Spotlight on the English Department: Taking the Literature One Step Further

February 15, 2018

Courtesy of Mrs. Meryl Feldblum, English Department Chair

Over the course of the first semester, English students at Frisch had the opportunity to explore a number of classic literary works through creative projects and presentations.

One of the novels studied by the ninth grade, was J. D. Salinger‘s The Catcher in the Rye. For this unit, Ms. Luisa Frey’s 9B English class embraced their artistic side in a project relating to Holden Caulfield, the notorious protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye.  This multidisciplinary project involved a number of visits to the art room, under the direction of Mrs. Winslow.  

In addition to a written portion of the project, students worked in groups to create a life-sized representation of Holden Caulfield.  After tracing a body outline, they then had to draw symbolic images to represent various parts of Holden’s body.  For example, Holden carried a lot of proverbial weight on his shoulders due to the death of his brother and his expulsion from prep school.  Thus, one group drew bricks on his shoulders to symbolically represent the burdens he carried.  Another group depicted the lack of love in Holden’s life by symbolically drawing his heart with a big hole in it.  Once the visual part was completed, each group gave a short presentation in which they explained the symbolic representations of each part of Holden’s mind and body.

In Dr. Anne Berkman’s class, students got to explore a new side of Holden Caulfield through the medium of dramatic performance. Rabbi Neil Fleischmann visited the classroom in the character of Holden Caulfield, with Holden’s hat, coat, and disaffected air as his only props. Rabbi Fleischmann answered students’ questions about the novel in character, as well as discussed his personal ideas about the book and how it continues to speak to him. 

Meanwhile, in Mrs. Feldblum’s 11A class, one unit project focused on the famous, and infamous, author Edgar Allen Poe.  The project asked the students to identify Poe’s distinctive style and then research the lingering messages of Poe’s work.

The unit began as a whole class reading of Poe’s famous short story “A Tell Tale Heart.”  After this whole class reading, students broke into groups to begin their “Poe Projects.”  The first step of the project asked students to choose a poem and a short story written by Poe.  Students were then required to write a short piece explaining a common theme or element of the two chosen works.  

The Poe assignment then asked students to take a step outside of the literature. The juniors wrote an op-ed piece discussing the impact media and entertainment have on our perceptions of the mentally ill.  This assignment required students to think critically about the messages they consume and the impact it has on their perceptions.  One group made the connection between this topic and their summer reading novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Another group discussed the controversial series Thirteen Reasons Why.  Through their writing, students drew connections between the intentional and unintentional messages we receive from current events, media, and literature.  

This project will be one of many that help the students connect the literature to the world around them.