Experiences in literature: Q and A with English department chairs, Kristen Alles and Jonathan Byrne

Experiences in literature: Q and A with English department chairs, Kristen Alles and Jonathan Byrne

Photo credit: Annabelle Julien

By Ella McCarthy, Section Editor

On Nov. 14, the GPPSS school board approved the addition of a new English course at North titled “Experiences in Literature.” We asked English department chairs, Kristen Alles and Jonathan Byrne, about the specifics of the course.


Q: What is the course description? 

A: This year-long elective course presents students with a vast array of literature focused on the human experience and how our failures, conflicts and triumphs shape us both collectively and as individuals.


Q: What are the texts of the course? 

A: Students read short stories, novels, dramas, poetry and non-fiction. The core texts are Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” Jesmyn Ward’s “Sing, Unburied, Sing, and there will also be lit circles with book options drawn from an array of both contemporary and classic titles with a broad range of themes and topics. Additionally, students will be required to choose an extended work to inform their formal research capstone project at the end of the year.


Q: Who are the intended students for this course? 

A: This is a senior-level elective. 


Q: What skills does the course teach students? 

A: Composition work emphasizes formal research and various types of essays including literary criticism and argumentation. Through reading, writing, speaking, listening and viewing, students explore universal themes of the human experience. Additionally, units and lessons are aligned to The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts which are designed to prepare all students for success in college, career and life by the time they graduate from high school.


Q: When will this course become available for scheduling? 

A: Current juniors can opt to take this course next year, as it will be available as a pilot course for the 2023-2024 school year. 


Q: Where does the title of the course come from? 

A: We developed the title as a sort of play on the idea of the experiences of the characters in a piece and literature and how they relate to our own experiences. We also want students to have “experiences” with important works of literature, both contemporary and canonical, because these inform our understanding of the world and are commonly referred to in college and beyond.


Q: Why did you find this course to be a necessary addition? 

A: We know that many juniors are unaware of what they will take as their senior level English course, and many of our options are semester-based. We wanted to provide another year-long option that will give students more of a shared experience before graduating. 


Q: How many credits is the course? 

A: One English credit