English


English teacher Robin Neal talks about the way technology in the classroom has enhanced teaching and learning.

The Beaver English Department teaches active reading, writing, reflection, and analysis. In our explorations of language and literature, we encourage students to access both their imaginations and their intellects. As they learn, students develop the means of confidently and skillfully expressing their knowledge, observations, and feelings. We believe that engagement with literature leads students to explore human nature, understand multiple perspectives, question the world around them, and appreciate the power and complexity of language.

Ninth grade classes are all offered at the Standard level only, giving students a year to accustom themselves to the demands of the upper school curriculum. In the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades, students may elect to take their English courses at the Honors level during the course selection process. Specific expectations for honors students are outlined below. While the English department is committed to providing every student with a challenging curriculum, the Honors option is open to any student who wishes to engage with the subject at an even more sophisticated, complex, and demanding level. In making their decisions, students should consult their current English teachers and/or the head of the department. Decisions should take into account level of interest as well as ability in English.

In grade 10 through 12, students may elect to take their English course at the honors level by signing a contract. Honors students are expected to be leaders in class discussions, to maintain a high level of enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity, and to demonstrate a superior level of critical analysis in all written work and on honors-specific prompts on assessments. Earning Honors credit requires that after electing Honors and signing the contract, that the student continues to live up to these expectations.

English 10: American Literature

American Morality (Required)

What does it mean to be American? From the revolution that defined our independence to the very cases contended today in the Supreme Court, in this required course we address all elements of Americanism, the beautiful and the sordid. In doing this, we turn to great American writers whose professed goal it was to define generations of American citizens. We turn to F. Scott Fitzgerald for his perspective on the Roarin’ Twenties in New York City, James Baldwin’s ex-patriot experience abroad in Paris, and other short story selections that will help us begin to answer the question: What does it really mean to be American?

For the second term of American Literature students choose one of the following courses:

American Identity

There are myriad tangible and intangible ways that we define ourselves–from large scale identifiers like nation and religion, to the little things, like choosing what shoes to wear in the morning. The Identity Term looks at identity through varied American lenses–a 15-year-old Native American boy attending a primarily white school in upstate Washington, a family of Dominican immigrants living in New Jersey in the 80’s, and an African-American Floridian woman searching for love in the 1930’s. All of these perspectives help inform our own perspectives of who we are and why we believe the things we do.  

American Journeys

From westward expansion to road trips on spring break, movement and travel have always been quintessential parts of the American experience. In this class, we will read William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and meet the Bundrens as they travel in 1920s Mississippi to bury their mother, Addie. We will also examine journeys of immigration through reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story collection Interpreter of Maladies. Through these journeys, we hope to get a better sense of the role of movement and travel within the American experience and experiment.

English 11: Rhetoric

The View (Required)

This term of 11th grade English (Rhetoric) is required for every junior. Focusing on the power of voice, we will explore and cultivate our voice through creative non-fiction, non-linear storytelling, and poetry. Possible texts include Pulphead, The Empathy Exams, and The White Album.

For the second term of English Rhetoric students choose one of the following courses:

The Prose and Politics

This term of 11th grade English (Rhetoric) will explore how storytelling informs politics—the politics of government, race, joy, and all other aspects of the human condition. Possible texts include The Buddha In the Attic, Between the World and Me, 1984, and The Wind Up Bird Chronicles.

The Protest

This term of 11th grade English (Rhetoric) dives into the idea that change can come through acts of defiance and transformation. We will explore the notion of ‘protest’ in our writing about and analysis of the literature. Possible texts include We the Animals, Othello, and Citizen.

English 9: Power, Fate, and Choice

Power, fate, and choice play off each other in exciting, mysterious ways, in our own lives and in the stories we read. English 9 introduces you to a great diversity of literature with characters who make complicated, controversial choices for reasons both noble and selfish. In doing so, they fight fate and question the status quo. The characters’ struggles allow you to discover the universality of themes and questions that have fascinated authors for centuries, across boundaries of time and culture and space. You will explore the concept of the protagonist as a hero, whether tragic, traditional, reluctant, or imaginary, and question the hero’s fate and highest and best purpose. With each text, you examine the characters’ fights, intentions, and sacrifices, as well as how similar struggles continue to play out in society today. Readings include fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poetry, and drama, incorporating ancient and contemporary texts. Class is structured around a reading and writing workshop model, in which you read independently and write personally and creatively on a daily basis. Participation involves discussions, debates, acting, and oral presentations. As readers, as speakers, and as writers, you are asked to move beyond simply observing and reporting to the more complex task of analyzing and interpreting, to offer your own fresh perspective of the literature. Throughout both terms, you will build your vocabulary and grammar skills during regular lessons.

Possible texts: Purple Hibiscus by Adichie; Oedipus Rex and Antigone by Sophocles; I Am the Messenger by Zusak; Macbeth by Shakespeare. Various selections of poetry and memoir also populate the course.

English: African American Literature

This course will anchor itself around Jeffrey Allen Renard’s novel, Rails Under My Back, and explore the black American experience. We will read poems, essays, and excerpts from other writers that include Toni Morrison, Tracy K. Smith, and Ta Nehisi Coates.

English: Ambition, Power, and Disallusion

We will read Invisible Man and Hamlet and examine their protagonists as they battle with societal and familial expectations and their own mindset. How do they exist when other people or forces are against them? And will all this drive them mad or bring them to enlightenment?

English: Contemporary Poetry

The word “poetry” conjures up, for many, the likes of Sappho, Chaucer, Basho and Whitman; not everyone is aware of the present state of the genre. Poetry’s landscape is populated with an incredibly broad range of styles, forms, tones, influences, and subject matters. While Peter Jay Shippy re-imagines the story of Oedipus and Sarah Manguso wonders what music they play in hell, Martin Espada watches a man decapitate parking meters. By reading the poets of today, you will find proof that language, used precisely and thoughtfully, can achieve many different goals. In addition to reading and analyzing samples from the spectrum of contemporary poetry, you will have opportunities to write and workshop your own poems. A willingness to take risks, to read each night, and to take an active role in class discussions is required.

Texts: An assortment of full-length collections from contemporary poets.

English: Great Books

When was the last time you were responsible for picking your reading for a course? At the beginning of this class, you will generate a list of books you want to read and then you will campaign for your favorite; after the campaign season ends, you’ll vote and several books will win. We’ll spend the term reading them, examining them for character, theme, structure, style, and message. Is it a Great Book? Ultimately, you will decide whether the books deserve spots on the shelf. We will also include film, music, and history in our study of the texts. You will respond to the reading in various forms of writing, class discussions, projects, and presentations.

Previous winners: 1984, Lolita, Brave New World, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Flies, Scarlet Letter, On the Road, The Kite Runner.

English: Literature and Film

Did you like the movie or the book better? Is this a sensible question, or are we being asked to compare unlike genres? In this course we will investigate these two art forms, comparing the narrative possibilities—and limitations—of each. How do these modes of storytelling differ in terms of their effects? What can film achieve that a novel or play cannot, and vice versa? What is lost in the translation of literature into film, and what makes a “good” adaptation? We will read two novels and a play closely, and we will study a film based on each. You will think and write critically about how these stories are told on the printed page and on the screen.

Possible texts: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad; Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare; Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.

English: Money, Money, Money

What is money’s place in society? Why do most students say that The Great Gatsby inspired them more than any other text? What other stories use money — or the lack thereof — as a central theme? What is the connection between money and power? What is revealed about inequity in society? What messages are sent? reinforced? challenged? What happens when the whole system explodes? In this class you’ll read fiction and non-fiction, write, watch, and listen, and then design a question and research, collaborate, and present your findings.

Possible authors: Fitzgerald, West, Wharton, Wodehouse, Tolstoy, Austen, Williams

English: Non-Fiction in the 21st Century

Technological and scientific advancements have tangibly changed non-fiction literature and investigative reporting in our world. Authors like Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, Tipping Point, Outliers) and Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (Freakonomics) have led a charge towards using anecdotal literature to address popular psychology and economics. Programs like Serial and The Jinx have brought podcasts and investigative documentaries into the popular mainstream. In one way, they are an expression of the data-driven zeitgeist of our culture, but in another way they are re-energizing the oldest tradition in recorded history: storytelling. This class is equal parts rhetoric, investigative reporting, and creative storytelling. You will first digest this genre of literature through magazine columns, podcasts, and film, and then produce it on your own, both on the page and through modern audio/visual formats.
Possible texts: Selections from Freakonomics by Levitt/Dubner and Blink by Gladwell; NPR podcasts; HBO documentaries; other free online texts from The New Yorker, Grantland and Rolling Stone that will be provided for students.

English: Science Fiction

In the 1960’s, American literature experienced a formidable boom in science fiction writing. The complicated politics of the time led to “The New Wave,” a literary age of up-and-coming writers addressing America’s more contentious social and political events through the medium of science fiction. Future literary giants like Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, Jorge Luis Borges, and William S. Burroughs, among many others, began incorporating science fiction modes and techniques into their novels to further dissect this phenomenon we call existence. With the advent of new film technologies, Hollywood caught on to the wave and began producing America’s first big-budget, full-length science fiction movies. In this course we will read classic novels and short stories from this time period and dissect some of Hollywood’s sci-fi blockbusters like 2001: A Space Odyssey, War of the Worlds, The Matrix and Inception.

Possible texts: Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut; Dune by Frank Herber; a litany of science fiction short stories by Asimov, Dick, Vonnegut and others (these are free online texts that will be provided for students).

English: Short Stories

How does something so small pack such a big punch? Such is the nature of a short story. You’ll hone in on story elements and larger messages and practice your hand at your own short story writing.

Possible texts:  Flash Fiction, Nine Stories, selections from The New Yorker.

English: Storytelling

Each of us has an inner world of images, memories, and dreams. This internal landscape holds unlimited possibilities for storytelling. This course will help you explore your personal mythology, discover your own voices, and polish your writing skills. Through a variety of exercises, you will shape memory and imagination into elements of the short story: character, setting, dramatic structure, point of view, and theme. You will workshop your work both in class and by making use of Buzzword, a web-based program that offers a comprehensive editing platform.

Possible texts: stories and essays by Angelou, Boyle, Burnham, Cheever, Cunningham, Fondation, Forché, Miller, Minot, Oppenheimer, Painter, Salinger, Shae, Tolstoy, Updike, and Wolff.

Independent Study

Students have the opportunity to explore English, History, Mathematics, Science, Language, or Arts topics of interest under the supervision of a member of the appropriate department. After designing a project with a faculty member, the student presents a formal proposal to the Department Heads for approval. (An Independent Study may not duplicate the content of another course already being offered by the department because of schedule conflicts.) The student works in his or her own time and meets with the specified department member during one scheduled period per week for discussions and planning. Application forms are available from the Upper School Director. Proposals must have been submitted by the regular course selection dates.

Senior Colloquium

This course will be built around a series of multi-disciplinary projects, all of which will be designed by the students themselves.  As a group, the students will determine which topics they’d like to pursue, which questions they’d like to answer, and how they’d like to answer those questions.  In this course, students will put skills and knowledge from prior courses to good use, but they will also undoubtedly explore new territory and tackle unfamiliar real-world problems.