Magazine article Techniques

The Classics in Context

Magazine article Techniques

The Classics in Context

Article excerpt

"It took 20 years for the question, `Why do I have to learn this?' to get through to me. And then I decided it was time to get the answer." This was Patty Arnall's introduction to applied academics.

Arnall, an English teacher at Christian County High School's agriculture academy in Hopkinsville, Ky., concedes that overlooking the benefits of applied learning was a result of her training.

"In my teacher education program, everything was so theoretical with very little hands-on activity. We would just sit there and listen to lecture after lecture," she says. "So there we were, four years later, teaching our students in the same way that we had been taught."

In 1996, the high school's principal approved a plan for an agricultural education academy, and Arnall jumped at the chance to teach its English classes. But with no textbook or curriculum, she's had to blaze her own trail and build on the high school's English curriculum.

Making English work

Arnall uses various literature selections to compare rural and urban life--for example Robert Newton Peck's A Day No Pigs Would Die and the nonfiction work Broken Heartland: The Rise of America's Rural Ghetto by Osha Gray Davidson. The reading assignments promote student discussion and provide a stage for practicing communication skills. Arnall also teaches the classics, such as Romeo and Juliet, Antigone and Julius Caesar, which she uses as a catalyst for discussing politics and how governmental policies and decisions can affect local agri-business.

Arnall's students also make marketing presentations and work on writing projects that include public relations and advertising skills. She says these subjects are important for her students to learn as future farmers and agri-business professionals. "It doesn't really matter what you do--you cannot do it well without solid communication skills," she says.

Beth and Chip Avery, who teach English at Poinciana High School and Gateway High School, respectively, in Kissimmee, Fla., believe that applied learning can bring literature and language arts to life for their students. They have developed several lesson plans and class activities over the years that combine literature, applied techniques and community resources.

In one activity, Beth Avery's students analyze their personal goals and interests in the context of poems, such as Langston Hughes's Dreams and Dream Deferred. After interpreting the poems, students compose a letter of interest, resume and job application. They also predict and describe how the personal information in these documents will change in 10 years after they've achieved the goals they've set for themselves. Avery usually supplements this lesson with a guest speaker from a local business and job-shadowing activities.

A wrinkle in time

Beth Avery says budgeting teaching time to accommodate traditional "seat work" (such as writing in journals or reading in class), grammar and reading lessons and hands-on activities is a challenge. "It took me 20 years to learn that it can't happen all at once and that applied learning can't happen all the time," she says. "My school works on a block schedule, so with each class I spend the first 50 to 60 minutes on lessons in language arts and reading. The last 50 to 60 minutes is spent working on applied learning skills and projects that allow the students to communicate within the group."

Another challenge of applied English is the subject matter itself, some educators say. …

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