/
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 levels of instruction 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 Advanced 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 English course or for those wishing to study more than one English course in their 11th or 12th grade year, semester–long electives are offered. Each junior and senior who is not enrolled in Advanced English must state a first and second choice for these electives per semester during the course request process.

 

Courses in this department:

English

English 9: The Self and Beyond

Open to 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 9: The Self and Beyond

Open to 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 10: American Literature: The Individual in Society

Open to 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 10: American Literature: The Individual in Society

Open to 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.

American Literature and Culture

Open to 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.

Advanced English: Sisterhood, Siblings, and Twins: Literature of Family

Open to Grade: 12
Full Year Course
Recommendation of the department required
Credit: 1


This is a rigorous, college-level course that examines the ways in which works from different historical periods present the individual in relation to, or as separate from, the family - particularly in relationship to sisters and twins. The course focuses on differences of genre, structure, and imagery. Along with poetry, there will be close reading of plays, novels, and autobiographies such as Dunn’s Geek Love, Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, Morrison’s Song of Solomon, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Lahiri’s The Lowland, and the Delaneys’ Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters’ First 100 Years.

1939 and 1954: Studios and Auteurs

Open to Grades: 11-12
Credit: .5
Prerequisite: Film Studies or permission of the department
 

This course will continue the partnership of film analysis and filmmaking that was established in the original Film Studies class, but it will do so by taking an in-depth look at two seminal years in film. By focusing on these two years, students will examine the innovation and artistry from some of film's greatest directors, but they will also study some of the remarkable triumphs of the star-driven studio system. The intensive study of film in this course requires a strong working knowledge of film terms, techniques, and principles.

Animals in Literature & Film

Semester Course Open to Grades: 11-12
Credit: .5 


In order to understand humans, we have to understand animals. In this class, we will look at the potential meanings of this idea as we read and watch narratives of human-animal relations. We'll consider how writers and filmmakers depict animals' behavior, their inner lives, and sometimes even their speech. Other questions we will discuss include: what, if anything, separates humans from animals? When did humans start imagining other animals as pets and companions? In what ways are animal characters different/similar than human characters in a text? How do authors and filmmakers use animality to describe human characters and to craft plots? Texts will include Anna Sewell's Black Beauty, H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, Lydia Millet's How the Dead Dream, short stories by Franz Kafka, short essays by J.M. Coetzee, and two films, Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) and Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011).

The Bible and Literature

Open to Grades: 11-12
Credit: .5 


This course will have two main areas of focus. First, students will study the biblical text itself. This portion of the class will take on the flavor of a religious studies course, as students seek to better understand the origins and composition of the Bible. Students will also approach the biblical narrative as literary scholars, looking for theme, plot development, and characterization in the Bible’s extremely rich and complex stories. We will focus largely on excerpts from the 24 books that are common to the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths, but there will be some exploration of the Gospels of the New Testament as well.
 

The second focus of the course will be on literary works that have sprung from the biblical text. Students will learn to identify some of the most common allusions to the Bible in Western literature, and they will discuss why these references are so important. We will explore the ways in which authors have reimagined and reinvented biblical narratives throughout the ages. Students should leave the course with a better grasp of the complicated, beautiful text that has been the preeminent influence in English literature since its inception.
 

Possible Course of Study:
 

Excerpts from the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Ruth, TBD)
Excerpts from the Gospels
Paradise Lost (Milton)
The Red Tent (Diamant)
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (Guirgis)

Children's Literature

Open to Grades: 11-12
Credit: .5


In this class, students will read texts that are central to the canon of children’s literature and use them to explore several key questions: What themes and ideas seem to be characteristic of children’s literature? How do we draw the lines between texts for young people and texts for adults? How do children’s books reflect a unique, contained tradition? How do they interact with the larger tradition of Western literature?
 

Children's Literature will be a rigorous, in-depth study of texts written for a younger audience, in which students will continue to hone their analytical writing and critical thinking skills throughout the semester. We will approach the course as scholars and academics, without losing the joy and wonder that these texts inspire in readers of all ages.
 

Possible Course of Study:
 

Grimm's Fairy Tales
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Carroll)
Charlotte’s Web (White)
The Phantom Tollbooth (Juster)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Rowling)
The Graveyard Book (Gaiman)
A Wrinkle in Time (L'Engle)
The Giver (Lowry)

Creative Writing: Storytelling Remixed

Open to Grades: 11-12
Credit: .5 


This class will begin in a traditional manner: close reading of short stories and poetry with an eye to writing in both forms. As students read and discuss a variety of short fiction and poetry, they will focus on the techniques and elements authors use to create successful works. Each student then writes her own stories based upon the models she has read. From this point, students will explore new and experimental versions of storytelling, including spoken word poetry, MOTH storytelling, and stories composed of tweets. Every student must be willing to share her work with classmates.
 

In addition to crafting their own work, students will oversee Daemon, the School’s art and literary journal. Students will also be required to submit their work to various regional and national writing contests. In order to foster an appreciation of these art forms, students will organize at least one event on campus (coffeehouse, poetry slam, writing contest, MOTH story slam, etc.).

Dystopian Literature

Open to Grades: 11-12
Credit: .5
 

What is the nature of humanity? At its core, dystopian literature asks this question. Dystopian literature is as much a reflection on contemporary life as it is a look into the future; examining authors’ predictions for the future, which is based on their estimations of current human trajectories, illuminates their commentary on the current issues they face. This course will consider the opening question and investigate authors’ interpretations as well as our own. Texts under consideration include Kurt Vonnegut short fiction, Mockingjay, 1984, Brave New World, The Giver, Never Let Me Go, The Handmaid’s Tale. Films include Cloud Atlas, Minority Report, Children of Men, Elysium, Blade Runner.

Expository Writing

Open to Grades: 11-12
Credit: .5
 

Montaigne was the first great essayist, believing that writing is always an exploration in thinking as well as persuasion, and the field of essay writing has only expanded in recent years. In this class, students will study a variety of styles of non-fiction writing, such as the personal narrative and the familiar essay, as they work to improve clarity, fluency, and argumentation in their own writing. In a workshop atmosphere, students will explore the limits of reasoned expression and both identify and shape their own authentic voices.

Film Studies

Open to Grades: 11-12
Credit: .5 


Film is arguably the most important art form today. Film Studies is the epitome of the Liberal Arts approach to learning through multiple lenses. Examining film in this academic context moves it beyond the study of a cultural object to its evolution in history, participation in technological innovation, and impact in a global context. Students will acquire a rich visual vocabulary, and specific technical knowledge that allow them to be intensely analytical and creative, as they develop an understanding of the immediate and direct power film has over audiences. Weaving together the study of film and the practice of filmmaking will empower students to be original thinkers, designers, and risk takers.
 

Units of study include: 

  • Introduction to film study: philosophies and techniques for analysis
  • Scrutiny of the Hollywood Blockbuster (Titanic, Gladiator, Birth of a Nation)
  • History of Film (The General, Modern Times, Sunset Boulevard)
  • Study of genres: Film Noir and Existentialism (I Heart Huckabees, Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Blue Velvet, The Man Who Wasn’t There)
  • Great Directors (Fellini, Bergman, Kubrick, Hitchcock, Wilder, Welles, Ford)

 
Assessments and projects include: 

  • Analytic Essay
  • Film Review/Criticism
  • Film analysis presentation of a scene, shot by shot
  • iMovie documentary on great directors
  • Short Film Production
  • Student planned and run film festival at the School
  • Field trips to Wesleyan and/or Yale Film Studies Departments

From Page to Pixels

Semester Course Open to Grades: 11-12
Credit: .5 


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. Students will compare the language and reading strategies used when approaching film and literature. Through the process, students will refine their analytical skills to appreciate the techniques and talents of authors and directors alike. Each student compiles her own list of criteria for a successful adaptation of each work of literature so that she may assess the respective movie version. Texts under consideration include: Atonement, The Color Purple, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, Q & A (Slumdog Millionaire), Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Orchid Thief (Adaptation), and Heart of Darkness (Apocalypse Now).

Hemingway and Faulkner: Two Modern American Masters

Open to Grades: 11-12
Credit: .5 


Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner were born within two years of each other and died within one year of each other. Both won the Nobel Prize, and both forged innovative styles that influenced many later writers, though they went in very different directions in doing so. In this course, we will read short stories and one or two novels by each author, studying their themes, methods, and the particular ways they responded to central problems that confronted the Modernist era. Works under consideration (besides short stories): The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms (Hemingway), As I Lay Dying and Light in August (Faulkner).

Intensive Study of Short Fiction

Open to Grades: 11-12
Credit: .5
Prerequisite: Creative Writing I or permission of the department
 

This course builds on the fundamental techniques of fiction writing introduced in "Creative Writing: Storytelling Remixed", with a more in-depth study of traditional and experimental short fiction by authors such as Alice Munro, ZZ Packer, Jhumpa Lahiri, Raymond Carver, John Updike, and others. Students will engage in frequent writing and reading assignments as well as small and large-group critiques in class. While this course will include some study of poetry, it will provide a greater concentration on the art of the short story.

Literature and Culture of the Environment

Semester Course Open to Grades: 11-12
Credit: .5 


In this class, we'll explore the environmental imagination through a wide range of books and essays that shape how we understand our place on an increasingly fragile planet. How do we imagine the environment? What is the proper place for human beings in nature, and how do we know? We will read novels, poetry, and essays, including some works that explicitly draw upon the resources of environmental science, giving us a chance to discuss and do our own 'science writing.' We will read and write about places where the natural and the artificial meet, such as the Park River in Hartford, home to many species of fish and bird, but simultaneously polluted and urban. Such sites will lead us to consider cases of environmental racism and struggles for environmental justice. Texts will include Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, biologist David Haskell’s The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, selections from Henry David Thoreau, Jenny Price’s "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Nature in L.A.," and John Felstiner’s anthology Can Poetry Save the Earth?

Literature, Music and Art from the 50s & 60s

Open to Grades: 11-12
Credit: .5 


In this course, students will study the literature, music and art of the 1950s and 1960s in America. Particular attention will be paid to the "Beat" generation literary figures such as Jack Kerouac, James Baldwin, Ken Kesey, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski, Gary Snyder, and Bob Dylan. A representative survey of music from the era will also be considered including jazz, blues, rock and roll, and folk. In the visual arts, we will focus primarily on the abstract expressionist painters such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, and secondarily on pop painters such as Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg.  

Literature of the American West

Open to Grades: 11-12
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 will sample various writers who have drawn their inspiration and set their fiction and poetry in this region. We begin retrospectively with a look at Native American spirituality in Black Elk Speaks, by John Neihardt, and at our pioneer history in Willa Cather’s A Lost Lady. We will then proceed to contemporary writers such as Cormac McCarthy in All The Pretty Horses and Kent Haruf in Plainsong, writers who tell stories about love and loneliness set in the aftermath of America’s pioneer heritage. The literature offers students a window into America’s soul as it has been represented by these great regionalist writers. Students will practice their writing skills in a variety of forms from the analytic essay to poetry.

Literature of the Future: The Promises and the Perils

Open to Grades: 11-12
Credit: .5 


In this elective, students will read a series of novels and short stories set in the future, including novels such as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World; 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.

Paradise and the Image of the Garden

Open to Grades: 11-12
Credit: .5 


This course begins with a close reading of the Biblical account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, 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 gardener. Some of the texts included are passages from the Bible and the Quran, 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 ecological-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.

Prarie Literature

Open to Grades: 11-12
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. Students then proceed to contemporary writers such as Cormac McCarthy (All the Pretty Horses), who writes about cultural conflict along our border with Mexico, and Larry McMurtry's Leaving Cheyenne, followed by Kent Haruf’s Plainsong, a novel set in eastern Colorado in the contemporary period. Richard Ford and Annie Proulx follow Haruf. Ford and Proulx 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 into America’s soul as these great regionalist writers have represented it. 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 responds to, reflects upon, questions and includes her literary observations. 

Shakespeare

Open to Grades: 11-12
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.

Shakespeare: Stage and Screen

Open to Grades: 11-12
Credit: .5
 

This student-centered class explores Shakespearean texts as drama. Students examine scenes from Shakespeare’s plays to appreciate their dramatic or cinematic importance and enduring appeal as works of literature. In addition to interpreting and directing scenes themselves, students will evaluate the ways in which these texts have been given new lives on screen. Plays under consideration include Hamlet, Macbeth, Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Titus Andronicus, and The Tempest. Selected films will feature directors ranging from Orson Welles to Baz Luhrmann and from Akira Kurosawa to Julie Taymour.

The Spirit of Wilderness: American Nature Writing

Open to Grades: 11-12
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 (William 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 Walker's Woods, observing and writing on their own.

Women in Literature

Open to Grades: 11-12
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. 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. Previous text selections have included works from The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, A Room of One’s Own, Persuasion, Age of Innocence, and The Bluest Eye.

World Literature

Open to Grades: 11-12
Credit: .5
 

Many English departments at the university level consider literature in translation as outside their scope. Therefore, unless one is fluent or proficient in foreign languages like German, French, Russian, etc. and can read the great texts of those languages as they were written, one may not be able to study them in school. In this class, we will look at texts in translation and the cultures from which they come. This may be students' only opportunity to read these texts in a classroom setting - they are wonderful and demand attention. Texts under consideration include Madame Bovary, The Stranger, Death in Venice, The Metamorphosis, A Doll’s House, The Cherry Orchard, Love in the Time of Cholera, and Norwegian Wood (Murakami).

 
©2015 Ethel Walker School. All rights reserved. Site by schoolyard. Sitemap
Commencement 2015