Seven seniors are enrolled in “English 4 Capstone” this fall, a writing-intensive course that is giving them the opportunity to delve deeply into a topic that holds strong personal interest. By the end of the course, each student will have completed a substantial written project related to his or her chosen topic, and these projects will range from focused research papers to chapters of larger creative works.
English department chair James Moore teaches “English 4 Capstone,” a course that he says has been exceptionally well suited to the fall’s hybrid teaching-and-learning experience. “These are ambitious, motivated students who have done a great deal of research and writing independently and outside of class time,” he explained. “We use our time together, whether virtually or in person, for individual conferences and coaching, and for students to workshop and help one another with their writing.”
Students Tap into Blair Connections
One of Mr. Moore’s goals for this year’s Capstone students is to help them feel comfortable speaking with outside experts. He has accomplished this by connecting several students with members of the Blair community, who have shared their expertise and offered advice and insights.
Corrine Wilm ’21, for example, spoke to law student and animal rights advocate Amanda Devine ’11 as she conducted research for a thriller based at a marine theme park. “Amanda was very helpful sharing information about her work with manatees and suggestions for my work, as well,” Corrine said. “Her interest and passion for protecting manatees was evident. She told me that they have distinct personalities and so much more!”
Corrine’s project stems from her childhood fascination with dolphins and having learned over the years that animals such as these may not necessarily thrive in captivity. In her long short story, she incorporates her research on the pros and cons of marine parks into a tale of an investment analyst who learns about a baby orca that is being mistreated while in captivity. “The story also delves into what it really means to love what you do in life,” Corrine added. “It will reach an audience beyond animal rights advocates to people who are interested in finding meaning in their work and knowing that what they are doing is meaningful.”
For Hagen Shook ’21, a conversation with emergency room physician Katharine Miao, wife of former Trustee Hyun Seok Hwang ’93, helped him in his quest to explore the effectiveness of emergency medicine around the world. In his Capstone project, he aims to compare the efficiency of different countries’ emergency medical care for patients who break a leg in terms of cost, quality and satisfaction of the overall experience.
“Dr. Miao was kind enough to help connect me with her contacts in the emergency medicine field,” Hagen said. “From there, I was able to schedule a call with an emergency doctor resident who provided a unique experience within the United States healthcare system and continue to network with citizens and medical residents in other countries I am including in my study. While researching my project, I found that I enjoy talking with emergency medicine doctors as they emphasize the real issues at hand and provide a unique perspective through their personal experiences.”
Learning the Craft of Writing
Corrine has learned some key lessons about the writing process this fall, including the fact that small details—in her case, things like proper business terms and the temperature emperor penguins prefer—are vital to forming a believable story. “I also learned the importance of planning ahead and having an end goal,” she said. “That gives your project much-needed focus and gives you something to work toward.”
Hagen learned that structure and outline make the writing process much more enjoyable, and that getting words on the page and gaining “traction” for writing a large paper is extremely important to staying focused on the end goal. “I found it easier to go back and review bad sentences than think about what each sentence should sound like before stringing the words together,” he said. “This technique made the process easier for other forms of writing this year, such as my supplemental essays for college applications. As a result, I am more confident in writing large papers for the future.”
As Mr. Moore looks to the future, he envisions “English 4 Capstone” becoming a course that students aspire to take, much like the science department’s “Integrated Science Research” course. “’English 4 Capstone’ is far more than an independent study, as students help one another improve their writing through in-class workshops and feedback,” he said. “At the same time, it’s a great opportunity for motivated students to really go in-depth on a subject about which they are passionate.”