More Summer Adventures: “An American Reader” goes digital

The current textbook for the eleventh-grade English course isn’t a textbook at all. Instead, it’s a carefully curated collection of images and texts that introduces our students to the history of American literature. All of this was collected by Karen Randall, now-retired head of the English department. It was a labor of love, to be sure, and a terrific resource for her students. Its only weakness was its medium: “An American Reader” was a copy-shop spiral-bound notebook. It was tattered and torn by the end of the year, and some of the texts inside were photocopies generations old. The thing was full of great resources, but some of them were very hard to read.

Earlier this year, Convent English teacher Julia Arce and I had a brilliant idea. Ms. Arce has taken over teaching the Junior American Literature course, and we were talking about ways to build upon this great textbook. We’re a 1:1 iPad school, after all, and the juniors now all have iPads. We wondered: what if we took “An American Reader” digital? 

This is a great option for a lot of reasons. First of all, most of the resources in the reader are in the public domain. That means we can include them for our students without violating copyright laws. Secondly, this means that our students can use the built-in accessibility features of the iPad to help them read: just by selecting text on screen, the full text of Patrick Henry’s “Give me Liberty or give me Death!” speech can be read aloud. Finally, and most intriguingly, going digital would open up amazing possibilities for adding resources. What if we embedded audio of Ms. Arce reading the poem? What if we embedded a video of Ms. Arce explaining the class’s final project?

I started work on this today and Ms. Arce and I will continue work on this throughout the summer. I don’t have much to show for it yet, but it’s an exciting way to reshape our school’s curriculum. I’m thrilled to get to help find ways to make a great resource even more accessible for all Convent students.

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