English department instruction is directed at both reading and writing skills. The English program is a literature-based curriculum that includes both classical and modern texts. The sophistication of the texts varies according to grade and ability levels. Studying literature has a twofold purpose: to foster critical thinking skills through the analysis of prose (both fiction and non-fiction) and poetry, and to prompt the students' reflection on their own experiences and contemporary culture. The latter of the two purposes is important in cultivating the students' appreciation for lifetime reading. Students are trained to recognize more common rhetorical and poetic devices in the literature they read, and are expected to include their understanding of the purposes of those devices in explicating the style and substance of a text.
Close reading of the text and discussion dominate English class instruction. Students often reread small portions of a text during class to carefully examine point of view, characterization, diction, and other poetic and rhetorical devices. In trying to comprehend the experiences dramatized in literature, students are frequently encouraged to reflect upon and relate their own experiences. In many instances, students relate their reflections upon these secular texts to the concepts, ideas, and values explored in their Judaic studies. Classroom furniture is deliberately arranged to facilitate the face-to-face exchange of ideas among students and teacher.
In addition to whole-class discussion, students sometimes pursue discussion in small groups. Also, students may be encouraged to dramatically enact portions of a text or to recite poetry aloud in order to cultivate a better sense of voice in a piece of writing.
Writing is the means through which critical thinking skills are honed. To write is to think, and to think is to write. Freshman and sophomore years, teachers intensively work with students on rhetorical and editing skills; students learn to define a topic; develop, organize, and properly document thought; and craft writing with appropriate sentence structure, correct grammar, and punctuation. That work is continued junior and senior years, though pursued more holistically given the expected maturity in those skills. As students mature in their writing, more attention is given to their voice and style. A majority of writing assignments are pursued on campus in the computer labs so that teachers can be on hand to aid students in brainstorming, defining, and structuring their ideas. Students are encouraged on many occasions to revise their writing, and students often meet with their teachers in writing conferences to aid their revision. Students write in a variety of modes-expository, persuasive, and personal reflection. Students also try their hand with poetic prose and poetry.
Smaller research projects are pursued at the CP level in junior and senior years, and most recently a major team-research project was pursued by junior honors students in conjunction with the research required of a large number of those students who are members of the Model UN team.
Teachers of seniors devote significant time to helping students compose their personal statements and other required essays for college admissions. These sessions provide a particularly apt occasion for working with voice and a sense of audience.
"The experiences I’ve had while working together with my classmates, peers and teachers on projects beyond the classroom has helped me develop stronger and more dynamic friendships and relationships with those around me." - Ceren M., '13