Day and Boarding; Grades 6-12

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English

Graduation requirement: English required every semester

Students at Pennington can expect to have enriching experiences studying literature, writing, and language with English teachers enthusiastic about their discipline and trained to meet their needs. Through the daily discipline of active reading, writing, and note-taking, participation in discussions and other learning activities, and regular study of vocabulary and the conventions of mechanics, grammar, and usage, students become increasingly adept at making meaning for themselves. Asking questions of texts and one another, developing critical judgments, appreciating artistry, and speaking and writing clearly and precisely, students become knowledgeable and self-aware learners. Aware of the power of words, graduates depart Pennington knowing how to read discerningly for meaning; how to write efficiently, powerfully, and artfully; how to use language persuasively and precisely; and how to participate mindfully in a community of scholars.

Introduction to Literary Forms and Critical Writing; Grade 9

Introduction to Literary Forms and Critical Writing
Grade 9
1 credit
In this course, students explore a spectrum of literary forms, including the short story, the novel, poetry, drama, and the epic; in doing so, they begin to consider how all ideas are shaped by the manner of their expression. Students investigate how the components of narrative structure, the formal properties of genre, and the elements of literary style contribute to a reader's broader understanding of and personal connection with texts. In conjunction with their World History course, students will practice essential cross-disciplinary skills such as student-centered discussion, close reading, and the composition of academic essays. Developing their writing, with a focus on clear claims, in-depth reasoning, sentence-level fluency, and organized paragraphs, students learn the fundamental elements of independent critical thinking and expression that will serve them throughout their Pennington career: analysis, reflection, and argumentation. Texts may include Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Gaines's A Lesson Before Dying, selections from Homer's Odyssey, Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, selected short stories, and selected poetry.

Introduction to Literary Forms and Critical Writing—Honors; Grade 9

Introduction to Literary Forms and Critical Writing--Honors*
Grade 9
1 credit

In this Honors course, students with advanced reading and writing skills explore a spectrum of literary forms, including the short story, the novel, poetry, drama, and the epic; in doing so, they begin to consider how all ideas are shaped by the manner of their expression. With an accelerated reading pace, more challenging texts, and a focus on discerning and expressing nuance, students investigate how the components of narrative structure, the formal properties of genre, and the elements of literary style contribute to a reader's broader understanding of and personal connection with texts. In conjunction with their World History course, students will practice essential cross-disciplinary skills such as student-centered discussion, close reading, and the composition of academic essays. Developing their writing, with a focus on clear claims, in-depth reasoning, sentence-level fluency, and organized paragraphs, students learn the fundamental elements of independent critical thinking and expression that will serve them throughout their Pennington career: analysis, reflection, and argumentation. Texts may include Homer's Odyssey, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Dickens's Great Expectations, selected short stories, and selected poetry.
*Prerequisite: Permission of the department

American Identities; Grade 10

American Identities
Grade 10
1 credit
This survey of American literature, focusing on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, examines its selections through the overlapping lenses of personal and national identity. As they study the journeys of others to discover and define themselves in America, students reflect on their own experiences, asking: in what ways, if any, is there a unifying American experience? How does our environment—American or otherwise—shape us? Students build on their earlier study of the fundamentals of close reading and academic composition by thinking critically about the connections between the personal, the social, and the textual. Writing in a range of modes, students seek to express themselves persuasively through the use of details and ideas drawn from reading and discussion. Identifying their individual writing processes, students discover strengths, address weaknesses, and devise strategies for revision, culminating in an interdisciplinary essay at the end of the year. Texts may include Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Krakauer’s Into the Wild, Kwok’s Girl in Translation, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Thurston’s How to Be Black, Wilson’s Piano Lesson, and poetry by Dickinson, Frost, Hughes, and Whitman.

American Identities—Honors; Grade 10

American Identities--Honors*
Grade 10
1 credit

Embracing an accelerated pace, challenging texts, and the subtleties of literary analysis, this Honors survey of American literature examines its selections through the overlapping lenses of personal and national identity. As they study the journeys of others to discover and define themselves in America, students reflect on their own experiences, asking: in what ways, if any, is there a unifying American experience? How does our environment--American or otherwise--shape us? Students build on their earlier study of the fundamentals of close reading and academic composition by thinking critically about the connections between the personal, the social, and the textual. Identifying their individual writing processes, students discover strengths, address weaknesses, and devise strategies for revision. This, combined with careful study and mindful participation in seminars, acts as preparation for increasingly complex studies in English. Texts may include Cisneros’s House on Mango Street, Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, Krakauer’s Into the Wild, Morrison’s Bluest Eye, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. and poetry by Dickinson, Frost, Hughes, and Whitman.
*Prerequisite: Permission of the department

Perspectives in World Literature; Grade 11

Perspectives in World Literature
Grade 11
1 credit

Approaching literature from a global perspective, students consider how literature both diversifies and unifies the human experience. This course builds upon the independent critical thinking, writing, and speaking skills developed in American Identities by focusing on rhetorical awareness and, most importantly, synthesis. Students are encouraged to independently explore points of resonance and tension between texts, as each quarter of the term is organized around a cluster of readings--including nonfiction, poetry, short stories, novels, and film--that shares a topic and concludes in a multi-text essay. As they learn to identify thematic and stylistic parallels between literary works, evaluate and respond to the ideas of their peers, and fashion their own position using convincing and precise argumentation, students elucidate an awareness of how their own experiences and beliefs can contribute to these global conversations. Texts may include Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Satrapi’s Persepolis, del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Selvadurai’s Funny Boy, Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, and Martel’s Life of Pi.

AP English Language and Composition; Grade 11

AP English Language and Composition*
Grade 11
1 credit

This course strives to develop each student’s proficiency in critical reading and thinking, fluent writing, and effective speaking. Because each student takes the Advanced Placement Language and Composition examination in the spring, the course pays special attention to the skills necessary for success on that test. Students read a broad selection of the kind of nonfiction that the exam contains, as well as works of fiction, drama, and poetry. Regardless of the genre, students focus their attention on the essential elements of any composition: subject, purpose, audience, content, organization, and style; they also learn to identify rhetorical strategies and explore the range of effects of different strategies. In order to become more disciplined and self-aware writers, students address each stage of the writing process through repeated practice; sometimes they are obliged to complete the process in a relatively short time, and at other times the process extends over several days. Most compositions are expository, analytical, or argumentative and require students to express their understanding of primary and secondary sources that they learn to cite according to the MLA format. Finally, students regularly take practice AP examinations in and out of class.
*Prerequisite: Permission of the department

 

Fall Electives; Grade 12

Though the specific content and reading list for each senior elective offering varies, these courses share a set of core values and expectations:

  • Curricular commitment to a diversity of voices, texts, and perspectives.
  • Class meetings frequently (at least once every seven-day cycle) led by students in a seminar, workshop, and/or presentation format.
  • Reading assignments requiring students to annotate with a high degree of independent thinking.
  • Academic writing totalling at least five to seven pages.
  • A culminating assessment driven by independent interest and/or research, expressed in a final portfolio.

In the fall semester, offerings focus on the connection between literature and society. Though nearly all study in English takes aim at this in some respect, these courses engage directly with the dynamic relationship between word and world, part of a fitting senior-year capstone to a Pennington English education.

Gender, Sexuality, and Society
Grade 12
.5 credit
Why, and in what ways, do men and women experience the world differently? How do these differences shape our lives at home, in school, with our bodies, and inside our minds? This course asks these and many other questions about the intersection of gender and culture. Students think critically about texts that explore issues of masculinity, femininity, and everything in between, expanding traditional understandings of the gender binary. Using an interdisciplinary approach, they examine how history, media, literature, and film have shaped gender, thinking about how contemporary pop culture maintains or subverts traditional gender roles, especially in the areas of desire and sexuality. Students read, write, view films, and engage in daily discussion in an effort to fully address this complex topic.
Offered fall semester

Literature of Globalization and Empire
Grade 12
.5 credit
If you were to ask people, past and present, and around the world, what it feels like to be a “global citizen,” you would receive an array of contradictory responses. Free. Oppressed. Mobile. Displaced. Always watched. Invisible. Building upon the global scope of study during the junior year at Pennington (World Literature, Global Studies, Environmental Science, non-western History electives, etc.), this course explores the human impact of empires and globalization, particularly the paradoxes mentioned above. With possible texts from areas including Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, students read literature from traditionally marginalized voices, compare competing portrayals of colonization and imperial expansion, and analyze how these stories have contributed to the cultural fabric of our time and place.
Offered fall semester

Contemporary Literature
Grade 12
.5 credit
In your study of English, how many works of literature have you read in which the main character has access to the Internet? How many of these works were written after you were born? Focusing on literature written in and around the twenty-first century, this course reckons with texts directly intended to speak to modern readers and circumstances. In their exploration of contemporary literature (literary prize-winners, modern bestsellers, and exemplars of young-adult fiction, among others), students attempt to define this potentially nebulous category: other than their proximity to 2019, what, if anything, do these works share? How have they (and we) been shaped by the major events and technological shifts of the last few decades? Students are also asked to engage with works that, by definition, have not yet stood the test of time, inviting us to consider what makes them timely, timeless, and/or destined to be forgotten.
Offered fall semester

Literary Rebels and Revolutions
Grade 12
.5 credit
Reflecting upon the Soviet Union’s imprisonment of its writers and artists, activist Abbie Hoffman quipped, “It’s an honor. At least they’re saying that the poets have an influence!” In this course, students discover and discuss the nature of this influence, particularly how literature has the power to open minds, give voice to silenced perspectives and new generations, break rules, and drive real change. Focusing on a specific era or category of rebellion and change, this course asks students to engage in close rhetorical analysis (“how does this text persuade its reader?”), even as they place the selected literary works within their historical context and in conversation with each other. From Swiftian satire to censored novels, from Beats to Bowie to Beyoncé, students explore the capacity of the literary arts to both provoke and progress.
Offered fall semester

Nonfiction
Grade 12
.5 credit
If you are the kind of student who wishes literature could be more “practical,” this is the class for you! It takes nonfiction as its point of emphasis, an area that is often underrepresented when we imagine a traditional English class. Taking seriously the idea that what we read should reflect upon and influence the way we live, students look at texts that do this directly: journalism, scientific and other STEM writing, essays, and biographies that engage with the crucial problems, questions, and opportunities of our time and place. Along the way, students grapple with one of the most troubling dynamics of the twenty-first century: even as facts and information have become more widely accessible than ever before, the question of what qualifies as “nonfiction” and what is “fake” is increasingly up for debate.
Offered fall semester


Spring Electives; Grade 12

Though the specific content and reading list for each senior elective offering varies, these courses share a set of core values and expectations:

  • Curricular commitment to a diversity of voices, texts, and perspectives.
  • Class meetings frequently (at least once every seven-day cycle) led by students in a seminar, workshop, and/or presentation format.
  • Reading assignments requiring students to annotate with a high degree of independent thinking.
  • Academic writing totalling at least five to seven pages.
  • A culminating assessment driven by independent interest and/or research, expressed in a final portfolio.

In the spring semester, offerings focus on form and genre, especially those that expand our definition of literary study. One of the best indicators of authentic understanding is the ability to apply a concept or method to a new field, and, in this final semester, that is exactly what students will do with the critical thinking and close reading skills they have honed over their Upper School career.

Creative Writing
Grade 12
.5 credit
Whether you are interested in the grotesque or the beautiful, the sinister or the sublime, the mundane or the extraordinary, the tragic or the comical, you have an opportunity to find and express your own style in this class. This course explores creative writing in several different forms, potentially including poetry, creative nonfiction, short stories, and screenwriting. Students read and discuss a variety of authors and poets while composing their own works in the different genres. Obviously this course is writing-intensive, but students need not have prior creative writing experience to succeed. Students who take this class should feel comfortable with sharing ideas and criticism with their fellow writers in a supportive workshop environment.
Offered spring semester

 

Literature and Visual Media
Grade 12
.5 credit
As the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” suggests, visual and verbal forms of expression are frequently pitted against each other. Yet—from hieroglyphics, to children’s books, to a church’s stained glass, to comic books, to Instagram—the intertwining of words and images is ubiquitous when it comes to storytelling. This course considers how narratives are structured and ideas are communicated in modes that combine the verbal with the visual, with a possible focus on graphic novels, experimental literature, digital media, films, and/or television. It also considers the nature of literary adaptation: how different forms of media tell the same story in varied ways. Students learn how to “read” the language of a visual text, bringing close reading and critical skills to bear upon the hybrid forms of storytelling that immerse our culture.
Offered spring semester

 

Literature and Historical Conflict
Grade 12
.5 credit
In The Storytelling Animal, writer Jonathan Gottschall notes that “stories the world over are almost always about people with problems.” Indeed, literature’s fixation on conflict makes it an ideal vehicle for reflecting upon the biggest of these problems: war, social strife, and political upheaval. As tempting as it may be to say that the scale and intensity of such conflicts defy description, Phil Klay, a veteran of the Iraq War, describes this sentiment as “an abrogation of responsibility—it’s letting civilians off the hook from trying to understand, and veterans off the hook from needing to explain” their experiences, and this disconnect is where most survivors of conflict would say moral and spiritual injury occurs. Students in this course take up that responsibility, trying their best to understand the nature of war and strife, and the men and women who have lived through it.
Offered spring semester

 

Fantastical Fiction
Grade 12
.5 credit
Not so long ago, language was considered to have magical properties, carrying with it an aura of mystery and power. Though hard to imagine today, its legacy remains: “grammar” comes from the same word as “glamor,” which means “enchantment,” while “spell” still has all sorts of magical and linguistic associations. Of course, literature has never really stopped thinking about its ability to express the fantastical, and that is the focus of this class. Students read this literature of wondrous events, imaginary settings, magical beings, mythical pasts, and speculative futures. While doing so, they ask: How are these works in conversation with the real world that they appear to provide an escape from? In what ways might they challenge us to question and debate ourselves, our behaviors, and the moral and social constructs of the present world? Analyzing and evaluating works drawn from genres including classical myth, fantasy, science fiction, magical realism, folklore, and the dystopian, students identify shared themes and literary elements in order to better understand the “spell” that these stories weave.
Offered spring semester

 

Mystery and Detective Fiction
Grade 12
.5 credit
Despite the fact that storytellers have been creating mystery stories for literally thousands of years, they continue to capture our imagination in ways that transcend the distinction between pop culture and literature. From the ancient Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex and the adventures of Sherlock Holmes to Lost, Gone Girl, and Riverdale, mystery and detective fictions show no signs of slowing down. More than many forms of literature, these genres are interactive, asking readers to solve a puzzle along with (and possibly before) the detective, dirtying their hands in the murky gray underbelly of the conflict between good and evil. Students navigate the world of crime and investigation through the eyes of great detectives—and, perhaps, through the eyes of criminals as well. This course aims to explore the genres of detective, mystery, and crime fiction in order to identify their defining qualities, along with their evolution over time and their richly varied incarnations across the globe.
Offered spring semester

 

AP English Literature and Composition; Grade 12

AP English Literature and Composition*
Grade 12
1 credit

Structured like an introductory college English class, AP English Literature teaches motivated, capable, and interested seniors how to read and analyze great works of literature in the original and in translation, including the novel, drama, and, especially, poetry. Students are taught how to read each work with a critical awareness of the full range of its stylistic features, its structure, and its meaning. Students also develop an awareness of language and sharpen their skills in effective writing and critical reading, paying special attention to the skills necessary for success on the AP Literature and Composition exam taken in the spring. The course aims to teach students to write well about something important, to develop in them the skills of a sophisticated reader, and to instruct and encourage them to participate thoughtfully and effectively in discussions.
*Prerequisite: Permission of the department