Academics: Language & Literature

We believe that literature is essentially an ongoing conversation among writers and readers about what it means to be human, and we challenge students to engage whole-heartedly in this conversation. We believe that literature can enable us to live more than once, that it offers the special pleasure of experiencing, in imagination, people and places we might otherwise never know, and that such experience fosters compassion, empathy and tolerance.  We completely agree with the IB “that other people, with their difference, can also be right.”  Literature can help us learn this lesson.

Language & Literature Courses

Classes are discussion-based in which students and teachers consider together the profound and vital questions raised by world literature. They are consistently reflective; we ask students to think and write about how literature challenges ways of thinking and being, also about how it has altered their conception of a worthwhile and fulfilling life.

The ninth and tenth grade years are largely spent developing reading, writing, and thinking skills, while the eleventh and twelfth grade years are shaped by the IB curriculum. In all grades the VVS English curriculum is focused on close critical reading, expository writing, and oral presentation.  Texts chosen for study are culturally diverse – written by men and women with different nationalities, religions, and languages and at different moments in time.  Since we do not agree that there are any short lists of “must reads” for high school students, our literature classes are skills-driven and thematic rather than surveys of ‘canonical’ texts.

Our ultimate goal is that each student graduating from our four-year literature program will be able to: read with a critical, noticing eye, discuss texts articulately and insightfully, and produce clear, coherent, and well-planned written work.

Courses Offered

  • Writing & Literature 1
  • Writing & Literature 2
  • IB Language A: English Literature SL & HL 1
  • IB Language A: English Literature SL2
  • IB Language A: English Literature HL 2
  • English Language and Composition

Writing & Literature 1 introduces students to the various genres of literature and establishes a foundation for the study of each. Students are exposed to poetry, nonfiction, ancient and modern drama, American and international novels as well as short stories. This discussion-based course is writing-intensive, allowing students to develop a toolbox of skills appropriate to a range of analytic and creative tasks. Students are assessed based on their daily effort and engagement in discussions and reading, regular Socratic Seminars, periodic in-class writing assignments and formal essays. Texts may include, but are not limited to: George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Sophocles’ Antigone, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street and Shakespeare’s Othello.

Writing & Literature 2 builds upon English Literature 1 and seeks to prepare its students for the rigors of the International Baccalaureate English A curriculum. As with its prerequisite, the texts used in this course span the range of genres, time periods and places. Having built a solid foundation of writing skills, English Literature 2 students are charged with more advanced literary questions, which require consideration of style as well as content. Students are assessed based on their daily effort and engagement in discussions and reading, regular Socratic Seminars, periodic in-class writing assignments and formal essays. Many of such assessments are designed to resemble those in the IB curriculum.  Texts may include, but are not limited to: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Elie Wiesel’s Night, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice & Men, Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, Shakespeare’s Macbeth as well as a selection of essays and poetry.

IB Language A: English Literature SL 1

This course satisfies Parts 1 and 4 of the English A Literature IB curriculum and works to prepare students for success in the correlating assessments. In the fall, students study three works and demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of them through a variety of tasks: small oral presentations, commentary and analytic writing, in-class writing assignments and Socratic Seminars. The fall culminates in the internally evaluated IB assessment: the Individual Oral Presentation, a 15-20 minute presentation on a unique topic of each student’s choosing. In the spring students study three works of literature, which were originally written in a language other than English. The focus of the unit is to explore the ways in which cultural and contextual considerations shape the literature’s meaning. Having worked on their analytic writing throughout the year, the course culminates in the externally evaluated IB assessment, the Works in Translation Paper: a 1200-1500 critical essay exploring one aspect of one of the texts studied that spring. IB English students are expected to be fluent in English, already possessing a solid foundation of analytic reading, writing and speaking skills.

IB Language A: English Literature SL 2

This course satisfies Parts 2 and 3 of the English A Literature IB curriculum. In so doing, it continues to develop students’ ability to read, analyze and respond to a variety of texts through class discussions, oral presentations and expository writing. As the first year of the course focuses on prose, the second year works include poetry in the fall and drama in the spring. In the first semester, students focus on improving their oral articulation of complex ideas in order to prepare for the Oral Commentary, a 15-minute discussion of a poem studied in the class. In the second semester, students continue developing the skills of close reading and analysis through further honing the craft of commentaries, in preparation for the IB exams: two papers, each written in a 90-minute exam period. The first is a commentary responding to a previously unseen text, in which students may choose between poetry or prose; the second is an essay responding to a question about the genre of the works they have studied in the spring, or literature in general. Throughout the year students are assessed on their participation in class discussions, as well as their written work in tests, quizzes and frequent essays.

IB Language A: English Literature HL 2

As with its standard level equivalent, this course satisfies Parts 2 and 3 of the English A Literature IB curriculum and works to prepare students for success in the correlating assessments, the Individual Oral Commentary and the two written exams, which culminate the IB program. At the higher level, students are expected to perform at an increasingly sophisticated level in their reading, writing, and speaking/listening. The course seeks to polish these skills such that students produce commentaries, both oral and written, that are highly astute and detailed in their observations, systematic in their analysis, informed in their use of literary terms appropriate to the genre, as well as clear and precise in their language. Students are assessed based on their formal written work, class participation, in-class presentations and tests.

English Language and Composition

Intended for upperclassmen students who are not in IB English classes, this course focuses on the structure of language rather than literature analysis and on writing personal essays. More details available on request.