Friday, March 02, 2007

The challenge for our students is now ours

One of the biggest challenges our high school is undertaking is developing an honors challenge option for our mixed-ability sophomore classes. In other words, we plan to retain our heterogenously grouped English 10 course but add an option for those students wishing to extend higher-level thinking and English skills. If the student successfully completes the option, they would earn an honors designation on his/her transcript.

I've blogged about it before. A draft of the department's proposal is currently being developed on a wikispace wiki. Essentially it will allow a student to independently earn an honors distinction - perfect for padding a transcript or boosting a grade point average. We plan to have guidelines and procedures in place to assist students taking on such a learning challenge. The only way to get the honors distinction is to earn it. For the student to earn it, not just for the parent to want it.

On a philosophical level, I wholeheartedly embrace such an idea. I teach English 10, and one of the most rewarding aspects of the sophomore program at Branford High School is the true broad spectrum of students that come into my class everyday. No levels. No remediation. No distinctions based on anything. Of course there are challenges inherent in that setup. You can imagine the range of writing and reading ability I see between students sitting in the same class. Differentiation is essential.

Put aside philosophy right now. Here's where the rub is. As head of the English department, I am spearheading efforts to develop and implement the honors challenge option so it is consistent across the board. How do we balance the needs to sufficiently challenge high-achieving students, while not demanding too much extra from the teachers in the class? There is fear that such a program will turn into a logistical nightmare for the teachers and lead to essentially another prep. How do we keep our expections clear, firm and simple? Can it be done? Should it be done. There are certainly plenty of teachers who feel true honors means a separate honors class.

Right now I don't have those answers, but I expect to be figuring it out over the next few months. And if anyone has any suggestions or can point me towards some resources, I'd be grateful.

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