Teacher: Mr. Smith   Room 20
Extra Help: Thursdays afterschool or by appointment.

American Vistas

Course Overview

  • What is an American?

  • What are the motives of American writers and artists?

  • How is American culture changing in the 21st century?

SUMMARY & Objectives :    This English elective is about the American artist and American culture. It will be a cultural journey through themes of identity, race, and revolution.   Reading literacy, writing, and communication are the essential skills that we will practice and develop in this course.  Short stories, brief essays, speeches, songs, poems, and drama by Americans of the 20th century will be the literature of this course.   You will compose “I am from” poems as we consider the importance of Names and Identity in five short works of 20th Century fiction and poetry in Unit 1.  The classic play by August Wilson, ‘Fences,’ set in the 1950’s will be the major text for Unit 2.  Unit 3 will explore the counter culture of the 1960’s, which produced a wide range of literature, politics & music to express a new American identity. Seminal speeches by John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King, musical anthems from Bob Dylan, a Manifesto from the Students for a Democratic Society and a short story by Joyce Carol Oates “Where are you going, Where have you been?” will allow you to develop new reading strategies and understanding of this revolutionary period in American culture.  The final unit will you to apply what you have learned about American Culture, and create an essay, speech or song that answers the question “How is American Culture changing today?” Possible topics include Work, Race, Marriage, School, Family, Democracy…


Unit 1: Names and Identity

Sept 2014

‘My Name’    Sandra Cisneros, ‘What’s in a Name?’ Henry Louis Gates Jr,    ‘The Good Daughter’ Caroline Hwang, ‘The Past’ Ha Jin, ‘Handed my Own Life,’ Annie Dillard

PROJECT:  Autobiographical Essay-Remembered Event

Unit 2: Race & Culture

Oct 2014

‘Fences’  A play by August Wilson   ‘42’ Film Excerpts (Jackie Robinson)

PROJECTS:   Scene Analysis & Dramatization; Profile: August Wilson

Unit 3: Revolution and Culture

Nov-Dec 2014

1961 Inaugural Address                     President John F Kennedy (1961)                                   ‘I Have a Dream…’                 Rev Martin Luther King, Jr (1963)                            Port Huron Statement (Excerpts)            Students for a Democratic Society                           Songs                                                               Bob Dylan, Gil Scott Heron, Joan Baez,  and others                                              ‘Where are you going, Where have you Been?’                               Joyce Carol Oates (1970

Independent PROJECT: What is Revolutionary? Writing/Music/Art                 Students will investigate an area of culture in 1960’s America and create a multi-media representation of how art and ideas changed American culture.



Assessment:  Grades will be based on homework and in class [‘Starter’] assignments  (Work Habits); class participation/discussion and presentations (Oral Expression), Writing projects (Composition); and close reading and writing about the stories, speeches and plays in the course (Analysis). See final page for descriptions and weight of these skills.

Submission of Work:   Please submit all printed work to the Inbox at the beginning of class. All work must be typed or handwritten, with clear identification (name, date, assignment). In some cases, work or projects will be accepted by e-mail or sharing of Google documents. This will be announced in class, and noted on the course calendar. Otherwise, documents shared electronically will be recorded in X2 as ‘R’ (Received), but not assessed without a hard copy.

Course Calendar/Assignments:   All homework and other assignments will be announced in class, and available on the course calendar (see the course web page). You are responsible for checking this online resource, especially if you are absent and need to know what you missed and how to prepare for the next class.  Check the Extra Copies basket to find documents that you missed while absent.

Late Policy:    No work may be submitted for credit after 7 days.                                                                          Late work: One point deducted for each day late.                                       Extensions:  Requested in writing at least 2 days before due.

Revisions:      Revisions are permitted for major projects, quizzes and writing. Students must meet with me to clarify the revision process for specific assignments, 


September 12:                  Honors Declaration Form Completed                                                                    September 19:                    Honors Proposal Submitted (X2 Grade for Work Habits)                                      Progress Report 2:     Honors may not be ‘dropped’ after this date.

To challenge and enrich your learning in this class, you will choose from among the following Independent Projects, and create a proposal/summary by September 19. You will receive a work calendar with due dates and a rubric, depending upon your choice. The work will involve a small presentation to the class in January 2015 to share you learning with others. It should consider, and help you respond to, the following Essential Question:                                              How is American Culture changing today?

  • Book/Short Story Review:  Identify & Select a contemporary book or short story that relates to the EQ and read in order to develop a Book Review.  Choose from titles provided by teacher, or propose your own. One example is the novel Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri.

  • August Wilson & the ‘Pittsburgh Cycle’:  To extend your learning about the historical and cultural message of our play ‘Fences,’ you will research Wilson’s 10 play cycle about African-American life in the 20th century, describe its goals and the motives of the writer.

  • Multi Media Presentation  Music/Art:   You will identify and select a combination of songs and modern art to create a multi- media presentation that illustrates how American culture is evolving or changing in the 21st century in one aspect (marriage, family, education, work…)


Work Habits    20%              Oral Expression    30%          Composition      30%                             Analysi  20%

Oral Expression:       Students will express their ideas orally, in formal and informal discussions, debates and presentations. Oral expression assessments ask students to pose questions and listen to the ideas of others. Students are expected to demonstrate respect, poise, and clarity in the way they address their peers in both formal and informal settings.

Composition:                         Students will work to write with a clear focus and coherent organization. They will express their ideas through a variety of media, including: film, radio drawing, painting, multi- media.  They will compose work for different audiences and purposes. Students will attend to the clarity, style, tone, level of detail and originality of their compositions.

Analysis:        Students will read and analyze texts in a variety of genres. They will be asked to identify and analyze facts, ideas, and themes.  Students will deepen their understanding of literature by understanding the contemporary or historical context in which it was written.  Additionally, they will use their personal experience to enhance their engagement with the works studied in class.