English at Avon Old Farms School
The English Department seeks to cultivate empathy in young men through meaningful conversations in the classroom. We provide boys with the space to reflect on their own lives against the backdrop of the lives of others – both fictional and nonfictional.
The English Department prepares our young men for college-level reading, thinking, and writing. Students learn to read closely and critically, to think independently and thoughtfully, and to write clearly and cogently. To foster these abilities, the English Department offers an inquiry-based curriculum that is grounded in texts which express the human condition in its fullness.
"My goal at the end of every year is to be able to read a paper with no name on it, and know by the voice of the writing whose paper it is."
Trevor Stern, English Department Chair
- English I:Navigating a New World
- English I Honors
- English II: Power and Rebellion
- English II Honors
- English III: Essential Questions
- English III Honors
- English IV S1: Studies in Writing
- English IV S2: The Hero and the Anti-hero in Literature
- English IV S2: Pulp Fiction
- English IV S2: The Western
- English IV S2: Warped Reality
- English IV S2: Short Fiction
- English IV S2: Literature of the Sea
- English IV Honors
- English IV S2: Dramatic Literature and Theater History
- Advanced Placement Literature and Composition
- Graphic Design and Journalism
- Nonfictional & Fictional Narratives
- American Literature Since 1950
English I: Navigating A New World
Freshmen take a year-long course that studies various characters who are experiencing the unknown, or finding their way for the first time. Students will read and examine longer texts like Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, as well as a selection of poetry and short stories. Our class discussions will focus on three central questions:
- What is it like to be ‘new’?
- What characteristics lead to success when facing the unknown?
- Why do some characters fail when finding their way for the first time?
Students will also go through a rigorous writing workshop where they will work on brainstorming techniques, organizing their thoughts, structuring a paper, thesis statements, topic sentences, textual support, introductory and concluding paragraphs, proofreading and revision, as well as standard academic formats. At the end of the year, students should have a strong grasp of the writing process, understand and utilize reading comprehension techniques, and be able to support their writing with textual evidence.
English I Honors
English I Honors challenges first-year students to develop their vocabulary, critical thinking and reading skills, as well as clarity and concision in their writing. Students work on developing sentence, paragraph, and multi-paragraph writing but will move quickly towards passage analysis and longer essays. The course seeks to engender a love of literature as well as to challenge the students as they read a variety of genre-based texts from short stories, poetry, plays, and novels. J.D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Homer’s Odyssey, and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have been used recently as foundational texts in this course.
English II: Power and Rebellion
English 2 builds upon the foundation laid in the first year, teaching students an appreciation for literature, developing composition skills, and enhancing facility with language and ability to communicate through the written word. In critically examining the course texts, students in English 2 will practice writing essays that are persuasive, analytical, creative, and interesting to read. Students will also experiment with writing personal responses and creative writing, including poetry and personal narratives. In exploring the selected texts, which include multicultural literature and coming-of-age stories especially relevant to adolescents, students will explore the tensions of individual vs. society, power vs. servitude, and free will vs. fate. Through applying the concept of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey to several of the course’s key texts, students will find universal and personal connections to the literature. As Campbell writes, “we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path.”
English II Honors
Students enrolled in English Honors 2 are challenged to express themselves clearly both orally and in writing as they study the relationship between power and rebellion. This demanding course will expand the students' personal understanding of literature as we explore works as diverse as George Orwell’s 1984, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Krakauer's Into the Wild, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
We pay close and balanced attention to the use of oral and written language by those in power and those who seek it. Equal emphasis is placed on all aspects of writing composition, especially style, clear expression of ideas, and sound literary analysis. Each student is encouraged to explore his perception of the world and find his “unique voice” with relevance to each work studied. Close attention is paid to the writing process for formal written work. There are opportunities for creative writing to be shared with the other students in class.
Our contributions to the school's annual celebration of poetry in the third quarter focuses on a diverse selection of poetry from all over the world with an emphasis on poems written by women.
English III: Essential Questions
In English 3, students will examine the question of what it means to be an American by reading, discussing, and writing about American literature. To ensure sufficient practice with composition skills, students will write at least 2,000 words each quarter (i.e. about one page per week). Students will study Transcendentalism, the first distinctly American philosophical school, through the work of Emerson and Thoreau. Students will also read both fiction and nonfiction that explores African-American identity, including contemporary writing by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Starting with Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, the father and mother of American poetry, students will seek to understand the American poetic tradition. And drawing upon Redeployment, Fight Club, and other texts, students will question what it means to “fight for America”--or against it, and debate which American values and behaviors are worth defending. The Great Gatsby--one of the “great American novels”--will propel discussion of “the American Dream,” a potent force in the collective imagination of our country. Through exploring, comparing, and interrogating the assigned texts, this course is designed to deepen and nuance students’ ideas about America: both its people and its literature.
English 3 Honors
Beginning with a close study of American Romanticism, English 3 Honors students will read broadly from the American literary canon as they consider how American values and American identity are reflected in different contexts. Class discussions and critical writing assignments will prompt students to develop an appreciation for and an understanding of major American writers and their unique perspectives on what it means to be American. To work on developing detailed critical commentary, more focused writing exercises will accompany regular reading assignments, and every two weeks students will be expected to submit a formal piece of writing of 750-1000 words as the standard major assessment in the course. Course work will conclude with an extended written analysis of multiple major works studied during the year. American writers for study in this course have included Hawthorne, Melville, Emerson, Dickinson, Thoreau, Whitman, Du Bois, Hemingway, Hansberry, Fitzgerald, Miller, McCarthy, and O'Brien.
English IV: Studies in Writing
English 4 is the capstone composition course at Avon Old Farms, building upon and solidifying each boy’s ability to write at the college level. “Studies in Writing” is a semester course designed to prepare Avon seniors for the rigors and expectations of college writing and to make sure that each boy leaves Old Farms with confidence in his ability to write both academically and personally. Throughout the semester, the boys will read and analyze great writing from across different genres and then produce original work in these genres. Using professional models as their guides, boys will write personal essays, researched arguments, analytical essays, and critiques. The boys will spend a good deal of their time working through the writing process from drafting to line editing, using Betty Flower’s seminal essay “Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge” as their model, and working towards an understanding of the importance of revision in college level writing. Hand in hand with their work on the process of writing, the boys will be taught the mechanical elements of quality prose style with an emphasis on the classic style, which is both a defined and acceptable prose style for use across most of the academy. By learning what defines prose style and classical style and how to produce them, each boy will leave the course armed with a style that he can reproduce and use in all of his future courses.
English 4 S2: The Hero and the Anti-hero in Literature
This course will examine the relationship between the individual and the society through the writings of artists such as Melville, O’Neill, Conrad, Joyce, Williams, and Wright. The course will study the concept of the traditional hero and how it has evolved into the idea of the anti-hero. Students will consider how our perceptions of these two terms are interpreted through various media from the printed page to the cinema.
English IV S2: Pulp Fiction
This course will introduce students to the hard-boiled crime narratives popularized in the United States during the early twentieth century, which later transcended popular genre boundaries to influence literary writing across the globe. Students will read four noir classics: James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, Jim Thompson’s The Grifters, George Higgins The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress. Using these generational-spanning works, students will analyze what makes for a good crime story and what elements of morality and society these stories explore. Along with reading and analyzing these works, students will also get a chance to write and workshop some crime stories of their own.
English IV S2: The Western
This course will focus on four novels of the American West: Elmore Leonard’s Hombre, Pete Dexter’s Deadwood, Charles Portis’s True Grit, and Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers. Students will use these novels as a window into the American mythology of the West and the how the ideas of justice, morality, and freedom are represented. A selection of classic and modern films of the American West will be used to augment the readings, adding the nuance of another medium. Along with the reading, viewing, and analyzing students will get a chance to write and workshop Western stories of their own.
English IV S2: Warped Reality
This course will introduce students to absurd, postmodern, and dystopian literature in order to explore how the warping of reality can examine elemental truths about the real world. The course will focus on five main texts: Nicolas Gogol’s The Nose, Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, László Krasznahorkai’s Herman, and Anthony Burgess A Clockwork Orange. Students will use these texts along with an equally reality-shifting group of films to examine the effectiveness of abstract fictions. Along with reading and analyzing, students will also get a chance to write warped stories of their own.
English 4 S2: Short Fiction
This course will reacquaint students with the fundamental elements of the art of fiction - and short fiction in particular - especially point of view, plot, character, style, narrative technique, theme, imagery, symbol, and setting.
Ultimately, the course aims to enhance students’ ability to appreciate diverse short fiction through close reading, interpretation and discussion, and through written work.
English IV S2: Literature of the Sea
For centuries, man has interacted with the ocean, an area that covers 71% of the earth’s surface; yet, there is little that is known about this vast entity. In this course, students will examine the beauty, the mystery, and the menacing nature that fuels the ebb and flow of the sea. Through canonical texts written by Coleridge, Hemingway, and Melville to more contemporary literature written by Junger, students will ponder and write, analytically and creatively, about man’s relationship to Nature’s most powerful force.
English IV Honors
English IV Honors examines the relationship between Good and Evil as those two exert and assert themselves in literature. Students consider characters’ psychologies and behaviors to understand how Good and Evil affect them, and in doing so, students create opportunities to reflect on how Good and Evil play a role in their own lives. Success with the course demands that students participate in regular seminar-style discussions and write regularly; students write in both creative and critical modes with an emphasis, in either case, on demonstrating independent thinking and the clear and correct use of language. English IV Honors begins with a philosophical study of Good and Evil from a selection of shorter pieces; as the course progresses, students will read longer works and, accordingly, will be expected to respond to them with greater depth of thought and with considered attention towards the formal elements of literature. Works studied in this course will include Camus’s The Stranger, Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Morrison’s Sula, Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Shakespeare’s Othello, Spiegelman's Maus, Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
English IV S2: Dramatic Literature and Theater History
This elective course will serve as a semester-long introduction to the basics of Western theater history from the ancient Greeks to the modern day. Through the study of dramatic literature, this course will explore theater architecture, conventions, and production style throughout Western history. Students will read at least one play from each time period covered, including representative texts from ancient Greece, ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, Elizabethan England, the Restoration, and the 20th century. Although this course will have an academic focus, there will also be a performance component. Therefore, students should be comfortable acting out scenes from class texts before a supportive audience of their peers. Students will be evaluated based on quizzes and tests, class participation, and completion of homework, which may include short essays or projects.
Advanced Placement Literature and Composition
This rigorous course prepares select senior students for the Advanced Placement Literature and Composition examination by modeling what might be expected of them in an introductory-level English course at a post-secondary college or university. Students read an array of literature from authors such as William Shakespeare, Tom Stoppard, Toni Morrison, Nadine Gordimer, and Virginia Woolf and participate in seminar-style discussions designed to encourage and refine critical, engaged, and collaborative group discussions. The students will also learn some critical literary theory, develop test-taking skills specifically for the AP exam, and write analytical essays designed to strengthen their critical-inquiry, literary-assessment, and critical-writing skills. The course culminates with the Advanced Placement Literature and Composition exam in May.
Graphic Design and Journalism
This academic elective will be beneficial for those with interest in news and sports reporting, journalism, design, communications and media studies or even media business management. Students will learn basic skills in design software, introductory photography manipulation, and journalistic/non-editorial writing. Large portions of the practical work in design and writing completed in class will be created specifically for publishing in the award-winning Winged Beaver Yearbook, as well as for the Avon Record and social media for Avon.
Nonfictional & Fictional Narratives
Through the lens of “sports writing,” Nonfictional & Fictional Narratives examines literary techniques used by writers of nonfiction and fiction alike. The coursework encourages students to read closely and to consider the different ways that writers tell stories using both fact and fiction to create “truthful” narratives. Using texts such as David Remnick’s The Only Game in Town: Sportswriting from The New Yorker, Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, and Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken as primary texts, students engage in various critical and creative writing exercises to demonstrate both by commentary and by imitation their understanding of the various strategies writers use to tell stories and to engage readers.
American Literature Since 1950
By continuing the consideration of themes related to the construction and representation of American identity in literature since 1950, this full-year course is designed for those students who have completed a standard survey course in American literature. Course readings will be comprised of a variety of authors and genres and will focus on themes related to gender, race, and class. Primary texts may include On the Road; Raisin in the Sun; Bright Lights, Big City; and The Road, as well as short stories by John Cheever, Raymond Carver, and Lorrie Moore, among others, and a generous selection of poems. Students will respond to course readings by writing critically and creatively; writing instruction will emphasize the continued development of correct and convincing prose with attention given to improving vocabulary and to strengthening command of standard English grammar.