You won’t find many worksheets in our classrooms; what you will find are seventh graders debating Animal Farm, fifth graders writing their own play, ninth graders constructing arguments on war and heroism—and our youngest students, the PreK class, first learning to share their stories, to take their interests, their intuitions, seriously. Questions drive everything, and the best ones come from students themselves.
We teach ways to look for answers—in a broad range of literature, certainly; in wrestling with ideas, in writing essays and poems, literary journalism, parts of a novel; in self-reflection; in discussing and listening with peers; in ferreting out good sources for new knowledge; and in reaching out to the world beyond our school.
Our students come to know themselves as clear-headed, resourceful writers, careful thinkers, and alert, empathic, engaged human beings.
In the early years students learn to observe, to pose questions and theories, to tell their own stories and listen to those of others, forming a strong classroom community. Reading and writing workshops get them focused on the details of language, building up literacy, craft, and a love of both.
With help from their teachers and Lower School librarians, students read their way into ever-more challenging books—most often pursuing personal interests and questions. Major projects, such as the second grade Hero Speech and the plays devised and performed in third and fifth grades, draw them deeply into inquiry—finding and synthesizing information, working collaboratively toward a common goal, organizing what they want to convey, and presenting their work with joy and confidence.
As students grow older and more aware of the larger world, the literature they read helps guide and deepen their investigations into many different societies, cultures, and times.
Students in Middle School grow more advanced in their engagement with literature—learning to analyze for theme and perspective, to notice writers’ choices, even to translate (as with Maus in eighth grade) from one medium to another. They learn to build arguments based on evidence and account for their reasoning. At the same time, they get to experience more playful aspects of writing—poems, stories, mock news articles, profiles, and vignettes from their life—continuing to experiment and try out different voices, to know themselves as versatile writers.
The questions in Middle School tend towards coming of age and finding agency in the world, and whether it’s Peak, The House on Mango Street, or When the Emperor Was Divine, the literature powerfully opens up those explorations.
Major inquiry projects, such as the one at the end of English 7, give room for students to go deep in pursuing a chosen topic and devise the means for showing what they’ve learned.
The English Department’s approach to literature and writing leads students both farther into the world and deeper within themselves. We explore the range and complexity of human experience captured in literature—from ancient Mesopotamia to contemporary Portland—while fostering interior worlds, too (the life of the imagination, the self). Learning to read deeply, closely, with heightened attention to the ways individual and cultural identities take shape through literature, students grow in their empathy for and understanding of other ways of being human. They also receive intensive training as writers: students learn to write clearly and powerfully in a variety of modes, whether gathering their thoughts into a coherent argument, accounting for their research, or developing their voice in a specific genre or form. Emerging with greater understanding, resourcefulness, and self-awareness, students are prepared to engage confidently and creatively with the world around them.