There is so much variation in schools, even within the same states. I taught at a public high school and I think we had an innovative system at the time. 9th and 10th grade were pretty standard, but students in the upper grades could choose electives. Our school offered courses in science fiction, Shakespeare, grammar, detective literature, film, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, short fiction, creative writing, and on and on. It sounds like a mess, but the idea was that skills were the core of the curriculum rather than particular texts.
So, as long as students learned the tools of literary analysis, writing, vocabulary and grammar, and relevant cultural and literary history, it was not critical that they all read the same texts. Personally, I think this is an excellent way to teach literature. There are some folks who believe all American high school students should read say, Julius Caesar, but the truth is that JC is only meaningful for a few students. I'd rather give all students a chance to connect with literature--any literature. Eventually, all students may get something out of Julius Caesar, but we have to give them the skills they need first. Above all, though, they need to be reading and writing. Mastery of those skills will open many doors for them--many more than just slogging through a particular set of texts.
For the teacher, this means more prep work up front. I created all of my own curriculum. I selected secondary readings from literary journals to supplement the fiction. I wrote my own tests, my own essay questions and designed my own discussions, projects, and assignments. In the end, I taught to both my own strengths and my students, but I feel that the resulting classes had more rigor than if I had been handed a curriculum packet. Unfortunately, I believe the school is moving toward a more standardized literary curriculum (uniform texts across the board) because parents are nervous about the variety. It's a shame--I believe the department will lose the uniqueness that produced such excellent student readers and writers.
It does depend on state requirements, as well as public school or private school systems. Most school systems do break it into categories and levels. For instance, 9th grade would be an Introduction to Literature and may contain American, British, and World lit authors. Tenth grade is usually World Literature with a mythologies of the world unit; 11th grade is typcially American literature in focus--with an emphasis on Native Americans, founding fathers, African American, and women's literature; and 12th grade has a British Lit focal point.
There are magnet schools with AP, IB, and dual-enrollment programs which will step it up a little from 9-12th grades--where the focal point is not only on literature from one continent or grouping but more on close reading and writing about the literature preparation for AP tests.
Other schools may offer Business English in lieu of traditional courses for students who are not targeted as college-bound.
Below are some links to sites you may want to peruse in order to get a better feel for it.
I really wish we could update our curriculum. I realize there are many lit. teachers out there who would love to throw rotten tomatoes at me for what I'm about to write, but I just have to do it: We are the ones who cause our students to hate to read because we force them to read books that some scholar in 1910 decided was necessary reading for a proper education. They can find no relevance for themselves in these books. Honestly, who can get past the first twenty pages of "Billy Bud" or "Moby Dick"? Am I the only teacher who ends "Julius Caesar" right after Marc Antony's funeral oration? Isn't there something besides "The Outsiders" that deals with teen angst?
I'm not saying we should teach only popular literature. I don't want the Twilight series on my reading list. But I'd like to have something a little more modern than the 1970s in the curriculum.
I am lucky enough to teach in a small alternative school. I have five students per class, and at the beginning of the semester the students and I create an individualized learning plan. I get to create my own unique curriculum based on the need of every student. I try to use the EALRs as best I can, and I can see how curriculum standards could be useful.
ACK! I'm breaking out in hives! (only half-kidding here)
I would love to see more research and critical thinking/analysis being done in the public school systems across the U.S. pertaining to literature. Hope there are teachers out there still fostering this!
It depends on the city and state, but most places have it broken down by grade. For example, 9th grade might be a introductory course, 10th grade would be World Literature, 11th grade would study American Literature, and 12th grade would focus on British Literature.
You can view examples of high school literature programs at:
You can get a great overview from a practical perspective by reviewing the descriptions of The Center For Learning's Lesson Plans. They describe the target audience and give a great overview of how these topics are covered. Some quick links to a few topics:
American Literature: http://www.centerforlearning.org/CFL_Products-2-1.html
British Literature: http://www.centerforlearning.org/CFL_Products-14-1.html
World Literature: http://www.centerforlearning.org/CFL_Products-44-1.html
Literary Forms: http://www.centerforlearning.org/CFL_Products-16-1.html
Even though I teach middle school, we get a brief glimpse into what is taught in our highschools to make sure we are getting them ready. Our district has gone to a district wide curriculum with district wide tests. They build on and go more into depth of the whole Language arts and literature concepts