Instead of English class being a period of repetitive spelling words, a vague grammar overview and endless reading assignments, one teacher is infusing art and technology into his lesson plans.
In his third year of teaching English at the Philadelphia Creative and Performing Arts High School (CAPA), Peter Syoum’s classes are interactive for students, but also demand analysis and critical thinking of the literature they read.
Throughout the school year, Syoum will refer to paintings, bring in music and even sometimes have students act in class.
“Since they’re artists, I know that they appreciate the fact that we are doing more than just sitting and reading. We’re getting up and doing as much as we can. We’re always using art to the highest point to bring out the message in different literature,” said Syoum.
Whether students are in English 1, English 2 or in his playwriting classes, Syoum is known for using multimedia technology while teaching. There is a class website and blog. He uses video clips, interactive atlases, virtual field trips and Google Docs online. Classes also utilize Google Lit Trips — which uses Google Earth to show the journeys of literary characters. Google Lit Trip files are free downloads and students can also see the geographic locations of where stories were created.
“I found that technology is helping me a lot. It helps on all levels. … It’s not necessarily a replacement for anything, but it’s a facilitator.”
Tenth-grade film major, Dana Jolly, says writing can be a challenge, but Syoum is available to provide her with assistance.
“Writing is difficult. If I ask Mr. Syoum a question, he’ll answer it and help me out,” said Jolly.
“Students can write their papers, share their papers, edit their papers with anyone. They can talk to me at any point of day and night through e-mail or through comments on the class site or through Google Ddocs. So they are always supported,” said Syoum.
Parents are also involved with the class through e-mail chains. They can e-mail Syoum with any questions or concerns that they have, and he responds with instant feedback from his smartphone. This allows for quick communications between teacher and parents about grades and homework assignments.
“Parents used to be confused about what the child’s grade is; they don’t have to be anymore because we have online grades or I e-mail grades and they don’t have to depend on kids to bring grades back.”
Syoum says the most rewarding experience about teaching English at CAPA is that students have a passion for the arts.
“Definitely, the kids and their ability to see art and its importance in everything we do. Not only in the fact that they take art majors, but when they come to my class, they can see the importance of the art, they can see theme, they can see deeper than just the surface level of what we’re reading.”
Just as the first marking period comes to a close, and students begin to write drafts for a major writing assignment, Syoum stresses, “Perfection will come after you edit.”
“You can’t just write something down once and expect it to be perfect. What I found is a lot of young students don’t realize that it takes a while to get good at anything. That’s why it works best when I deal with the artists here because they understand in the art world that you can’t wake up one day and you’re Jennifer Hudson. You have to work at it, and the same goes for writing.”
Want to know more about what CAPA students are learning in English? Check out what Syoum is teaching, reading lists, useful links, class photos and other helpful forms and documents at http://sites.google.com/site/capaenglish2/.