Upper School Courses

Upper School English

In Upper School English at St. Stephen’s, a passionate faculty of master teachers guides students through a diverse selection of texts from various literary traditions in order to create critical thinkers, close readers, and confident writers. Students engage daily in dynamic discussions in a small, intimate classroom environment. Teachers provide individualized feedback on a variety of assignments, including literary analysis, digital writing, and creative projects. Through individual and collaborative assignments, students master the principles of argumentation as well as the mechanics and style of effective writing.

List of 6 items.

  • English 9

    The English 9 classroom at St. Stephen’s is full of students from different schools, states, and countries, all together for the first time. In the fall term, we establish a common vocabulary of literary analysis through a reading of The Odyssey that includes a Greek Civilization website-building unit, taught in conjunction with the History department. We cultivate insightful readers and assertive writers through diverse texts and assignments, ending the course with an in-depth literary analysis of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and a student-driven creative project based on any text from freshman year. Our goal is for students to leave ninth grade confident in their reading and writing skills and their capacity to think critically and empathetically about new perspectives.
  • English 10

    In English 10, we foster students’ enhanced ability to think creatively, write boldly, and detect nuance across a variety of texts and genres. While we cover a range of English literary classics (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Beowulf, Macbeth, William Blake’s poetry, and Wuthering Heights), we also ask students to explore contemporary works that reflect the school’s values of diversity and pluralism. Each term is unified by an overarching theme, such as masculinity and war, love and adventure, or disillusioned youth. In teaching the craft of writing, we focus on skills of punctuation, syntax, rhetoric, and style. Finally, English 10 offers writing assignments in a variety of modes, including literary analysis, journaling, creative writing, and public speaking.
  • English 11

    The focus in English 11 is on American literature and the importance of style and voice in poetry, prose, and in students’ own work. We begin with a poetry unit that showcases American writers from the 17th century to the present before moving on to a winter unit focused on literature of the American South (William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones). In the spring term, we explore Shakespeare’s famous revenge tragedy, Hamlet, alongside a group of modern film adaptations, and then we shift our attention to units on shorter fiction and personal essays, both of which include opportunities for independent work and personal narratives. 

    The final and cumulative Short Story Project is meant as preparation for the capstone Senior Novel Project. Students leave junior English as skilled and confident readers and writers, which is why senior year is devoted to the more college-level experience of electives and individual study.
  • English 12

    English 12 is the crown jewel of Upper School English in which students experience college-level practices and inquiry through focused electives and a full term of independent study. In the fall and winter terms, students choose from a rich offering of electives that in the past have included Evolutionary Biology and Literary Criticism, Modernism, Captivity Narratives, The Harlem Renaissance, South-Asian Fiction, The Anti-Hero, Literacy in the Postmodern Age, The Graphic Novel, Nature Writing, Foreign Cinema, and Postcolonial Theory.

    Spring term of senior English is devoted to The Novel Project, a term-long independent assignment intended to give students the freedom to design their own course of study and the guidance to pursue interdisciplinary scholarship. Over the course of three proposals that begins in junior year, each senior builds their own reading list of three novels and one alternative text (film, non-fiction, poetry, graphic novel, short story collection, etc.). They then spend the spring term researching, writing, and presenting their projects. This final term of independent study allows students to create their own spring-term curriculum and gives them real experience with the time-management challenges that they will face in college.
  • Creative Writing

    Introduction to Creative Writing is a writing workshop. Students are expected to write every day that is not reserved for workshopping. Students will meet year-round, three times a rotation. The class will explore the form, theory, and practice of writing fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. Students will produce original pieces, as well as analyze and critique both published writers and the work of their peers in class. Course work includes regular reading assignments, weekly lectures, and class discussions on a variety of writing elements and techniques, writing exercises, and critique/workshop sessions. This is a half-credit course. Enrollment will be limited to one section, and priority will be given to students who have demonstrated interest in writing outside the curriculum.
  • Transitional English

    Transitional English is a full-credit, one-year course designed to help advanced English Language Learners reinforce skills in the areas of reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The goal is to familiarize international students new to St. Stephen’s with the type of close-reading skills and literary analysis that will be expected of them in their mainstream English classes. Students read many of the texts used in the mainstream curriculum, but at a slower pace to allow more time to focus on comprehension as well as on English grammar and vocabulary development. Transitional English involves writing assignments in a variety of modes, including literary analysis, personal narrative, persuasive writing, and opportunities for creative writing and public speaking. There are two sections of the class--one for incoming 9th graders (English 9T) and one for incoming 10th graders (English 10T).

Senior Electives

List of 10 items.

  • Category Is!

    “Everytime I bat my false eyelashes, it’s a political statement.” -RuPaul

    Drag queens are not known for their subtlety. But hidden away under the bedazzled outfit and contoured face is a scathing critique of gender categories. Why? Because a drag queen understands that so much of how we act, dress, and behave is not necessarily natural but rather a learned behavior. She exaggerates what we consider to be “feminine”--the clothing, the jewelry, the strutting, the voice--to show that it’s just another mask, another outfit, that she can put on and take off at will.

    In this class, we’ll be looking at texts that hinge on a drag performance, understood here in a broad sense as a moment in which male or female cross-dressing becomes a vehicle for critique. We’ll be exploring how drag calls attention to the “constructedness” of assumed categories, gender or otherwise. And if, as Erasmus has stated, that “clothing is to the body as style is to thought,” we’ll figure out exactly what makes each of our texts uniquely “form-fitting.”
  • Horror Fiction

    In this course, we will read a variety of genres--ranging from poetry, to plays, to novels--in order to deconstruct existing mythologies of masculinity and femininity and minor marginalization that were introduced by and now perpetuated through horror literature and film. We will begin by defining the horror genre, exploring its roots in Gothic literature, and then track its evolution through the first ghost stories of the Victorian era and on to contemporary manifestations of its kind. Ultimately, we will observe how society uses horror tropes such as ghosts, psychopaths and zombies as well as “helpless heroines” and token minorities to reinforce existing stereotypes and ideologies of subjugation and disempowerment. 
  • iLiteracy

    In this course, we will look to contemporary literature as well as new media to expand our notion of "reading", applying close reading methods to other cultural structures and institutions. Building from theories on architectural design and applying these techniques to texts, art, music, television, and technology, we will confront and construct new definitions for literacy in the digital age. Along the way, we will discover that these disruptive new genres and texts also invite us to appreciate the value of stability in traditional literature as a bulwark against the relentless mashups of form and content in postmodernity. During this term we will grapple with the following questions: how does literature change we when read it through non-print media? How is our understanding of communication affected by rapid information transmission? How do we experience text as visual media? How does new media affect our senses? Is new media environmental? What is the impact of literature as self-promotion or self-publicity? 
  • Jane Eyre

    In this course we will look at the lasting legacy of Charlotte Bronte's classic gothic novel, Jane Eyre. Bronte’s 19th century novel follows Jane’s evolution from a sharp-tongued orphan to a sharp-witted governess working for the Byronic Mr. Rochester in the mysterious Thornfield Hall. Jane seeks acceptance, truth, family, love, God, and, most importantly, self, but in order to find them, she will be tested time and time again. We will then read Jean Rhys’s 20th century Caribbean response to Bronte, Wide Sargasso Sea, which tackles many of the same questions about love, life, identity, secrets, and lies.  In addition to addressing questions of genre (the gothic, the romance, the bildungsroman, and the modern/postmodern), we will interpret the texts with special attention to themes of madness, captivity, marriage, imperialism, sexuality, and economics. We will also read literary criticism and look at film adaptation.
  • Lit Theory

    Every age is graced with a philosopher, a mind who can understand the world around them not only for what it is, but for what it should be. The so-called Dark Ages birthed the great thinker Francesco Petrarch, a man who refused to see the baseness of man’s character and instead championed the power of the human spirit. The rapid industrialization of the 19th century gave us Karl Marx, a philosopher who saw through the mystifying economic forces at work that had created a “false consciousness” in the worker that unwittingly ensured his own demise (“Die wissen das nicht, aber sie tun es”: “They don’t know what they do, but they do it anyway.” [Capital, 86]).

    The vocation of the philosopher is to pull us away from the system in which we live so that our vantage point changes, and our view of the world, from the outside, fundamentally shifts. In this class, we’ll read and interpret trends in intellectual history ranging from theories of language (semiotics) to explorations of race (postcolonialism), identity (psychoanalysis), authority (ideology), and cultural activity (gender and sexuality). We will then couple individual topics with a classic literary text that tests the advantages and/or limitations of each interpretative lens.
  • Modernism and Postmodernism

    According to Virginia Woolf, “On or about December 1910, human character changed.” While the date she picks is (almost) arbitrary, Woolf’s famous pronouncement nevertheless captures the radical shift in arts and culture that we now call modernism. The profound and lasting impact of the first world war, coupled with significant technological advances, such as the automobile and the radio, required that people think about individuality and meaning in completely fresh, new ways. About 40 years later, another world war and even newer technologies, such as the atom bomb and the computer, ushered in the postmodern era, and “human character changed” once again. We’ll read and explore both modern and postmodern texts (novels, poems, film, art) to try to understand the differences between the two, and just as importantly, how art reflects the ever-changing notion of what it means to be human.
  • Monkey Business

    “Being both more systematically brutal than chimps and more empathetic than bonobos, we are by far the most bipolar ape. Our societies are never completely peaceful, never completely competitive, never ruled by sheer selfishness, and never perfectly moral.” -Frans de Waal, Our Inner Ape.

    In this class we will explore our species’ unique capacity for both love and war. The term will begin with a brief study of new research in the fields of primatology and sociobiology in an effort to understand how our biology informs our social and cultural values. Following this, we will read three literary texts as “case studies” of the nature of morality, our predilection for both compassion and violence, and--for better or for worse--our kinship with our primate ancestors.
  • The Anti-Hero

    The term “hero” is often used as a synonym for “protagonist.” Indeed, many of the iconic characters in Western literature, film, and television--from Beowulf to Luke Skywalker--are remembered for how comprehensively they embody the virtues we value most in our society. Those guys are lame. We like stories that carry a flashlight into the dark corners of the human soul. We like characters who don’t quite fit in, characters defined by their all-too-human imperfection. In this course, we will explore the antihero archetype in its various manifestations by studying the stories of four exceptional misfits: a young Mississippi rascal who doesn’t see much value  in being “sivilized,” a drifter caught in the dizzying cycle of addiction and recovery, a fiercely independent young woman who becomes the bearer of an entire community’s scorn and self-hatred, and a desperate chemistry teacher whose scientific expertise take him into an unexpected line of work. These characters will remind us that the primary function of art is to ask questions, not to answer them. And they will make us feel far less guilty about our own transgressions.
  • The Postcolonial Novel

    In this course we will read contemporary novels from Ireland, Nigeria, and India in order to explore how postcolonial writers have responded to ideas of nation, identity (including gender, class, and ethnicity), and “history.” We will begin by investigating the term "postcolonial" itself before moving on to examine narratives of nationhood in the context of decolonization, resistance, and post-imperialism (if such a concept exists) as they are represented through the experiences of specific characters in the texts.  In addition to our primary novels, we will briefly consider some of the foundational texts of anti-colonial, postcolonial, and subaltern writing as well as films by Ken Loach and Danny Boyle. All texts will be addressed in class discussion and in writing assignments.
  • Whodunit?: Mystery/Crime Lit

    In an interview with the New York Times, author Cormac McCarthy famously said that the only writers he admires are those who “deal with issues of life and death.” This proclamation may sound reductive (and a bit pretentious), but most readers would find it hard to disagree with McCarthy’s core sentiment: the most engrossing stories are often those in which the stakes are highest. In this course, we will explore several such works in order to better understand what draws us to tales of crime and mystery and what these kinds of narratives can teach us about “the human condition.” We will study a variety of texts--including classic novels, contemporary bestsellers, and award-winning films--to dissect the popular appeal of mystery/crime fiction and explore the genre’s literary merits and limitations. And we might just find ourselves reading late into the night, eager to see what secrets are lurking on the next page.
Address: 6500 St. Stephen's Drive Austin, Texas 78746
Phone: 512-327-1213