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Honors English Language Arts

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Online for the 2024-2025 School Year

Teacher: Kay Ben-Avraham

Email: misskayAP@gmail.com


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Open seats still available in this course for the 2024–2025 academic year!

Instructor: Ms. Kay ben-Avraham (misskayAP@gmail.com)

Note: Students must submit an application to be considered for acceptance to this course before submitting tuition payment.

Course Description:  Honors English Language Arts is a highly interactive class that will push students to become critical readers, confident writers, and nuanced thinkers. Our work together this year will help you learn to appreciate—and, more challenging, articulate—the subtleties and complexities of language through close readings of poetry, drama, short stories, novels, essays of the English canon, and People magazine.

(That last one was just to check that you’re awake.)

The course is designed to prepare high school students for the demands of AP-level English coursework. Thus, the class is reading-heavy and will expose students to a wide range of genres, authors, and writing styles—but without the pressures of studying for an AP exam! (We can do that later, right? Tomorrow. We’ll do it tomorrow, promise.)

Our class cultivates avid readers and competent writers—courageous enough to share their opinions and writings with classmates, and courteous enough to respond to others in a manner which fosters intellectual exploration and debate. We enjoy a lively discussion of ideas, and we work towards the effective formulation of those ideas in written form. I encourage a great deal of peer feedback throughout the course, so students graduate having not only honed their writing skills but also those required for editing. In this community of scholars, students find not only literature, but also friendship!

Be advised that the commitment for this course is significant! A student who cannot read forty to sixty pages per week, while also completing regular, short responses to the texts and periodic longer essays and creative assignments, will struggle to keep up with the workload. Since our pace and material will be advanced, I do not recommend this course for students who need remedial instruction in grammar, reading comprehension, or basic writing skills. I also do not advise that students take this class in conjunction with any other full-length English class, as the workload will quickly outpace a student’s capacity. Plan for about one to two hours per weekday for this course.

Students will read both imaginative literature (novels, short stories, poetry, and drama) and non-fiction (essays, speeches, memoir, and journalism). Be prepared for readings that are challenging, thought-provoking, entertaining, and deeply engaging. Students will also read and respond to regular instructional posts from me, which is how I introduce assignments and explain key concepts. Additionally, students will learn how to craft thesis statements, conduct basic research on primary and secondary sources, and build evidence-based arguments. The key to good writing is rewriting, and we’ll do a lot of that, too; almost every essay will go through at least two drafts, giving students the chance to practice editing and revision skills.

As a rule, I avoid assigning anything gratuitous or vulgar; however, our texts will sometimes feature difficult themes and subjects, and students will gain practice engaging with such subjects using compassion and empathy for themselves and others, while exercising their own critical judgment: staying true to their personal values and beliefs as they also respect the sometimes-differing beliefs of those around them.

I encourage students to take the weekends—or at least one weekend day—off when possible. (The creative and analytical capabilities of the mind do far better with regular cycles of work and rest.) Some assignments are due by midnight on weeknights, but most are due by week’s end.

Throughout the year, our study will be guided by such questions as:

  1. Why should we learn to read “beneath the surface”? These days, we’re surrounded by writing of all kinds: news, advertising, political signs, social media posts, group texts, emails—the list is extensive. In this class, we’ll cultivate the capacity to read critically. By studying both classic and contemporary writing, we’ll learn to analyze the motivations, purposes, and rhetorical strategies of the authors seeking our attention.
  2. How should we express ourselves through writing? Even as we’re surrounded by things to read, we’re all increasingly becoming writers, too. We’ll explore what it means to craft a writing “voice,” how to tell compelling stories, and how to write persuasively with evidence and research. We’ll follow in the tradition of great essayists and storytellers who had distinct individual voices—and, importantly, something worth saying (like James Baldwin, Wendell Berry, Ursula K. Le Guin, Virginia Woolf, and others).
  3. What is literature and why does it matter? There are so many ways to spend our leisure time and so many forms of high-quality entertainment available to us these days. We’ll consider the value of deep, sustained attention to classic literature, like Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Chaim Potok’s The Chosen. We’ll ask: What can fiction and poetry still reveal to us about what it means to be human?

We often think of reading and writing as solitary pursuits. But in my class, we’ll practice these arts as communal activities. The class will emphasize discussion and peer-feedback on written assignments. Students should expect to read each other’s work, learn how to offer meaningful feedback, and accept constructive critiques with grace and goodwill. While I provide guidance and structure, discussions will be largely student-driven; students will often have the chance to discuss questions about readings that THEY want to ask. Students will also organize small independent book clubs to discuss high-quality texts of their choosing.

But hold on—not every assignment comes straight from Ye Olde English course! Students will have plenty of chances to exercise their creativity, too. They’ll craft original poetry, practice writing descriptive imagery with precise diction, and participate in lively debate forums. Students will reflect on their own intellectual influences and favorite authors; learn to analyze literary tools like plot and characterization; and much more. Most importantly, I’ll ask students to make connections between coursework and their own lives. I strongly believe that students should write about what interests them, and my assignments will encourage this.

My course is also designed to help students prepare for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, a national competition for students. We’ll study several of the major writing categories, including persuasive writing; personal essay and memoir; journalism; short stories; novels; poetry; and drama. (You can see the full list of categories here.) The deadline for most regions falls in early December, and students will have the chance to submit at least one major writing project if they wish. Several past students in this course have brought home Silver and Gold Keys, which means their writing was judged to be among the best in their region!

Most of your coursework will be asynchronous, so you can arrange your work around other responsibilities. The one exception will be a monthly forty-five-minute live discussion session, in which you and fellow students join me in guided discussion about our class’s current reading material. These sessions are scheduled on a rotating basis so that as many students as possible can attend. I am flexible about working with students who have travel or other commitments (debate tournaments, for example), as well as students whose time zones do not allow for live participation. Those who cannot attend live simply watch that month’s recording and post their thoughts in the classroom workspace.

Who should apply? This course is open to advanced 9th and 10th grade students. It is also open to 11th and 12th grade students who want a challenging high school English course but who aren’t necessarily desirous of taking AP English courses or exams. A background in formal literary analysis isn’t required, nor do students need to be aspiring poets or novelists. But all students should be able to write cleanly and clearly, with minimal grammar errors. We’ll review some grammar rules and study vocabulary, but this is NOT a remedial English course.

Time Commitment: Students should be prepared to spend a minimum of 5 to 10 hours a week on reading, writing, and discussion assignments (about 1–2 hours per weekday).

Registration Deadline: I will generally accept students up to and during the first two weeks of class in September, after which point the course load becomes too heavy for latecomers to catch up to the rest of the class. If the course fills up, I will notify prospective students, helping to point them to an alternative or putting their names on a wait list.

Tech Needs: Students must have reliable access to the Internet and a printer, and a laptop or desktop with a working microphone (video optional) for live discussion sessions. They should be able to view PDF files. Students will also be asked to download the (free) applications Slack and Zoom; the former is our online classroom workspace, and the latter is the platform we will be using for our live discussion sessions. Students may also need to use these technologies to organize their book club discussions. Microsoft Office—or familiarity with and access to Google Docs and Google Drive—is recommended.

Length of Course: This course runs from Tuesday, September 3, 2024 to Friday, May 9, 2025 (assuming the College Board sticks with the expected exam schedule; end date is subject to change if the Board deviates).

Breaks: Students will have one week off for fall break (usually in October), one week off for Thanksgiving, two weeks off for winter break, and one week off for spring break (usually March or April). U.S. national holidays will typically have no assignments due.

Cost: 

  • Tuition: $825 if payment is received before July 1; $850 after July 1.
  • Books: Roughly $70 + S&H if purchased new from a retailer like Bookshop.org, BetterWorldBooks.org, or Amazon. The cost may be less if you find used versions or make use of your local library!

Required Texts:

  • The Signet Book of American Essays (Signet Classics)
  • A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Note: Course texts are subject to change. Do not purchase course texts until the summer of 2024, when I send finalized book lists to all accepted students.

In addition to these books, students will choose four additional books to read and discuss in independent book clubs at various points throughout the year.

I will also provide PDFs or web links to short stories, poems, and essays by James Baldwin, Wendell Berry, Ambrose Bierce, Rachel Carson, Anton Chekhov, Kate Chopin, Ursula K. Le Guin, Saki, Virginia Woolf, and others.

Summer Reading: Call me a hopeless idealist, but I believe summer should be summer, a break in which you allow your mind to rest from the frenetic pace of the school year—and so, for this class, there are no written assignments over the summer. You will not need to “produce” anything; instead, I recommend that you read for pleasure, absorbing and enjoying the world of Story.

If you would like some reading to help you prepare your mind for the course, you can check out any (or all) of these four superb books: How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster; The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs; Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; and Eats, Shoots, & Leaves by Lynne Truss. All four are not only informative but rather entertaining, to boot, and astute students may notice their humble instructor referring to these texts as the year progresses.

Questions? Please do send them my way! misskayAP@gmail.com

Instructor Qualifications: A former homeschooler myself, I began my work with Pennsylvania Homeschoolers roughly seven years ago, when I acted as substitute teacher for Mrs. Ruth Green’s (superb) AP English Literature course. I then went on to conduct that very course as head teacher when Mrs. Green retired, leading it for three years before shifting to Honors English Language Arts by Mr. Ty Stewart, the course’s celebrated previous instructor. I have also served the College Board as an AP English Literature Exam Reader for several years, and I teach essay writing to middle school students at Monmouth Montessori Academy near my home in New Jersey.

I graduated magna cum laude from Messiah College, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in English Literature. Since graduation in 2008, I have run my own freelance writing and editing business (you can take a peek at my business website, www.forwantofanail.net, and theoretical bonus points if you get the reference!). This means I’ve had the pleasure of editing many different types of writing, from poetry collections to science fiction to autobiographies to PhD dissertations, and more.

In my spare (ha!) time, I dabble in creative writing. After self-publishing my first novel, The Flower of the Cedar, the book was picked up by Signum Press, the publishing arm of Signum University. The new and improved second edition of my novel is therefore scheduled to be published later in 2024 (you can learn more about this project at www.kaybenavraham.com).

NOTE on Class Reviews, below: Honors English Language Arts is one of our most-requested courses here at Pennsylvania Homeschoolers. It was first offered in 2018–2019 by Mrs. Jody Best, and then carried on by the celebrated Mr. Ty Stewart for 3 years (mentioned in many of the reviews below, as you will soon see). This year, as Mr. Stewart takes a full-time position elsewhere, we are thrilled to announce that the course will be offered by another of our popular AP English Literature teachers, Ms. Kay ben-Avraham. For prospective students and parents, we have chosen to provide an array of reviews below—some for the course under Mr. Stewart's instruction, and some for Ms. Kay ben-Avraham from her past AP English Literature classes with us—so that those wishing to apply can gain a sense for both the course and its new instructor thereby!

Click here to read class reviews for this class (or post your own review)