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Upper School
Upper School

English

The English curriculum at Walker’s in both Middle and Upper Schools focuses on the teaching of literature and composition, and seeks to nurture a love of reading, intelligent habits of speaking, listening, and information gathering in preparation for not only the next grade level, but for college, the workplace, and the world at large.  

As each student rises through the school and our carefully selected texts grow in complexity, our expectation is that, through close reading, she increases her proficiency in critical literary analysis. At the same time, we constantly seek to retain a sense of meaningful personal involvement with literature. One of our key aims is for students to learn to appreciate literary craftsmanship — the artistry in each individual work — in every genre.  

Our first concern in composition is for each student to express herself in a clear straightforward style and find her authentic voice; qualities we consistently emphasize in both analytical and personal expressive writing in every grade.  

Even in this digital age, correct English still matters; we maintain that correct grammar usage and the acquisition of vocabulary remain as important as ever, so their study is embedded in every course.

At the same time, we acquaint students with some of the major cultural and aesthetic movements of literature, both classic and contemporary, throughout America and the world, paying particular attention to the voices of women and of minority writers. To this end, we have committed to regular reviews of the breadth and depth of both our curriculum and summer reading choices. Summer reading in English is a required component at each grade level, 6-12.

Whether in the Middle or Upper School, each course is designed to encourage and support each girl as she finds her voice in her writing and grows to her fullest potential in the study of the English language and its literature.

 

Upper School Placement

Students who enter the Upper School in grades 9-12 are placed in courses on the basis of recommendation from her 8th grade English teacher (in the case of Ethel Walker Middle School students) or her transcript information and teacher recommendations (for new students to our Upper School). In subsequent years, enrollment in all honors and AP courses is subject to teacher recommendation and departmental approval. Additionally, all twelfth grade elective courses in the department are subject to enrollment.

New international students for whom English is not their first language may be placed in the "American Culture and Literature" course when this class best suits their needs.

 

Electives

For those students not enrolled in the Advanced Placement English course or for those wishing to study more than one English course in their 12th grade year, semester-long English electives are offered (below). Each senior not enrolled in AP English must state a preference for one of these electives per semester, and should definitely list her second and third choices for each semester on her registration forms. Qualified juniors who wish to take one of these senior electives may do so, subject to available space and, in the case of a student with multiple English courses, departmental approval.

 

Courses in this department:

English

American Literature and Culture

Grades 9-12
Credit: 1


This course is designed for new international students for whom English is not their first language as part of the LINGo program. Students will be placed in this class when appropriate. Students explore American culture and literature through challenging but accessible choices of short fiction such as "The Lottery" and "Everyday Use," drama, novels including The Secret Life of Bees, and poetry. A comedy from Shakespeare is included in this course (although it is not in keeping with the theme of American Literature) in order to give students as much exposure to his works as we can. Each student becomes familiar with the terms and methods for literary analysis which aid discussion and enhance her comprehension and enjoyment of texts from the various genres. Throughout the year, each student is supported as she raises her confidence and proficiency in spoken and written English. Upon the teacher’s recommendation, entry into the next level of the English program is facilitated when the student is ready to move up.

Honors English 9: The Self and Beyond

Grade 9
Credit: 1


This rigorous honors course helps each student move from her own perspective outward to the perspectives of others in the world at large. As we observe the world an author creates and the ways characters act and react to each other, we expand our knowledge of our own world and how it works. During the year we study novels such as The Catcher in the Rye, The Secret Life of Bees, and Their Eyes Were Watching God. Previous selections of drama have included Oedipus Rex, Antigone, and one of Shakespeare’s comedies chosen from Much Ado About Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew, and As You Like It. Additionally, we read several short stories and poems chosen at the teacher’s discretion. Epic poetry is Represented by The Odyssey.
 

Each student is supported and challenged to improve her skills in both analytical and personal essays to grow as a persuasive and sophisticated thinker and writer.

English 9: The Self and Beyond

Grade 9
Credit: 1


The English 9 course focuses on the same core themes and works as the honors ninth-grade course. The standards expected of students both in class discussion and in writing are equally high, although the number of works read may be fewer and the pace of reading more measured in this course.

Honors English 10: American Literature: The Individual in Society

Grade 10
Credit: 1


In Sophomore Honors English, students strive to advance the twin skills of reading and writing well, and to expand their understanding of American life and letters. They read as many of the great texts of American literature as time allows and assess each one’s aesthetic brilliance and what the authors are telling us about American culture in its various manifestations through time. The study begins with The Heart is a Lonely Hunter as the summer reading text and then proceeds retrospectively in the following order: The Great Gatsby, My Antonia, Huckleberry Finn, poetry by Whitman and Dickinson, essays by Thoreau and Emerson, Melville’s Benito Cereno and Bartleby, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and finally they return to the present and read a variety of short fiction and poetry by contemporary authors. A concession is made to include Macbeth in this course in order to give students as much exposure to Shakespeare’s works as we can. A variety of writing assignments including analytical essays, personal response essays, and creative writing using vocabulary are supplemented by a reading journal in which each student records her reflections, questions and significant literary observations as she reads the texts.

English 10: American Literature: The Individual in Society

Grade 10
Credit: 1 


Working with a variety of American literary texts, this course examines the theme of individuality in American literature. The English 10 course focuses on the same core themes and works as the honors tenth-grade course. The standards expected of students both in class discussion and in writing are equally high, although the number of works read may be fewer and the pace of reading more measured. We look at how individuals struggle against social forces as well as integrate themselves into communities. Each student uses her personal reactions to texts from every genre to help her write critical and analytical essays of her own. Through reading, class discussion and conferencing over drafts, students work towards an understanding of American literature and themselves as writers. Previous selections of texts have included The Great Gatsby, The Awakening, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Young Goodman Brown, Sula, and Huckleberry Finn, as well as excerpts from Emerson and Thoreau. Poetry choices are made at the teacher’s discretion. A concession is made to include Macbeth in this course in order to give students as much exposure to Shakespeare’s works as possible.

Honors English 11: Love, Power & Revenge

Grade 11
Credit: 1


This demanding class exposes students to several classic and contemporary texts in a variety of genres to explore the themes of love, power, and revenge. We learn how some of the world’s greatest authors have dealt with the eternal subject of love. We also see how power corrupts even the strongest among us, and we examine the furious complexity of revenge. We read Several short stories including those in The Interpreter of Maladies. Poetry is prominent, with emphasis on both the Renaissance and the Romantic periods. Our novels may include 1984, Brave New World, Pride and Prejudice, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Frankenstein, and Lord of the Flies. Our drama includes Hamlet and The Importance of Being Earnest. This class is an important preparation for AP English. Therefore, students are required to analyze texts as critical thinkers, and then write to support their opinions with clarity, fluency, and sophistication.

English 11: Love, Power and Revenge

Grade 11
Credit: 1


The English 11 course focuses on the same core themes and works as the honors eleventh-grade course. The standards expected of students both in class discussion and in writing are equally high, although the number of works read may be fewer and the pace of reading more measured.

AP English Literature

Grade 12
Credit: 1


The purpose of this course is to offer advanced study in literature and composition, and to prepare students for the AP Exam in Literature and Composition. The course involves the reading and close examination of texts from a variety of periods and in each of the major genres. Students entering the course should expect to read sophisticated works at a rigorous pace, to write frequently and according to exacting standards of both depth and style, and to participate regularly in seminar-style discussions. Writing in this course is primarily analytical. Texts to be Studied in this course may include King Lear, Book IV of Gulliver’s Travels, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Light in AugustA Doll's House, Hedda Gabler, A Streetcar Named Desire, Song of Solomon, and selections of poetry from the Renaissance to the present.

English 12: Happy Endings, Sort Of...

Grade 12
Credit: .5 


The inspiration for this elective was an essay question on the AP English exam a few years ago that began with a quotation from the novelist Fay Weldon: "The writers, I believe, who get the best and most lasting response from readers are the writers who offer a happy ending through moral development. By happy ending, I do not mean mere fortunate events… but some kind of spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation, even with the self, even at death." In this course, students read such works, examining, in particular, whatever is offered of positive moral possibility in them. Works studied in this course may include A Doll's  House, Song of Solomon, Jane Eyre, Atonement, or Great Expectations, with additional works at the teacher’s discretion.

English 12: Great Novellas

Grade 12
Credit: .5

The novella occupies a middle ground between the short story and the novel – long enough to achieve some complexity and depth, short enough to be tightly worked. It is a vague designation – at what point does a short story become a novella, or a novella become a novel? But author Ian MacEwan said in a recent interview, "As a form, the novel sprawls and can never be perfect. It doesn’t need to be, it doesn’t want to be. A poem can achieve perfection — not a word you’d want to change — and in rare instances a novella can too." In this course we will study several great novellas, examining the depths of their themes and the intricacies and balance of their form. One central question is, "How does one estimate ‘perfection’ in a literary work?" Another obvious question is, "How close do these works come to it?" Novellas under consideration: James Joyce, "The Dead"; Franz Kafka, "The Metamorphosis"; Carson McCullers, "The Ballad of the Sad Café"; Jane Smiley, "Good Will"; Norman MacLean, "A River Runs Through It"; Thomas Mann, "Death in Venice"; Henry James, "Daisy Miller"; Herman Melville, "Benito Cereno" or "Billy Budd"; Joseph Conrad, "Heart of Darkness."

English 12: Prairie Literature

Grade 12
Credit: .5 


The Midwest and Southwest have produced many of America’s best writers, particularly in the past couple of decades. Students in this course sample various writers who have drawn their inspiration and set their fiction and poetry in this region. They begin retrospectively with a look at Native American spirituality in Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks. Then they proceed to contemporary writers such as Cormac McCarthy (All the Pretty Horses) who write about cultural conflict along our border with Mexico.  Students then turn to Kent Haruf and read Plainsong and Eventide, a pair of novels that are sequential and include many of the same characters and settings in eastern Colorado. Haruf is followed by Richard Ford and Annie Proulx, who tell stories about love and loneliness set in Wyoming in the aftermath of America’s pioneer heritage. Students read novels, short stories, poetry, and literary nonfiction such as Eiseley’s The Immense Journey. The literature offers students a window on America’s soul as it has been represented by these great regionalist writers. Each student practices her writing skills in a variety of forms from the analytical essay to personal response, and she also keeps a reading journal in which she is responds to, reflects upon, questions and includes her literary observations.

English 12: Literature of the Future: The Promises and Perils

Grade 12
Credit: .5 


In this elective students will read a series of novels and short stories that are set in the future including novels such as: Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land; Walter Miller Jr.'s Canticle for Leibowitz; Phillip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; William Gibson’s Neuromancer; Olaf Stapleton’s Starmaker; and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It has often been argued that science fiction or novels about the future are really just sensitive novels about current cultural evolution extrapolated into the future. This course will give students an opportunity to think in more than the usual depth about new trends in cultural evolution based upon technological innovations such as robotics, artificial intelligence, genetics and the Internet. Like all of our electives the goals of the course include learning to read more sensitively, think more critically and write more gracefully.

English 12: Reading and Writing Short Fiction & Poetry

Grade 12
Credit: .5 


The focus of this class is close reading of short stories and poetry with an eye to writing in both forms, with an occasional analytical essay assigned for good measure. Students read a great variety of short fiction from the entire history of the narrative form, beginning with early short narratives from world mythology and folk literature. We read and discuss the stories in class, focusing on how the author has used narrative elements to create a successful story. Then each student writes her own stories based upon the models she has read. A similar procedure is followed with poetry. Every student must be willing to share her work with classmates.

English 12: Shakespeare

Grade 12
Credit: .5 


This student-centered class explores Shakespearean texts as drama. Students examine scenes from Shakespeare's plays to appreciate their dramatic importance and enduring appeal as works of literature. Though this is not an acting course, students are often challenged to breathe life into Shakespeare’s works on stage. Our principal plays are Othello, The Merchant of Venice, and Romeo and Juliet. Selections from other plays are included at the teacher’s discretion. Activities include acting and speech, text interpretation, stage direction, role-play, historical and social contexts, and monologues. To supplement daily activities in class, there are analytical and creative essays that allow each student to reflect upon her learning and express her thoughts on the works of Shakespeare. This course is offered in alternating years in order to focus attention on the course in the year in which we present the triennial Shakespeare Festival.

English 12: From Page to Pixels

Grade 12
Credit: .5 


Many of cinema's greatest movies are derived from books. This course explores the relationship between the written word and the movies; they both tell stories, but authors and directors make different choices to engage us in their art. Is it fair to critique a movie in the same way as we analyze a work of literature? Will we be forever disappointed in the movie version of a book we've loved? Can a moving picture really paint a thousand words? This course refines students’ analytical skills to appreciate the techniques and talents of authors and directors alike. Each student compiles her own list of criteria for a successful depiction of each work of literature so that she may assess the respective movie version. Formal written assessments therefore comprise a balanced review of the relative strengths, weaknesses, and worth of both the book and the movie. Texts used in prior years have included: The Color Purple, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Q & A (Slumdog Millionaire), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and Sense and Sensibility.

English 12: The Spirit of Wilderness: American Nature Writing

Grade 12
Credit: .5 


The purpose of this course is to study literary works in which people’s relationship with nature is a central theme. Some questions students consider are: How has nature inspired the authors we read? How do depictions of nature vary among the different authors, and how do they tally with students’ own perceptions and experience? How has the conflict between commercial development and the spiritual value of nature played out in American experience and American literature? And, on the level of style, what makes good nature writing good? We read fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, including a selection of short stories, excerpts from Emerson and Thoreau, and such works as The Bear (Faulkner), Fools Crow (James Welch), Desert Solitaire (Edward Abbey), The Crossing (Cormac McCarthy), and Animal Dreams (Barbara Kingsolver) as well as (time permitting) poems by Wordsworth, Wallace Stevens, Robinson Jeffers, Gary Snyder, and Mary Oliver. Students also spend time outside now and then in the Ethel Walker woods, observing and writing on their own.

English 12: Women in Literature

Grades 12
Credit: .5 


“The title women and fiction might mean…women and what they are like; or it might mean women and the fiction that they write; or it might mean women and the fiction that is written about them; or it might mean that somehow all three are inextricably mixed together…” Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own.

This course examines the search for self in women’s writing of the twentieth century. As women have tried to come into their own through writing, their characters sometimes meet a bitter end. The struggle for women to emerge into the literary canon has been a difficult one, characterized by themes not only of growth, independence, authorship, and empowerment, but also of destruction, dependence, frustration, and despair. Like Woolf, this course considers women and what they are like, what they write, and what has been written about them. In turn, we write about women and about ourselves as women. Through this course, we come to a better understanding of women in and through our own prose. Previous text selections have included works from The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, The Bluest Eye, The Awakening, and The House of Mirth.

English 12: Paradise and the Image of the Garden

Grade 12
Credit: .5
 

This course begins with an extended reading of the “Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden” story, making it a touchstone narrative for further study of novels, stories and poetry that focus thematically on gardens and our basic human relationship to nature as the caretaking gardener. Some of the texts included are passages from the Bible and the Koran, My Antonia, Under the Volcano, Hawthorne’s Rappacini’s Daughter, The Garden of Forking Paths by Borges, and poems by Eliot, Dante, Lorca, Yeats, Wordsworth, Stevens, Neruda and Oliver. There is also a significant unit on the garden in art history and another on how actual gardens have been conceived and designed around the world. Students will reflect on gardening as a metaphor for eco-ethics in general, and a final project will consist of each student representing her own vision of an ideal garden in various media of her choosing.

English 12: And the Winner is... Great Prize Winning Literature

Grade 12
Credit: .5

Good literature has a timeless quality. Often we may be tempted to overlook modern texts in favor of more traditional works from "the canon." To redress this imbalance, this class will survey contemporary award-winning texts in all genres. Students will read texts critically to assess their appeal and worth as works of literature.

Works that may be studied include, among others: Middlesex, The Interpreter of Maladies, Life of Pi, Cold Mountain, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and The Kite Runner.

Emphasis will be placed on texts that represent the diversity of our world. When appropriate, the class will touch on award-winning art and music to provide a balanced view of the humanities. The workload will be demanding.

 
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