Academics
Academics
Berwick Academy English Departmental Vision
Grades 5-12

Our English curriculum develops perceptive, empathetic, and independent thinkers. Through interactions with literature, our students cultivate their capacity for abstract and analytical thinking; these skills are practiced in class discussion, as well as in various forms of self expression: expository and creative writing, poetry, art, presentation, and more. Progression through the divisions enables students to methodically build skills and gain exposure to various styles, genres, voices, and perspectives. Our teachers are fundamentally committed to fostering inspired, confident readers and writers.
 
Upper School Philosophy
 
Upper School English courses build in sophistication through grades 9-12 by offering challenging texts and multiple avenues for analysis and expression. With a close eye on process, students read critically and learn to develop genuine ideas and opinions. Class conversations examine texts based on their structure and style, while simultaneously exploring various cultures, social restrictions, assumptions, and value systems. By providing a diverse curriculum, we encourage our students to develop empathy and see the value in exploring a world beyond their own.
 
Course offerings utilize novels, plays, short stories, folk tales, poetry, music, articles, essays, paintings, drawings, films, and podcasts. In response to these genres, students hone their ability to write clearly and powerfully with sound grammar and vocabulary. A senior elective, The Art of the Essay, provides students with techniques for being efficient and eloquent when crafting essays such as a social critique. Likewise, practice with oral presentation cultivates student confidence and articulation; for example, English 10’s public speaking endeavors get students on their feet, communicating analytically and creatively.

English 9; Literary Foundations
Ninth grade English focuses on developing strong critical reading skills and clear written and oral expression. The writing program includes the study of grammar and essay form within the structure of the writing process. Literature study evolves from basic plot description to intense thematic discussion.  This analysis is the basis for frequent essays and projects.  Literature may include:  The Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, Romeo & Juliet, The House on Mango Street, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, short stories, essays, and poems.
 
English 10; Genre Studies
The focus in tenth grade English is on writing, reading, and oral expression. The writing assignments develop sound grammar and literary interpretation and analysis as well as narration and other forms of exposition. The readings of the course stress going beyond plot to examine structure, style, and theme. A range of genres including short stories, drama, epic, and novels help students develop their sophistication of response to the literature. Readings in previous years have included Points of View (a study of short stories); Macbeth; Purple Hibiscus; Death of a Salesman; The Odyssey; Frankenstein; and The Natural.
 
English 11; American Literature
Eleventh Grade English explores American literature as a means to understanding America and ourselves. The course focuses on careful reading and effective writing in a discussion-based classroom. Our knowledge of American history helps to inform our conversations about how literary movements and genres has been shaped by the events and culture of the time periods we study. Writing in the junior year emphasizes fine-tuning the art of analysis, as well as practicing various narrative modes throughout the year. Longer readings may include The Crucible, The Scarlet Letter, Walden, The Great Gatsby, The Awakening, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Angels in America, as well as various short stories, poems, and plays spanning from early to contemporary America.
 
English 11; American Studies
American Studies, another eleventh grade option, offers an integrated approach to American literature, history, and culture. This course is the literature-based component of this team-taught class. The English and history instructors will coordinate and link the materials in each component of this class. The material will still be roughly chronological.  As in other sections, students will have regular reading quizzes, writing assignments, tests, and a major exam.  In the industrial era, we might combine Crane’s “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets” with immigrant narratives and Riis’s photographs of tenement life.  Literature may include: The Great Gatsby, Snow Falling on Cedars, Into the Wild, The Things They Carried, Song of Solomon, and Walden.

English 11; Honors
English Eleven Honors is offered as an ancillary contract course, which supplements the material being studied in the required English Eleven class. The work load is significantly more rigorous than the regular course, and student work is expected to show outstanding depth, reasoning, and creativity. Students are enrolled in a regular section of English but also work independently on other assignments, meeting as a group roughly once each week. As a guideline, students should expect 50-80 pages of reading per week on top of their regular coursework, though some weeks may be lighter. They may also have additional quizzes, tests, and written assignments including graded online contributions to a class message board. These assessments will become a component of their English grade each trimester.
Requires Department Chair Approval

Senior Electives

List of 12 items.

  • Advanced Placement

    This course is designed for students who wish to engage in a college-level study of literature.  The study focuses on different literary genres and periods, with an emphasis on literary analysis, interpretation, and critical writing.  Major works from this course may include Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Athol Fugard’s Blood Knot, Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North, Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight, and J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, along with shorter works and poems.  Students should expect between 50-100 pages of reading per week on top of their regular English coursework.  Like Contract Honors in the junior year, this course will also meet weekly/biweekly during a common period.  Students may also have additional quizzes, tests, and written assignments including graded online contributions to a class message board. These assessments will become a component of their English grade each trimester.  Those who take AP English Literature and Composition are required to take the College Board Advanced Placement exam in May.
    Requires Department Chair Approval
  • Counterculture Literature

    This course will focus on the writings and ideas of the 1950s and 1960s in America. After World War II ended, Americans sought a sense of normalcy and stability, but at the same time, the country became enmeshed in a global struggle with Communism and the USSR in the Cold War. American culture was awash in a desire for more hard-earned freedom as the artists --writers, actors and musicians-- began to question American values and assumptions. These efforts resulted in the literary movements of both the Beats of the 50s and the Counterculture explorations of the 60s. This course will examine a selection of these writings, and also look at film and music from the same period.  Readings may include the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and the novels may include works from Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse-Five), Jack Kerouac (On the Road), and the essays of Joan Didion (Slouching Towards Bethlehem). Classroom discussion and engagement will be a key part of this course.  Students will also be required to complete all the standard assessments: papers, tests, presentations, and quizzes.
     
  • Detective Fiction

    Detective fiction is a literary genre either in novel or short story form that deals with a crime, usually murder, in which a detective seeks justice for the victim on behalf of society.  This course will examine the three major categories of detective fiction: the amateur detective, the private detective, and the police.  In doing so, we will attempt to address several questions: What would account for the wide appeal of this genre?  How has it developed over the past 150 years? What can a study of detective fiction reveal about sociocultural anxieties, gender relations, and interactions of fiction and reality?  The reading selections will range from the traditional pioneers such as Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and progress through the 20th and into the 21st centuries. Along the way, students will experience the contributions of Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Sue Grafton to name just a few.  
  • Irish Studies

    This course will take a humanities approach to the introduction of Irish history, culture, and literature. Students will initially become acquainted with the geography and tribal history, before focusing on the significant role that the English colonization in the 1600’s played in the shaping of this land through the 20th Century. The Irish Question, Famine, Home Rule, Nationalism, Rebellion, Independence and The Troubles will all be featured topics as we move deeper into the politics and culture.  In many instances the most interesting way to learn the history is through the literature of the times. To that end, drama, poetry, fiction and non-fiction, as well as film will serve to illuminate students’ understanding of the Irish identity. Likely authors will include Swift, Joyce, Synge, Yeats, McCourt, Wilde, Becket, and O’Casey.
  • Literature & Neuroscience

    This elective is co-taught as an interdisciplinary (English/science) course. The science portion will cover the brain and examine the science behind personality types that fall under the categories of Myers-Briggs: introvert/extrovert, intuitive/sensing, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. Advanced neuroimaging research targets precise areas in the brain that function differently for an extrovert than for an introvert, for example. Carl Jung’s framework of eight cognitive processes will be explored. The English portion will focus on literature through the lens of the Myers-Briggs categories. For example, we could read books such as Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi to explore the character of an extrovert and poetry by Emily Dickinson to explore an introvert. Like all English courses, the students will be required to read, reflect (in writing), and discuss. 
  • Literature to Film

    How do we carry the medium of words on a page to the world of film? This course will look at some amazing texts and see how this writing transfers and explodes into a multi-dimensional and dynamic film. Focusing on analysis—both of literary narrative structures and film techniques (lighting, composition, sound…), we will engage a variety of techniques: written, visual, and multi-media. This course will require reading, writing, viewing, and most importantly, creative thinking.  Possible works include: Hitchcock’s Psycho/Rear Window, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Coppola’s Apocalypse Now; Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (novel and film); Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted (memoir/film); Beatty’s The White Boy Shuffle, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Cormac McCarthy’s and the Coen Brother’s No Country for Old Men, and Jane Campion’s The Piano
  • My Jerusalem: Modern Middle East

    “The world is getting smaller, and [reading literature of the Middle East] is a way to get a different perspective on some intractable problems we have faced,” says Gregory Orfalea, a professor in the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. This course will examine the complex world that is the modern Middle East through the lens of literature, essays and film.  Exploring a variety of perspectives, including those of gender, faith, and nation, we will examine the simplistic and often divisive notions of binaries - Muslim vs. Christian, Israel vs. Palestine, West vs. East, Woman vs. Man, Terrorist vs. Victim - to try to attain a more layered and complex understanding of the rich culture and complex political and social arena of the region and its impact on our lives as Americans. A prerequisite for this class is a willingness to bring an open mind and a willingness to engage in an open dialogue.  We will work towards building a deeper understanding of the Middle East and, as Americans, our role in working to better understand the United States’ culture and policy in a post 9-11 society.  For this discussion-based course we will complete a variety of writing assignments, including journals and projects; the hope is to also invite visiting speakers to join us for class during the trimester. Possible readings may include essays by Edward Said; essays by Amos Oz; poetry by Yehuda Amichai and Mahmoud Darwish; Joe Sacco’s graphic novel, Palestine; Nawal Saadawi’s novella Woman at Point Zero; and short stories by Etgar Keret. Possible films may include Promises, Paradise Now, and Waltzing with Bashir
  • Paperback Writers

    This course will examine the Beatles and their influence on American and world culture.  The curriculum will include: the literature of the era as well as essays written since their break up; the band’s lyrics and music; the cultural influence the band had on America, taken in its historical context from the 1960s to the present day.  The course work will be based upon a chronological exploration of key albums and songs.  The class work will be supplemented by weekly classes held in the music studio on campus, studying the musical and engineering revolution that helped create these cultural icons.  The readings will be drawn from the abundant literature on the band, film and video, the music and lyrics, and relevant historical/cultural material.   Students will write essays, take tests, and offer projects/presentations.
  • Resistance and Rebellion

    This course will examine various literary accounts of characters who struggle against forces often larger than themselves; such struggles include depictions of dystopia, women in patriarchal societies, and our modern world.
  • The Art of the Essay

    The aim of this class is both to examine essays from published writers and to craft expository pieces that range in mode from personal narratives and imaginative descriptions to social commentaries and critiques of injustice. Building on the techniques students have acquired in their other English classes, participants will be introduced to alternative forms of expression with an eye toward recognizing the true art of becoming efficient and eloquent in their phrasing, as well as original and instructive in their ideas and methods. To meet these ends, students will explore professional essays, keep a journal, and write and revise a variety of essays that will ultimately contribute to their final portfolio.    
     
  • Visions of Ourselves

    Through the reading of nostalgic novels, critical memoirs, and condemning essays, students will attempt to consider and even combat stereotypes; will examine the pressures to fit in and to perform at some of these elite institutions; and will weigh and perhaps challenge the perceptions that different schools hold of themselves.
  • Writing for Social Justice

    Nelson Mandela once said, “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”   This course is designed to focus on the exploration ideas of social justice through non-fiction writing and reading.  We will examine ways that social justice can be illuminated and extended through acts of witnessing and writing.  Our readings will bring us a national perspective on issues such as racism, gender equality, and poverty and how these issues influence, especially, student experiences.  A component of this course will be to extend our experiences beyond books and beyond the campus, both in school/organization visits during several long block days.  We also hope to take 1-2 full-day field trips to other sites, such as a rural school or organization that supports immigrants in Portland, ME, to examine more local issues of social justice.   Students will be asked to write a final project, a piece of journalism that focuses on an issue of social justice which impacts our local community.  This writing project may require students to continue some of their investigations off-campus at a local site such as a school or community center.   Seniors taking this class may also choose to continue their work during their senior projects, if they desire.  We will broaden our writing experience to include the use of technology to create more layered and interactive styles of reporting, such as social media, blogging, and multi-media-style reporting that may include film, photos, illustrations, and other investigative/representative tools.

Serving Maine, The Seacoast of New Hampshire, and the North Shore of Massachusetts

Berwick Academy is Maine's oldest, independent Pre-K through Post Graduate private school. Our community is dynamic, offering challenging academics, competitive athletics, and creative arts programs. Members of the community operate within a context of caring and respect as we pursue our quest for "useful knowledge" as "one school with three divisions." Students and faculty are encouraged to expand their horizons by balancing academics with athletic, dramatic, and musical options.