster an environment that focuses on developing and extending our students’ critical thinking and analytical skills. A heavy emphasis is placed on oral and written communication as we prepare them for university.

Over this past year, I have been reminded on a daily basis of how fortunate I am to work with my colleagues in the English department. They are innovative, creative, dynamic and passionate teachers who are creating engaging and enriching experiences for our students.

- By Ms. Barb Brough, head of English