By Sara Roberts '19
Is there really a difference between English classes at NCS and STA? This is a question that I have asked myself in past years, knowing that upperclassmen can take English electives at either school. I had always wondered: is there a difference in teaching style? Are discussions executed differently? Are we were graded differently in English 9 and 10 classes? Now, in Comparative Literature at STA, I can attest that though some aspects are similar, the two schools definitely have their differences when it comes to English.
NCS English 9 and 10 were pretty similar classes. The discussions were carried by the students, and the teachers only spoke once or twice to in order to fulfill that purpose. Depending on the teacher, participation was a large part of our grades, which were penalized if we spoke too often or not enough. When we were assigned an essay, we were given a prompt, and the teacher usually had a PowerPoint with what they expected from us when we structured our writing. The essay would have three due days —one to turn in our outline, another to submit our rough draft, and the last for our final draft. We spent class periods when our outlines and rough drafts were due workshopping each other's writing, giving and receiving constructive criticism and feedback from our partners.
When I entered Comparative Literature at STA this fall, I knew off the bat that the dynamic would be different. I entered the classroom along with seven other people, wondering where the rest of the class was. I later realized that it was my full class. The first half of the period was spent discussing a writing by Petrarch in small groups, and this was another surprise to me; in English 9 and 10 the most time we spent in small groups was about 15 minutes. We had to choose 5 major motifs and a key passage that summed up the significance of the writing, which is now routine for every new piece of writing we read in the class.
Although class discussions are basically Harkness, the teacher plays a much larger role during them, not only stating their own opinions, but additionally directly asks students to expand on their thoughts and state their personal opinions on the writing. We’ve had one major essay so far, and we were not given any prompt. This concept was completely new to me, but ultimately coming up with an argument without a prompt was not as difficult as I thought it would be.
To sum it all up, in my experience, NCS and STA English take different approaches to teaching, but not one in a better way than the other. In my opinion, I like the way that NCS handles essay writing, because especially as an underclassmen, I needed as much guidance and structure I could get because many aspects of it were new to me. On the other hand, I like the way that STA handles discussions, because, especially with a smaller class, the discussions flow very smoothly and everyone can easily incorporate their ideas. Both schools have very distinguished English programs, and though they are structured differently (and might take a little bit to get used to,) they both taught me how to be a more analytical and comfortable with writing.
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