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Holly Van Houten

Students will receive instruction from Holly Van Houten, who has decades of experience preparing young writers with the skills they need to succeed. In addition to teaching Literature and Writing at The Huckleberry Center for Creative Learning, in Valencia, California since 2009, Holly taught in the USC Freshman Writing Department for 10 years, while completing her Ph.D. coursework in English and American Literature.  Holly has also taught in the English departments at Pepperdine University, California State University, Northridge, and California State University, Long Beach. She has helped young scholars become confident writers for over 30 years and has successfully prepared students of all abilities for college-level writing.

High School English A-G: 
Writing & Literature

Live/Online Class

This Online High School English class provides a full year of literature and writing that satisfies all requirements and even offers A-G credit for those who want it. The class will include a wide variety of classic short stories, novels, poems, speeches, and plays, which will allow students a chance to hone their analytical writing skills. Students will be able to explore these wonderful works of literature with their peers, in a live, online, discussion-based class that includes hands-on writing workshops. They will have an opportunity to exchange ideas and exercise their critical thinking skills, while enjoying imaginative literature that will stay with them forever! 


For the Fall Quarter, our Thematic Focus will be, “What do We Value?”  We will begin with short stories by Jack Finney (“The Contents of a Dead Man’s Pockets”) and Ray Bradbury (“There Will Come Soft Rains”). Both of these stories ask readers to consider what matters most in life and how we assign value to things, people, and experiences. We will then turn to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and consider which is more valuable, loyalty to an individual or loyalty to the state. We will continue our Shakespeare studies as we explore several of his sonnets that focus on what should be considered valuable. Students will prepare collaborative oral presentations on these poems. After that, we will explore the ghostly lessons offered Marley and his trio of time traveling ghosts in A Christmas Carol. We will end the fall quarter with a look at several speeches, including John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Speech, Barack Obama’s “Remarks by the President in a National Address to America's Schoolchildren,” and J.K. Rowling’s “Commencement Speech,” all of which define and recommend values the authors consider essential for personal, social, and academic success, and students will write and present their own speech on what they value.


For the Winter Quarter, our Thematic Focus will be “Feuds and Futility.” Conflict is at the heart of any story, and as we explore the intricacies of disputes, we’ll not only look at the causes and casualties of famous literary rivalries but consider how authors use conflict to move their plots forward. We’ll begin with a short story by Saki, “The Interlopers,” which will drive home the second half of our theme – the futility of feuding, before moving on to Shakespeare’s most infamous feuding families, the Montagues and Capulets. As we read, Romeo and Juliet, we will consider how various adult characters contribute to the tragic ending of the youths who pay the ultimate price for the enmity of their parents. We will then move on to two well-loved 20th Century novels that have long inspired young readers to consider the cost of conflict:  Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. We will wrap up the quarter with a discussion of Mark Twain’s short story, “The War Prayer” and use that as inspiration as we write formal “Letters to the Editor” expressing the insights we’ve gained into the power of literature to shape our understanding of conflict.


For the Spring Quarter, our Thematic Focus will be, “For What Should We Be Responsible?” We will begin with two classic short stories that explore familial and social responsibility, “The Scarlet Ibis,” by James Hurst and “Thank You, Ma’am,” by Langston Hughes. We will also consider the timeless inquiry, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” as we read John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, which we’ll introduce with a look at the Robert Burns poem that inspired its title, “To a Mouse.” Additional poetry for this quarter will include works by Langston Hughes, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, Emily Bronte, Maya Angelou, and Emily Dickinson, all of which address the issue of responsibility. Our play for the Spring Quarter will by Edmond Rostand’s famous tale of Cyrano de Bergerac, whose Code of Honor shapes his ideas about responsibility. We will finish the year by analyzing the insights into responsibility offered by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.


The Writing Process will also be a central focus in this course, as students apply their creative and analytical thinking to these marvelous works of literature.  Students will not only have an opportunity to express their ideas, argue their opinions and demonstrate their understanding in our class discussions, but they will also organize, develop and argue those ideas in their writing.  In addition to longer, academic essays, students will participate in weekly online discussion forums and develop their own critical discussion questions to help them organize their responses to the literature we read. Through oral presentations, in-class essays, short reader-responses, and speeches, students will have many opportunities to hone and practice their communication skills. Students will also learn research techniques and MLA documentation as they develop their persuasive, analytical, expository and descriptive writing skills.  As students practice their writing skills, they will simultaneously build their understanding of vocabulary, grammar, syntax, punctuation and the conventions of formal writing. 


In this class, we will be implementing technology to help us work on the Writing Process. Our classes will take place each week through live, interactive, and engaging online sessions, and we will utilize a variety of tools to enhance our classroom discussions and encourage collaboration (breakout rooms, polls/quizzes, discussion forum questions, video access, and screen sharing for our intensive essay revision sessions). The Zoom video platform will allow us to meet like a regular classroom for lecture and discussion purposes as we immerse ourselves in wonderful literature and the process of writing literary analysis essays. The class will also utilize Google Classroom for assignments, discussion forums, and work-sharing both during class sessions and outside of class. Taking advantage of the incredible, collaborative power of Google Docs will allow us to share ideas and revision techniques far more efficiently. This class will be a great opportunity to enjoy some wonderful literature and practice essential literary analysis and writing skills.


This course meets A-G Course Requirements as outlined by the UC system. We aim to cover the course standards and UC requirements for A-G credit per the requirements of multiple California Charter School Guides. However, it is the responsibility of the family & student to compare our syllabi with their charter school’s outlines to determine if there is any additional learning that should be done. All work should be shared with the charter school for their review. Please remember that your charter school is ultimately responsible for assigning grades, although we are always happy to provide suggested grades for work done in our classes.


NOTE:  There are no Materials Fees for this class, but parents must purchase the required books for their students. Holly will provide Amazon Purchase Links for the chosen edition of each. 



Holly Van Houten

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