American literature classes in high school cover the philosophies, authors and major works that create the nation's unique culture. In these courses, students accomplish broad, long-term goals, as well as the short-term objectives of learning course content. Instructional goals include development of reading, writing and critical thinking skills. Class objectives include learning about different periods and movements, relating history to literature and understanding how literacy created the United States' national identity.
Improving student reading skills is a crucial part of high school literature courses. According to the Darien Public Schools website, immersing students in a variety of fiction and nonfiction texts enables them to communicate more effectively and lets them build on existing learning from past classes. American literature classes accomplish this by combining classic fictional texts with related nonfiction texts. For example, a high school class might read "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe in conjunction with excerpts from "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass" before discussing how the respective works of fiction and nonfiction relate to each other.
Understanding the writing process is another goal of high school American literature. Students can use the connections inferred while reading to develop essays with clear thesis statements that can be argued with specific evidence from the text and outside research. These classes can also provide them with an introduction to critical essays, including how to write clear, specific thesis statements, incorporate textual evidence into their arguments and use electronic sources to do outside research.
Another goal of American literature classes in high school is strengthening critical thinking abilities, which the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga describes as allowing students to reflect and make connections through their reading and writing. This can include analyzing, evaluating and interpreting works of literature and relating different works to each other across different cultures and time periods. For example, students examining American women's literature might choose a notable female writer from another era, like Anne Bradstreet or Sojourner Truth, then write a monologue where they imagine what she would think of women's roles in society today.
One objective of high school level American literature is to teach students about different literary eras, movements and authors. These might include the literature of Colonial times, the Civil War, Transcendentalism, the 1920s, the Great Depression and the 1950s and 1960s. In studying each period, students can observe the connections between different eras and note how each significant movement builds upon the next. To reinforce these connections, the class could keep a running log of major themes they encounter while reading different works and tracing how different authors explore these ideas.
Along with observing the characteristics of different literary eras, students can also witness the connections between works of literature and their historical contexts. To meet the course goal of developing reading skills in different genres, teachers can have students read historical background information, famous speeches and important social and political ideas from the time. For example, students might read John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" by first studying the history of the Great Depression, then thinking critically by placing the novel's events within Steinbeck's era.
A final objective is understanding how the United States' collective body of work has created a unique national identity. A teacher might begin the class by brainstorming aspects of America's identity on the board, then revisiting the list throughout the year. For example, students might examine the idea of individualism through the American colonials' push to become an independent country, the division in perspective during the Civil War and the relationship between the individual and societal institutions as seen through the works of Transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
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