CURRICULAR CHANGE-UPS: New sophomore English teacher Kathryn LaComb wants students to step outside comfort zones

Jacqueline Chao
New sophomore English teacher Kathryn LaComb’s selections for her class to read this year.

In 2017-18, seven teachers have made changes in their classes. This first installment covers sophomore English teacher Kathryn LaComb (mother of Quin, ’17, and junior Abby), who shares her approach to encouraging students to step outside their comfort zones.

“There’s no classroom management with sophomores,” English teacher Kathryn LaComb said. “They’re quiet, calm and well-behaved. It’s like an island in the middle of my day when I get to say ‘Ah, the sophomores are coming in!’”

After eight years of teaching middle-school English, this will be LaComb’s first time teaching in Country Day’s high school, though she has taught high school classes before at Watertown High School in Watertown, Massachusetts, and Analy High School in Sebastopol, California. 

LaComb and English teacher Brooke Wells will each teach one section of the sophomore class. LaComb said that the two classes will be very similar, but some assignments may have different approaches.

For example, for an assignment on their summer reading book, “The Catcher in the Rye,” Wells’s sophomores wrote an analytical essay, but LaComb’s sophomores wrote narrative essays on their personal lives, using a writing style similar to the one in the book.

To keep their classes on more or less the same page, LaComb places any handouts that she gives her students into Wells’s inbox in the faculty room.

LaComb said she spent her summer planning units for each of her assigned books, researching lesson ideas and mapping out her year with the sophomore English class. 

“I’m just not the kind of person who can wing it,” she said. “I really need a solid plan in place. But it’s okay because I love developing curriculum! 

“It’s fun! It’s a creative process. You get to think about ‘What do I want to do? What do I want the kids to know? And how do I present this in a way that will keep them interested?’”

LaComb said that her personal guidelines for teaching are to get her students out of their comfort zones, allow plenty of time for debate and push students to consider writing as an art form. 

“I don’t want (students) to be robots,” LaComb said. “I don’t want them to just regurgitate information. I want them to argue with me.”

LaComb said that her sophomore class will compare ancient literature with more modern literature, find universal themes that everyone can relate to, and focus on how language is used.

“In ‘Othello’ for example, one of the main characters (Iago) uses a lot of rhetorical devices to manipulate other people in the play,” LaComb said. 

“We (will) look at how he does that through leading questions, hesitating at the right moments and dropping little seeds of doubt.”

LaComb wants to have her more lively students act out parts of “Othello” in class. And while analyzing Iago, the students will write and deliver persuasive speeches using his same rhetorical devices.

Sophomores will also dissect the trial scenes in “Inherit The Wind” and locate the logical fallacies and arguments that don’t quite make sense, according to LaComb.

When they get to “1984,” LaComb plans to talk about propaganda and fake news today. Sophomores will make propaganda posters using rhetorical devices and then write a “This I Believe Essay.” In this persuasive essay the sophomores will explain what truths they find to be valid and important in order to show the contrast between reality and the suppressive world found in “1984.”

“There are elements in that book that will always relate to our world,” LaComb said. “It’s dark. I’m hoping that it’s not too depressing because it’s really grim, and there’s some difficult topics in it.”

As for grammar, LaComb said that she briefly met with former sophomore English teacher Patricia Fels to talk about how she approaches the subject and also took all of the English handouts that her daughter, junior Abby, had amassed in her sophomore year for some extra resources. LaComb said that, like Fels, she believes that a fine understanding of grammar is key to becoming a good writer.

“It’s very hard to explain writing techniques without knowing how commas are used or what a conjunction is or what’s the difference between dependent and independent clauses,” she said.

LaComb said that she also plans to pull from Fels’s Bible unit, but won’t go into as much detail as Fels did.

By Sonja Hansen

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