The State of English Studies, 2019 Symposium: Reading and Writing in a Changing World
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
High school English Department chairs from around Massachusetts came together with faculty and students from the UMass Amherst English Department to discuss the changing climate for the teaching of English. This meeting, held in South College on April 5, was planned and jointly funded by the UMass Amherst English Department and the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (WMWP), with support from the College of Humanities and Fine Arts at UMass Amherst. Associate Director of the WMWP, Bruce M. Penniman, was one of the many people to present.
To kick off this dialogue-based symposium, the Department chairs and UMass English professors shared their thoughts and struggles with the place of humanities in their high schools. With the goal of improving the future of this shared discipline in mind, they shared ideas about how to solve budget issues, properly utilize resources, and better engage students.
A panel of UMass English majors (from L to R: Parawat Changthong, Mira Kennedy, Yashika Issrani, Victoria Bourque, and Grace Dugan) reflected on their different experiences with high school English classes. Some students who went to public high schools had a more traditional experience with limited options for English courses, while others who attended charter schools reported a heavy focus on feedback and peer review. The Department chairs picked these students’ brains, inviting suggestions for potential course electives and asking how they might improve reading stamina in students who increasingly struggle to focus on lengthy texts.
The work being done in the UMass ENGLWRIT 112: College Writing course was also discussed. In these classes, students are encouraged to write across all disciplines and practice writing in the form of self-reflection. This is important because when it comes to careers, having this practice in different types of writing is crucial, as is being exposed to different writing technologies.
Many of the high school English Department chairs came to the symposium for feedback and suggestions on how to foster a more positive outlook on the importance of English—not only in students’ lives, but in their careers after college. The symposium helped show that success can be achieved through English, as evidenced by the countless UMass English majors who have secured amazing internships at major organizations—and as undergrads, too! Graduating senior and English major, Tess Halpern, was an intern at MassLive, while fellow senior, Mira Kennedy, is wrapping up an internship at UMass Press. But it doesn’t stop there: English alumni have gone on to pursue careers as Content Strategists at Facebook in California and Directors of Editorial & Social Strategy at Townhouse Digital in New York City. These successes show the many opportunities open to students who hope to use their English backgrounds in fascinating and rewarding careers.
Careers for English majors are only getting more popular and it is up to our English teachers to nurture this interest and passion for the subject in their students. It is safe to say that after this event, the future of the teaching of English is already looking brighter with the amount of ideas and guidance these Massachusetts high school English Department chairs have received.
Reporting by Cayli Armstrong, Digital Communications Intern