2018 English Teaching Plan at Jeng Academic Center
To most students, preparing for SAT or ACT test is a task demanding both time and practices, done with much effort. The SAT test consists mainly of English and Math sections; for ACT, there is an additional science section appended to the test. The essence of both tests, however, lies in testing the reading comprehension of the test takers. Depending on their individual aptitude or propensity, some test-takers may find math section easy to handle, but find it challenging to plod through thick, complex written passages. Others who are comfortable with written language may, on the other hand, breeze through the reading sections yet get painfully stuck in math or science problems. This is certainly nothing unusual; in fact, it is quite commonly observed among students. If we examine this common occurrence from the perspective of cognitive neuroscience, we may find that the thinking processes used to solve math problems or to read written passages are actually very much alike.
To solve a complex math problem, a student needs to identify the pattern of the problem, then break down the problem into simpler parts that correspond to relevant concepts. From such correlation he comprehends the gist of the problem and come up with a solution. Such process of pattern identification, concept correlation—from simplicity to complexity— and eventually to the solution, is repeated for all kinds of problems. Likewise, when a high school student endeavors to unravel a dense passage, he needs to break down the whole article into simpler parts, understand the message conveyed in each part, and see the interrelationship between the parts and their relation to the whole structure. This general principle, when applied to reading comprehension, simply means his attempt to understand the constituent elements that make up paragraphs and sentences. In other words, reading comprehension is essentially a process of understanding and deciphering the grammatical rules and syntactical principles every author use to write sentences and paragraphs. Looking at the contents of SAT/ACT tests, we can clearly see that the key to performing well in these tests lies in a thorough understanding of English grammar and syntax, including proper use of punctuation rules. Ironically, most public schools, with the exception of some private schools like Oaks Christian, have not been adamant about teaching English grammar and syntax at the level required for SAT/ACT tests.
For this reason, the teaching of English classes at JAC is designed based on the following three guidelines:
(1) To reinforce knowledge foundation in English grammar and syntax
(2) To introduce systematically reading and writing skills required in SAT/ACT tests
(3) To promote the classical teaching method of progymnasmata.
The word progymnasmata is Greek for "preliminary exercises." These exercises were taught in ancient Greece and Rome to educate boys in the art of speech writing. To the ancient Greeks the progymnasmata were foundational for the education of a free citizen, who was expected to participate in the public debate in the assembly. Free men were also expected to make speeches to defend themselves in court. Public speaking was thus held in extremely high regard in ancient Greece, and mastery of language, mastery of speech making, was the thrust of ancient Greek education.
This is a teaching method based on the understanding that students learn best by reading excellent literature works and by developing their writing skills through imitation. It is a process through which many people, including professional writers, learn to write. We are very excited to start implement such teaching method at Jeng Academic Center in 2018 to students from grades 3 to 8.
For students in grades 9 and 10, we are offering another writing class, Thinking-Writing-Argument, to integrate grammar and syntax knowledge with the writing of persuasive essays. Thinking-Writing-Argument was first taught at Jeng Academic Center in 2012 to address the writing issues observed in the students who came to JAC for SAT training. It was found that many students lack a basic training in essay wiring skills, with little to none understanding of concepts in logical reasoning and argument building. In fact, few understand what it takes to write a strong, coherent, and convincing argument. At that time, College Board had not announced its decision to change the essay-writing format from the old 25-minute draft-type essay to the current 50-minute writing. This change justifies even more the need for a class like TWA, which focuses on logical reasoning, argument building, and overall essay writing strategies. Since 2012, the course contents have been expanded to include sentence patterns, principles of sentence construction, concepts in rhetorical grammars for syntactical fluency—as expounded by Professor Martha Kolln in Pennsylvania State University—and general strategies for paragraph development, as well as the structure and organization of essays.
While the initial idea of TWA was to introduce a way of thinking for students to avoid writing essays in any format-fitting style, it has always focused on the fundamentals concepts of persuasive essay and the thinking process during writing. Its goal is to help students become thinkers and writers capable of critical thinking and fluent in expressing their feelings and thoughts in a manner clear, logical, coherent, forceful, and orderly.
Such is the English teaching plan offered at JAC in 2018. We look forward to an exciting year of English learning with students from grades 2 to 10.