The goal of the English Department is to develop thoughtful, confident, well-read, and articulate students who are fully prepared for the rigors of the college classroom and a life of intellectual adventure. The best education is dynamic. This is a truth lived out in our classrooms. Vibrant discussions, formal and creative writing, one-on-one mentoring, out-of-the box thinking, passionate teaching – these are some of the hallmarks of our department.
Our curriculum introduces students to some of the greatest works of literature ever written, including Homer’s The Iliad, Aristotle’s Poetics, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Emily Dickinson’s poetry, Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July oration, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Each English class reads a Shakespeare play in January as part of a school-wide Shakespeare festival that includes recitations and performances, field trips to the nearby American Shakespeare Center, and guest lectures by leading scholars.
Clear Writing about Complex Ideas
We believe that all students can develop into capable academic writers. The key is to empower them with a systematic, skill-and-concept-based approach and to give them plenty of opportunities for practice. Our curriculum is based on the Little Red Schoolhouse writing system, which was developed at the Universities of Chicago and Virginia, and which is currently used in the writing programs at those prestigious universities and many others across the country. We teach writing as a process, with practical strategies for planning, drafting, and revision. We emphasize essay focus, organization, argumentation, tone, and mechanics. Students write at least one major essay every quarter, and they write in class or for homework on a daily basis. We especially emphasize timed, in-class essays, which prepare students for the SAT and AP exams.
We teach students that good writing rests on a solid foundation in grammar. An understanding of grammar empowers students and gives them the skills necessary to write clear, grammatical prose. Teaching of grammar is integrated into courses at each grade level. For example, students learn to parse and diagram sentences from famous authors such as John Locke and Thomas Jefferson. The experience of seeing how great writers from the past had to observe the rules of grammar gives students a concrete sense of why grammar is important and how grammar can be used rhetorically in writing.
Careful Thinking about Difficult Questions
An ongoing engagement with the big questions of philosophy and literature animates our discussions of literary works. What is the good life? What is freedom? Equality? Justice? Love? Beauty? How do we find happiness? What is the purpose of art? What is our relationship to nature? What is the individual’s relationship to society? What are the qualities of a good leader?
These are perennial questions, but they are wrestled with in particular times and places, so course texts are always situated within their historical and cultural contexts. The English curriculum at MSA is organized chronologically and spatially, with surveys of ancient literature (9th grade), British literature (10th grade), American literature (11th grade), and contemporary literature (12th grade). We also offer AP English Language and Composition (11th grade) and AP English Literature and Composition (12th grade). Our curriculum is closely aligned with the History Department’s. This robust interdisciplinary approach means that students are studying the Revolutionary War in history class while analyzing the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence in English. They are studying Ancient Greece in history while reading The Odyssey in English.
Humanities 9 – Ancient Literature
This course is designed in coordination with the ninth-grade history course, Ancient & Medieval Civilizations, teaching students to examine how literary texts engage with their historical context. Students are introduced to man’s earliest stories, including examples from the Bible, mythology and ancient epic poetry, and they learn to trace mythic prototypes into more modern texts, all the while grappling with questions that man has asked since the beginning of time. Formal study of grammar and vocabulary is emphasized, and students are acquainted with the formal writing process.
English 10 — European Literature
This course surveys the history of European literature, beginning with Homer, moving through Shakespeare and the Renaissance, and concluding with Modernism and the 20th century. Texts studied include The Iliad, The Aeneid, the Inferno, Henry IV, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Paradise Lost, "The Rape of the Lock," The Importance of Being Earnest, and Things Fall Apart. Students explore how literature is influenced by historical events and how literature in turn influences society. As such, the course is designed in conjunction with the tenth-grade course Europe and the World and provides a historical framework for understanding the history of literature and literary genres in Europe. Formal study of grammar and vocabulary continue. Writing portfolios begun in the ninth grade continue, and students are introduced to the fundamentals of academic argument.
English 11 – American Literature
In this course, we will delve deep into some classics of American literature, including Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s "Rappaccini’s Daughter." (We will also take one major detour to closely read Hamlet as part of the school-wide Shakespeare unit in January.) These works will be studied with an eye to their literary genius, their historical significance, and the timeless themes that make them relevant to all people in all eras. Students will also embark on a whirlwind tour of our rich literary canon through a nightly reading curriculum designed to instill a powerful habit of reading and foster a genuine love of great stories and poems. At the end of the year, students will read a classic American novel of their choice. In addition to serving as a solid introduction to our national literature, this course follows a writing curriculum tailored to the college-bound junior. We begin the year ironing out stubborn grammatical problems and reviewing argumentative structure and end it with a focus on developing an authentic voice and an engaging style, qualities that will prove invaluable to rising seniors as they prepare to tackle some of the most important writing assignments of their lives: the senior speech the college application essay.
AP English Language and Composition
(90+ average in English 10 and placement test)
AP English Language and Composition follows the same trajectory as English 11, but its reading and writing load arefar more intensive. In order to prepare for the AP exam, students are given a rigorous introduction to rhetorical analysis and logical fallacies. Reading comprehension is developed through challenging assignments, regular reading questions, and systematic test preparation.
English 12 – The Art of Reading, Thinking, Writing, and Speaking
Why do we read? Why do we write? How do these two actions help us find our place in our worlds? How do writing and reading help us to think? This course proposes that thinking and writing and reading are inextricably linked. The students’ ability to think critically will enhance their ability to further develop writing skills they have begun developing in their earlier high school years. Through engaging poetry, essays, and texts such as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the students sharpen their own emotional intelligence as they pursue such themes as conformity, individual responsibility, ethical dilemmas, and the pursuit of self knowledge. The composition and presentation of their senior Chapel Talks, along with Poetry Out Loud and Shakespeare recitations, satisfy the major public speaking component of the course.
AP English Literature and Composition
90+ average in AP English 11/English 11 and placement test
This course hones the advanced English student’s ability to render close literary analysis of literature, in order to prepare him or her for the AP exam and college-level courses. Students sharpen their close reading skills while examining various rhetorical styles in poems, novels, and plays. In a university seminar-style environment, students pay particular attention to their own use of style and rhetoric in both timed and formal essays, and they compose their own poems according to the forms presented in The Making of a Poem. In addition to a wide range of poetry, authors studied include Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Herman Hesse, J. D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The plays of Shakespeare and Samuel Beckett provide rich examples of how rhetoric and style are delivered in dramatic works. The composition and presentation of their senior Chapel Talks, along with Poetry Out Loud and Shakespeare recitations, satisfy the major public speaking component of the course. Final assessments of their writing portfolios allow students to analyze and reflect on their growth in written expression.
DE Survey of English Literature
PVCC ENG 243-244 (3 credit hours per semester) Students will study connections between British history and the development of British literature, as well as analyze the characteristics of major movements in British literature. In the first semester, we will cover significant literary movements during the Anglo-Saxon period, the Medieval period, and the Renaissance. In the second semester, we move on through the Age of Reason, the Romantic period, the Victorian period, and Modernism. Some of the works and authors studied include Beowulf, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the Metaphysical poets, Wordsworth, Shelley, Tennyson, Browning, Eliot, Pound, Yeats, and Auden.
DE Creative Writing
PVCC ENG 211-212 (3 credit hours per semester) Creative Writing introduces you to the fundamentals of writing imaginatively. The class assumes that you have an interest in creative writing and that you will each have varying levels of experience writing creatively. We will focus our efforts on creative nonfiction, poetry, and short fiction. We will write about, discuss, and imitate the work of published authors, and regularly engage in activities that generate writing spontaneously, imaginatively and playfully. We will then develop selected pieces of this work with the goal of creating polished essays, poems, and stories. These creative works will be developed in stages and revised with feedback from your instructor and classmates. A cornerstone of the class will be reading and sharing your own work with your peers and learning to give thoughtful feedback. You will use this feedback to develop polished pieces by the semester’s end. You will revise to craft your work into more intentional pieces.
Through daily journals, the reading of great literature, creative exercises, and class discussion, Creative Writing students develop a spectrum of writing abilities. Units of study include short fiction, poetry, play and screenwriting, the personal essay, journalism, book arts, and persuasive writing. Students write with the intent of “finding a voice.” The course teaches grammar for the purpose of improving the clarity and sophistication of student writing. Daily journals and reflection pieces form the bulk of the workload; all students should expect to write between 100 - 150 pages of polished work over the course of the year. The course assesses a student-writer’s development through a portfolio system. By the end of the course, students have a portfolio of writing across genres, a clearly developed voice on the page, and several artist statements to accompany their work. Readings change from year to year.