Middle School English lays a foundation for critical thinking at St. Stephen’s with its focus on both careful and spirited exploration of reading and writing. Throughout their time in Middle School, students learn foundational to advanced writing mechanics and the grammatical structures that allow students to write a variety of sentences that suit genre and purpose. The inviting activities, projects and units of study promote vibrant engagement and sequential improvement in skills. Experienced and student-centered teachers offer a deep understanding of the middle years while guiding students to think clearly and creatively. The three English courses emphasize the rich and varied human experiences expressed in literature and the role of young people in understanding and finding their place in the world.
English 6 is a lively course that encourages unification of entering Spartans while fostering independent work and study. Collaboration, discussion, reading and writing are the heartbeats of the course and promote a blend of critical thinking and creativity. Class texts in multiple genres and perspectives come from thought-provoking young adult books and ask complex questions: How do I view my own world? How can I learn from the stories of others? How can I be an advocate for positive change? Some books and assignments are interdisciplinary works with Science 6 and Global Connections. Many classes are writing labs so that writing, the most challenging work of the 6th-grade year for many students, is fully teacher-supported. Emerging writers gain confidence, and students who already define themselves as writers set higher bars for themselves. The capstone project is the creation of a student-written and student-designed book, culminating in a grade-wide showcase. Along the way, students learn to edit for accuracy, focusing on grade-level writing mechanics. The course also introduces basic grammar as yet another tool for using words clearly and effectively.
Why do we read stories? Why do we study them? One reason is this: reading and writing are thinking; strengthening the former strengthens the latter. By regarding both reading and writing as thinking, English 7 helps students understand not only what people think, but how they think and why. Along the way, this course incorporates all elements of a contemporary language arts program — reading, writing, vocabulary, grammar and writing mechanics — and uses mentor texts, in-class discussions, dramatic read-alouds, large- and small-group work, technology, and the writing process to promote learning. As writers, students practice stories, essays, poetry and more. As readers, students explore short stories, memoirs, novels, poems and plays, emphasizing the discovery of key passages to use as evidence. In parallel, students increasingly use claims, evidence and commentary to grow beyond quick answers in pursuit of positions supported by ample evidence and thorough explanation. To achieve this goal, students also learn to synthesize quoted evidence with their own language, creating for each learner a cohesive and authoritative voice capable of simultaneously advancing and substantiating an argument.
English 8 is the bridge between middle and upper grades, building on what students have learned while ushering them into more sophisticated reading, writing and thinking. The course reflects 8th-grade students’ increasing capacity for abstract thought and accordingly offers literature that poses challenging questions with complex answers: What makes societies fail or flourish? What makes humans happy? The course includes instruction in grammar and vocabulary; the study of novels, short stories, poems and plays; and the composition of analytical essays, journal entries and fan fiction. To broaden understanding and deepen appreciation of what we read, some novels are co-taught in Theology 8 and in Cultures and Governance. Additionally, 8th grade is the first year when boarding students join day students in the Middle School classroom, expanding the range of perspectives in reflective and lively discussions. Ultimately, this course combines critical thinking with writing, speaking and close-reading skills to prepare students for Upper School English 9.