Writing Right

As I skimmed through my teacher’s comments at the bottom of the essay that had just been handed back to me, one sentence in particular caught my eye: “Please work on mechanics a bit.” English is my second language, and I have received comments like this many times before, despite my constant efforts to refer to “The Pocket Style Guide” and focus on essay organization.

I am sure that there are many others like me who struggle with English, never having been exposed to an English curriculum on par with Andover’s. Our school takes pride in educating “youth from every quarter,” yet the English curriculum here is not geared to meet the needs of students from diverse cultural, racial, educational, socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds. Someone who has not grown up in an English-speaking household simply cannot be expected to match the writing abilities of another student who has been exposed to extensive English since early childhood.

Currently, all returning Uppers are placed into English 300, regardless of their proficiency in reading and writing, while new Uppers are placed into English 301. To accommodate students of varying aptitudes, the English department should offer off-cycle English 300. During the fall, a term-contained English elective course that places an emphasis on the basics of analytical writing should be offered for Uppers taking the off-cycle course.

English 300 and 301, which is essentially a hybrid of 200 and 300, do not provide the in-depth study of analytical writing that an extra elective, combined with off-cycle English 300, otherwise could. Although English 100 and 200 cover fundamental reading and writing skills, not all students’ writing is necessarily at the appropriate level by the end of their Lower year. Students who feel the need to further solidify their writing foundations should have the opportunity to do so.

The English department is currently the only department that does not offer courses that accomodate students’ individual needs. Andover’s Math and Science Departments, for example, offer various levels of courses within the same academic subject. Depending on their level of comfort with the subject, students can choose to enroll in one of four levels of Chemistry (250, 300, 550 or 580).

The History Department offers off-cycle history for the mandatory History 300/310 course, meaning that students can begin the sequence Winter Term of their Upper year and complete the course during Senior fall. Although all students taking History 300/310 cover the same range of material, the off-cycle course focuses more on the mechanics and process of both expository and analytical writing. Uppers who have limited experience in critical writing or persistent difficulties with organization, as well those for whom English is a second language, may be recommended to take off-cycle history, according to Christopher Shaw, Chair in History and Social Science.

Off-cycle English would be in no way a class for less intelligent students. Instead, like off-cycle History, it would simply focus more on analytical writing and give students an extra summer to work on their writing skills. The English department should adopt the same philosophy as the other departments already have, and provide all Uppers with an opportunity to take an English course that is tailored to their specific needs.