How can a table change the way you learn?
Imagine thirteen people sitting at a table, books open in front of them, asking each other big questions: What makes a hero? What is the line between childhood and adulthood? How do we take a stand for what is right?
Now look closer. The teacher isn’t standing in front of the class, telling the students what to think. Instead, the students are talking—sharing their ideas, asking each other questions, quoting from their books. The teacher’s sitting at the table too, listening intently, jumping in with incisive questions that push students to make connections and look deeper.
This is the heart of the English curriculum at RMDS: challenging discussions that put students in charge of their own learning. The Harkness method, developed at Philips Exeter Academy, makes student inquiry the focus of every class. There’s no back row at a round table. In Ring Mountain Day School’s English classes, every student is seen, heard and challenged.
Discussions in English are supported and enriched by student writing. Whether in creative short stories or critical essays, students learn to express their ideas in clear, correct, and complex writing. Studies in grammar and vocabulary reinforce written work throughout the year.
Sixth Graders begin Middle School by asking the question, “How do we discover the world?” In coordination with their History and Science classes, students consider the ways readers and writers have used stories to make sense of their place and time. Reading myths and folk stories, the class explores the structure of the hero’s journey. Through texts such as Jacqueline Kelly’s The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, students raise essential questions about the stories we tell ourselves and the people around us. Sixth grade writing includes short stories, personal essays, and the foundations of analysis and critical writing.
In Seventh Grade, students consider how we encounter and embrace difference. Through reflection, discussion, and formal and informal writing, we explore difficult questions about identity, community, and equity. Texts may include Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers and Saints, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. A highlight of the year is always the class trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in conjunction with a reading of one of Shakespeare’s plays. Past classes have read Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest. As students shift to reading more complex material, they focus on the work of analysis and the critical essay.
As Eighth Graders begin their transition to high school, they begin to think about how they can make a difference in the world. The theme of this year’s course, “How We Seek Justice,” recognizes their capacity to envision and create change. As they read and discuss such varied books as The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Maus by Art Spiegelman and The Crucible by Arthur Miller, students explore the ways that writers use stories to challenge and mobilize their readers. As they continue their study of the critical essay and the personal narrative, students develop an individual voice that confidently expresses their ideas and convictions.