The St. Andrew's English Department seeks to instill in students a lifelong passion for reading, writing, critical thinking, and independent study, while also preparing them for the intellectual challenges of college and beyond. Through the reading of literature, frequent writing assignments, seminar discussions, tutorials, and oral defenses, we help our students develop those skills and habits of mind necessary for continued independent work in the humanities and sciences.
In all Forms, our seminar discussions are explorative, open-minded, and thought-provoking exchanges of ideas. Students are encouraged to develop their own ideas about texts through collaborative discussions and at times formal debates; we value the art of listening and active engagement and encourage the students to take leadership roles in these conversations.
At the center of our curriculum are the study of literature and the development of writing skills, two activities we believe to be interdependent. We regard writing as a creative and intellectually rigorous process in which the student, through composition and repeated revision, generates what he or she wants to say and then discovers increasingly effective and persuasive ways to say it.
For this reason, writing workshops, seminar discussions, and individual tutorials are critical components of our students' education and a standard feature of all English classes. Students learn to write through regular practice and focused one-on-one coaching. By emphasizing class participation and various oral exercises, we hope to communicate to our students the value of responsible argumentation and scholarly collaboration.
The English Department believes strongly that the most effective method of teaching writing occurs in small groups; exhibitions and tutorials serve, therefore, as the centerpieces of our writing curriculum. The process of learning does not stop when students hand in their essays. Throughout their careers at St. Andrew's, students discuss their written work in short orals and longer, more formal defenses known as exhibitions. Orals and exhibitions allow students to refine their speaking skills, demonstrate their mastery of a given text or subject and extend the arguments of their essays. Perhaps most important, they teach students to ask probing and incisive questions about literature, their own writing, and the work of their peers.
The format of these orals varies. Students frequently meet informally with their teachers in individual tutorials to discuss essays and journals. They also discuss their work in more formal settings. At least three times a year, students write essays and discuss them in a 40-60 minute exhibition either one-on-one with their teacher or in groups of two or three. Students read and carefully evaluate one another's essays, discussing the effectiveness of each essay's argument and exploring ways to improve and refine it; they also critique their own essays and make suggestions on how to strengthen and develop their thinking and writing.
What's it really like to study English at St. Andrew's? Follow the four-year path of a student, from first reading assignment, to final senior exhibition.
Students are required to complete four year-long course credits in English.
- English Literature I
- English Literature 2
- Advanced Study in English Literature 3
- Advanced Study in English Literature 4
- Advanced Study in English 4: History, Literature, and the Contested Past
- Senior Spring Seminars & Tutorials
Open to III Form students
This course introduces first-year students to critical thinking, careful reading, and effective writing. Students learn close reading skills—the ability to discern tone, character, diction, syntax, and symbolism—through extensive reading of classic and contemporary literature. Readings focus on themes and issues connected to American life (III Form Students concurrently take US History), such as the changing meaning of the “American dream”, the particular American tension between the individual and the community. Class discussion focuses on both the readings and the issues contained therein, and develops skills of critical thinking, listening, and debating. Texts are chosen and examined both for their rhetorical power, and as models for student writing.
Writing assignments are frequent and primarily analytical in nature: students develop the ability to craft a written analysis of a text, and learn to explore diction, imagery, character, and meaning in their writing. Students work throughout the year on the important rudiments of clean and clear writing: paragraph structure, grammar and punctuation. Through the use of journals, exploratory writings, papers, exhibitions, and two semester exams, students learn to write precisely, effectively and convincingly.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby;
- Julie Otsuka, When the Emperor Was Divine;
- William Shakespeare, Macbeth;
- Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God;
- Short fiction, essays and poetry by Robert Hayden, Elizabeth Bishop, Julia Alvarez, Annie Dillard, Nathan Englander, and John Steinbeck.
Open to IV Form Students
In this course, second-year students explore how literature from a variety of traditions illuminates and gives meaning to the human experience. In reading a diverse group of texts, students consider ways these texts present perspectives on place and culture, identity and belief. Through class discussions and writing assignments, students focus on the power of effective argument, and through the year learn how to craft their own.
Building on the habits of close textual analysis developed in English Literature I, this course examines linguistic patterns and choices an author makes in a text and introduces students to the language of argument. Students pursue questions such as:
- What does an argument look like?
- What is the difference between observation and a claim?
- What constitutes evidence?
- What makes certain arguments stronger than others?
- How do we adjudicate between positions or conflicting arguments presented in the text?
- How do we deal with ambiguity and do justice to the complexity of the text?
Students also examine how a work of fiction, in and of itself, articulates an argument.
Discussions about argument translate directly into the teaching of writing, considered specifically as a process: in order to generate ideas and craft a logical and persuasive argument, students must commit to the process of developing, drafting, and revising their essays. Students write frequent journals and short exploratory essays and learn to develop these pieces into more polished papers of three to four pages. By the end of the year, students are expected to be able to write grammatically clean, clear, and effective prose.
- Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones;
- William Shakespeare, Othello;
- Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice;
- Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain;
- Athol Fugard, Master Harold... and the boys;
- William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying;
- Short fiction and essays by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Maya Angelou, Sherman Alexei, Jhumpa Lahiri, James Baldwin, Junot Diaz, and George Orwell; and
- Sonnets by Spenser, Drayton, Shakespeare, Donne, Shelley, Rilke, Cummings, William Carlos Williams, Gwendolyn Brooks, Seamus Heaney, and Billy Collins.
Open to V Form Students
This course for third-year students canvasses a range of literary genres, including poetry, plays, novellas, and novels. Students continue to develop their skills of close textual analysis and build on their familiarity with the conventions of literary argument. They work on longer, more sustained and sophisticated analytical arguments in their writing assignments about literature and, in the latter half of the year, begin developing their own paper topics.
The culminating project of the year is the Junior Exhibition: students read an assigned novella on their own, devise a central question about the text that serves as their paper topic, and write a seven- to eight-page paper that they subsequently assess and critique in a 30-minute oral defense with their teacher. Students rework and revise this essay after their oral defense.
- William Shakespeare, Hamlet;
- Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights;
- Mary Shelley, Frankenstein;
- Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City;
- Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad;
- Cormac Macarthy, The Road;
- James Joyce, Dubliners;
- Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon; and
- selected poetry and contemporary American short fiction.
Open to VI Form Students
This course is an intensive, one-semester introduction to advanced forms of literary study. It challenges fourth-year students to become more independent, insightful readers and more forceful, artful writers with confident, critical voices. Through careful study of narrative structure, form, and style, students learn to discern and articulate authors' methods of making meaning. In this course, all VI Formers study Toni Morrison’s Beloved as a central text, as well as one or two other texts , introducing students to the kind of focused analysis and comparative study that occurs in college literature courses.
The centerpiece of the course is the Senior Exhibition. Each student chooses a work of literature from a short list of exhibition books to study carefully. Through rereading, forming critical questions, and writing and rewriting, students develop a critical argument and work to clarify, complicate and polish the argument over the course of the project. Although the drafting process involves frequent meetings with the instructor, the project is essentially independent and culminates in a 45-minute oral exhibition in which students assess, discuss, and refine their papers in a critique with at least two members of the English Department. The Senior Exhibition is a challenging and exciting project that prepares students to think and work independently, to refine and explore sophisticated concepts, to revise and rework thoughts into polished prose, and to self-assess in the interest of improvement.
In addition to Beloved, course texts for AS English Literature 4 have included:
- Toni Morrison, Beloved;
- Junot Diaz, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao;
- Ian McEwan, Saturday;
- Truman Capote, In Cold Blood;
- Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending;
- Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot; and
- Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me.
Exhibition texts for AS English Literature 4 recently have included:
- Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits;
- Colum McCann, Transatlantic;
- Tim O’Brien, In the Lake of the Woods;
- Edward P. Jones, The Known World;
- Chimamanda Adichie, Americanah; and
- Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse.
Open to VI Form students
DOUBLE-CREDIT COURSE; CREDIT RECEIVED FOR BOTH AS English 4 AND two Semesters of AS History
This interdisciplinary VI Form course, taught jointly by members of the English and History Departments, examines how novelists, poets and historians have wrestled with and made sense of the past, and their own relation to it. Structured around a series of case studies at the intersection of literature, history and memory, the course explores the relationship between the documented past (historical primary sources) and the imagined one (literature). Students study novels and poems deeply shaped by the social and cultural moments from which they emerged and consider how an understanding of the historical circumstances that produced a work of literature can inform their reading of it. They also examine how writers of fiction have used history as source, inspiration and charge. Can the imaginative work of literature actually help us more fully understand the “real” past? What responsibility does the novelist have to history? Students also consider how the construction of a narrative—the storytelling—of a novelist differs from that of a historian. What might each learn from the other?
Case studies and related texts may include the following:
- slavery and its legacy, with Toni Morrison’s Beloved or Edward Jones’ The Known World;
- the American immigrant experience, with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz;
- war and its effects, both social and personal, with Pat Barker’s Regeneration or Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods; and
- Reagan-era political and cultural identities and the AIDS crisis, with Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America.
Open to VI Form students
Following completion of AS English 4 in the fall semester, VI Form students may use their spring semester to take either a directed seminar in English or a tutorial offered in various disciplines by faculty throughout the school. Comprised of three students or fewer, these tutorials offer a culminating academic experience for graduating seniors, as they have the opportunity to work very closely with a faculty member on a topic of their particular interest and passion. Each tutorial possesses strong written and oral components: students write and deliver weekly essays of three to four pages and discuss their findings among their classmates. Both the English seminar and the tutorials (no matter the discipline) are designed to help students further hone their skills of research, writing, argumentation and problem solving that will serve them well in college and beyond.
Topics of recent English seminars have included:
- the Victorian novel;
- Shakespearean tragedy;
- modern drama;
- American autobiography;
- modernist poetry;
- the gothic novel;
- the modern short story; and
- American film.
Students have also had the opportunity to take seminars on creative writing, the expository essay, and literary journalism (many of which use the New Yorker and other literary journals as texts). For more information on tutorials, visit our Senior Tutorial Program page.
Open to IV, V, VI Forms
Semester-long Half-credit course
Through class discussion of both contemporary examples and student work, students are introduced to strategies and techniques used in the composition of original verse and fiction. Students will explore tone, voice, diction, theme, and style in a given text, with the goal of becoming attuned to the nuances and rhythms of language. Writing assignments will allow students to develop both the confidence and the ability write creatively and precisely in a variety of forms and styles.
Open to V & VI Forms
Prerequisite: Creative Writing I
semester-long Half-credit course
Students continue to refine their writing skills in prose and verse, through readings in a wide range of authors both classic and contemporary, and through class discussion and critique of student work. Careful attention is paid to tone and voice, style, selection of detail, narrative and formal structures, and rhetorical proficiency.