In the first years of Middle School, reading and language arts are integrated into the humanities program. Literature choices support the themes of instruction in seventh and eighth grades through historical, social, and cultural topics. Writing projects, research, and presentations are designed to encourage students to be critical consumers and producers of information. In eighth and ninth grades, separate English classes offer the time for students to hone their skills in analysis, composition, and a variety of writing formats.
During the first week of school, every student in the sixth grade Humanities course embarks on a personal journey of discovery. Without looking, each person takes a turn touching a finger onto a spot on a spinning globe, revealing the country that will form the basis of a year-long research project. In addition to this individual geography study, sixth graders investigate journeys that change people and the world. They explore the world’s diverse religions, geography and countries through literature, nonfiction, periodicals, films, interviews, presentations from guest speakers and field trips. Creative projects and daily practice lead students to build their reading, writing, research, presentation and study skills. Students read for pleasure, discussion, fluency and information; they write to discover, develop and organize their ideas, to argue a point, and to move an audience. They study vocabulary, dictionary usage, parts of speech, and basic sentence structure. Students also build the skills basic to the study of history: understanding timelines and dates, recognizing cause-and-effect relationships, and thinking critically.Literature selections in the past years have included Rules of the Road, The Watsons Go To Birmingham, 1963, The Canterbury Tales, Shadow Spinner, Adventures on the Ancient Silk Road, The Real Vikings, Habibi, A Long Walk to Water, Zlata the Goat, Beowulf, To the Edge of the World, selected poems, folk tales, and short stories.
Seventh grade students explore the theme of change as it pertains to history, literature and themselves. We start by looking at what happens when different cultures meet, focusing in particular on American Indians, Europeans, and Africans. Coming-of-age stories form the backdrop for our study of the American Revolution, as students look at the issue of independence in literature, history, and our world. Finally, focus is given to the theme of conflict in literature, the Civil War and in contemporary society.
In Humanities, students develop reading, writing, thinking, speaking, and information skills. Through a variety of literary genres students build an understanding of theme, symbolism, and tone; they read primary and secondary historical sources for main ideas and supporting details. They are guided in organizing their study materials and in taking effective notes. Gaining map and geography proficiency, understanding time lines and dates, and learning the research process are central. Students work independently on long-range projects including Early America Day in the fall and a more formal research paper in the spring.
In past years, literature selections have included April Morning, Sees Behind Trees, The Light in the Forest, The Crucible, Seedfolk, To Kill a Mockingbird, To Be a Slave, and a Shakespeare play.
This course introduces students to the vocabulary of literature and sharpens their skills as readers, interpreters, writers, speakers and listeners. The year is loosely divided into units of study that examine the short story, the play, nonfiction (essay and argument), poetry and the novel. In each unit students read and analyze works by a variety of writers to uncover their meanings and to use as models for writing strategies. In written reading responses and through class discussions, students engage in a dialogue with the literature and their classmates. The course subscribes to the beliefs that we develop our best ideas through writing and that writers get feedback before publication; the writing practice focuses on conferencing and revision. Students do exercises in vocabulary and syntax. Through our reading and writing, we ask—and hope to answer—personal and national questions of identity: Who are we? What do we believe? What shapes our lives? What do we hope for? What is the role of writing and art in our world? In past years, literature selections have included The House on Mango Street, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Lord of the Flies, Raisin in the Sun, Maus, Of Mice and Men, Night, selected short stories (Ray Bradbury, Sherman Alexie, Edgar Allen Poe, Gina Berriault, Shirley Jackson, Roald Dahl, Toni Cade Bambara, and Gary Soto), contemporary American poetry, speeches, memoirs, essays and op-ed pieces.
The ninth grade writing and literature program continues to develop students' ability to analyze literature critically, both orally and in writing. The curriculum focuses on autobiography and fiction, both in complete books and excerpts. Poetry is read and written throughout the year, culminating in a "poetry cabaret" conceived and performed by the students. Multi-draft critical essays—as well as personal narrative essays, creative compositions and projects related to the reading—are assigned throughout the year. Students work on skills such as forming and supporting a thesis as they develop a strong personal voice. Mechanics and grammar are taught based on individual needs found in students' work. The month of May is devoted to discussing poems covered during the year and selecting and rehearsing material to be performed in the year-end cabaret. In recent years, texts for this course have included This Boy’s Life, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Looking for Alaska and The Book Thief.
The sixth grade Festival of the World caps a yearlong study of global cultures, religions and geography. Each student studies a different country, creating a range of informational and artistic projects, including a model of a famous landmark.