To read and write about literature with clarity and intellectual honesty takes time and hard work; every term, our pedagogy and curriculum return to the practice of fundamentals. Our passion for the practice of close reading is matched by a respect for the demands of the writing process. This process of creating ideas, discovering evidence, revising essays, assessing and talking about student writing is the time-intensive center and ultimate priority of English education at Lawrenceville. We do this together: common texts and tiered expectations help us to establish and maintain high standards for fair assessment at each grade level.
While the department understands that at each level the differences in maturity and development of our students require the curriculum to be right for each age, students from forms two through five nevertheless practice many of the same skills and habits of mind, albeit at different levels of sophistication. Our curriculum is like a spiraled staircase: the journey requires significant time and repetition so that the student may achieve competence, let alone mastery. We believe students must return often to the same basic questions and problems so they can begin to acquire good habits of mind. Just as the student’s ongoing relationship with primary text is the core of this English education, it is also important that daily writing and frequent teacher feedback not be sacrificed to other competing educational objectives.
Our values remain traditional college preparatory ones; wide reading that fosters a love of literature and language; rigorous demands in essay composition and English grammar; and active seminar participation and constructive leadership in a round-table classroom. We want each graduate to write coherent sentences; indeed, we prepare all our students to construct meaningful interpretations, to recognize good evidence, and to write and speak persuasively. In this age of readily available information, we want to shape literate, articulate citizens, and we also wish to inspire and develop young men and women of letters. Like all our peer independent schools, we believe four years of high school English is the requisite preparation for an active intellectual, moral and civic life within and beyond the universities.
Four Year Curriculum Summary
Our core program extends for the better part of the first three years, with grammar instruction, vocabulary acquisition and writing practice sequenced to complement a literature study that happens in a roughly historical sequence. Second form Humanities students stay with the same teacher throughout the year to read works by modern authors in conversation with foundational texts from past centuries, China and India, Homer, Shakespeare, and various mythologies. Third form students have a yearlong introduction to the major literary genres, with fiction in the fall, poetry in the winter, and drama in the spring, all anchored by shared, foundational texts: The Great Gatsby, Othello, and Oedipus Rex among them. Students in English IV build on English III by studying long-form fiction in the fall, reading novels by a range of American authors from the 19th and 20th centuries, and developing arguments through discussion and literary-critical essays. Work in the winter term focuses on poetry and includes intensive study of Hamlet. In the spring they undertake an intensive writing course devoted to enhancing their skills in writing non-fiction personal and persuasive essays.
After this three year sequence, the department believes students will have acquired the requisite skills, core knowledge and independence of mind to explore their passions in their fifth form year, an elective program that gives students the opportunity to do intensive work in a particular area of interest with a teacher who has expertise in that area. All fifth form English electives are devoted to helping students perfect skills in critical reading and writing and discover their own style. Electives in each semester represent not only a range of historical periods and genres, ancient to modern, but also of seminal writers and representative works from the major periods and movements in English and American letters. All course descriptions may be viewed in the on-line course guide.