Shalhevet High School

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The English program at Shalhevet offers four years of rigorous, writing-intensive study of literature, spanning different authors, regions, and time periods. The program is set up with a regional focus, with sophomore American Literature and junior British Literature framed by two years of World Literature in the 9th and 12th grades. All classes focus on the development of reading, writing (both analytical and creative), grammar, and vocabulary skills (with a particularly heavy composition emphasis in 9th grade), aiming to prepare students to succeed both on their SATs and in college literature courses. Unlike many schools, Shalhevet does not “track” its English classes, with Honors or A.P. options available only to seniors (or juniors for an elective course). While tracking may serve some students, we feel more students benefit from mixed level classes through 11th grade, especially due to the discussion-based nature of the classes. After completing the required sequence of World, American, and British literature, students have a choice of three courses for their senior year: World Literature, Film, Literature, and Composition (which carries an Honors option), and Advanced Placement English Literature. Juniors opting to take the Film course must double up on English courses in 11th grade. Offering this course as an elective allows students to complete five total English courses rather than the four required for graduation.


By the end of their senior year, we aim for all Shalhevet students to feel comfortable reading difficult text on their own, and analyzing said text in carefully organized, argumentative papers that they support with textual evidence. Every student will confront various forms of literary expression, such as novels, plays, short stories, non-fiction, and poetry. Finally, the English program seeks to sensitize students to the manifold moral implications of literature, focusing our discussions of text on character conflict and situations that feature a clash of values. Even outside of formal moral dilemma discussions, this goal affects every aspect of the way we teach, from our essay assignments to our selection of texts for the curriculum. Each course also incorporates at least one piece of Jewish literature, aiming to complement Shalhevet’s modern Orthodox focus and student body.


9th Grade: English Composition 

10th Grade: American Literature

11th Grade: British Literature or Honors Film, Literature & Composition 

12th Grade: British Literature, Creative Writing, or Honors Film Literature & Composition 


English Composition (9th Grade Requirement)

For many, high school is the beginning of a quest for knowledge and, more importantly, for self. The beauty of literature is the ability to share the struggles of humanity in a universal context, and become part of a timeless conversation that weaves itself though every aspect of popular culture. The freshman composition course aims to create a solid foundation in: English language conventions (grammar), vocabulary, creative and expository writing, critical reading and thinking, as well as confident verbal expression of thought. A strong command of these skills will help students propel forward to join the universal literary conversation.


American Literature (10th Grade Requirement)

The seminal documents, novels, poems, plays, and short stories that form the American literature canon had a lasting impact on the notion of American identity. 10th grade American literature, however, investigates how the literary imagination of American writers made American identity a fluid, experimental idea, much like the country itself. The course studies the religious hysteria of the Puritans, the poetic and creative energy of the Romantics, the critiques and aspirations of African-American authors during The Harlem Renaissance, the bravery of the moderns, and the playfulness of post-modern and contemporary writing. The course studies how each “movement” or “era” communicated a unique message about what it means to be American. The course also aims to invest students with a love of reading, and an aptitude for rigorous and reflective writing.


British Literature (11th Grade Requirement)

This class will explore the rich British literary history, from Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales and the Romantic poets to 1984 and Mrs. Dalloway. We will also delve into the modern works of The Hours and the graphic novel, V for Vendetta. The overarching theme of this course will be the “hero,” as we explore the different archetypes, such as the Epic, Tragic and Anti-heroes from each piece of writing. We will use writing as a way to explore the themes and criticisms that surround each piece of writing.



Film, Literature & Composition (11th or 12th Grade Elective)

Film, Literature, and Composition is an English elective open to juniors and seniors who wish to gain exposure to the history and aesthetic of film as an artistic medium. It fulfills the requirement for 12th grade English. It is a writing-intensive, academic class designed to develop the critical thinking, writing, and viewing skills necessary for gaining a deeper understanding of the role of film in society. In turn, students will find themselves better prepared for introductory college film courses. We will focus primarily on how to watch and write about film, specifically on the development of aesthetic, historical, and generic methods of analysis.


This course will utilize several different approaches to cinematic analysis, covering films from a visual, theoretical, sociohistorical, generic, and thematic perspective. Students will begin by developing a working vocabulary of the visual/technical aspects of film, focusing on lighting, camera angle and movement, shot selection, editing, framing and sound.


Beginning with the silent film era in Hollywood, we will examine the basic thematic and stylistic elements of various cinematic movements, such as German Expressionism, Italian Neorealism, and the French New Wave. Students will learn the formula for the “classic Hollywood film” and the basics of the Hollywood studio system. In addition, we will study and view films from a variety of different genres, including the Western, gangster film, horror film, and film noir. Finally, we will do a unit on Alfred Hitchcock to prepare for the term paper in May. In terms of theory, the course will address the major schools of film theory (realism vs. formalism), as well as the specifics of semiotic, psychoanalytic, auteur, and feminist analysis. This year, extra emphasis will be given to the process of adapting a literary work to film. The class will begin with a study of Wharton’s The Age of Innocence adapted for the screen by Martin Scorsese. Later, we will examine Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, adapted into Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, adapted into Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.


Creative Writing (12th Grade Elective)

This class will explore Literature through the use of creative writing. Students practice a variety of writing styles, focusing on short story, poetry and screenwriting techniques with an emphasis on editing and rewriting. Students read short stories, novels, fairy tales and memoirs that take them from New York to Dresden and from India to England. This class is structured as a reading and writing workshop. Most classes begin with an exercise in the student’s writer’s Portfolio, a writing critique by peers and a discussion of the reading.