Upper School
US Curriculum


The Upper School English faculty strives to lead students to embrace a life-long appreciation of literature, analytical thought, and engagement in their world.
Students hone their grammar skills, find their own voices for various audiences, develop their use of diction and syntax, learn to exploit literary/rhetorical devices, refine their logical thought and expression, and grow as successful public speakers. They develop a mastery of on-demand and process-oriented writing so they can dispatch simple writing tasks and tackle complex ones.

Our teachers nurture students through reading and writing assignments, writing workshops, thoughtful feedback, and frequent one-on-one meetings. Students become perceptive readers and fluent, powerful communicators as they gain skills that facilitate self-discovery, critical thinking, self-awareness, originality, intellectual independence, ethical use of evidence and research, and the capacity to construct knowledge for themselves.

English: Major Courses

List of 8 items.

  • English 9

    6 meetings per seven-day cycle/3 credits.
    Required for ninth-graders.

    Ninth-grade English is designed to introduce all upper school students to the foundational reading, writing, and thinking skills necessary to become successful English students throughout their high school careers and beyond. Students are exposed to drama, film, creative nonfiction, poetry, short stories, and novels, where they learn the conventions associated with these forms and the skills necessary for reading, analyzing, and discussing them. Throughout the course of the year, the students learn how to close-read language-based details within a text, determine which of those details have significance, and characterize them into a textual pattern (reoccurring language in a text). It is through examining these textual patterns that students learn how to begin the process of argumentation, both verbal and written. This course aims to use writing to generate ideas in addition to expressing interpretations and arguments in traditional analytical essays as well as creative writing pieces. Over the course of the year, students work on key aspects of writing from composing sentences and paragraphs to multi-stage essays that move from proposals to drafts to final versions.

    Typical works include a summer reading text, short fiction, a film, and such texts as Romeo and Juliet, Antigone, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

    As in History 9, students not meeting a minimum standard of competency in English 9 may be asked or required to enroll in a writing workshop or to participate in some other program to support their writing.
  • English 10

    6 meetings per seven-day cycle/3 credits. Required for sophomores.

    In tenth-grade English, we explore works of poetry, drama, and fiction in order to develop students’ reading, writing, and speaking skills. In developing these skills, students enhance their ability to explore textual patterns (reoccurring language in a text) and to reflect on the consequences of abstract ideas in the world beyond the text. Classroom discussion supports the development of close-reading and analytical thinking, and students take increasing ownership in discussion over the course of the year. In their writing, students continue to develop upon the analytical foundation learned in ninth grade. Their writing throughout the year consists of in-class essays, homework posts, reflective journals, some creative work, and formal multi-stage essays that move from generative writing to topic proposals to drafts to final versions.

    Possible course texts include a summer reading text, a variety of poetry and short fiction, a Shakespearean play, and a novel (past works include: The Stranger, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Leave Taking, and others).
  • English 11

    6 meetings per seven-day cycle/3 credits.
    Required for juniors.

    In eleventh-grade English, we explore works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in order to continue to develop students’ reading, writing, thinking, and speaking skills. In this curriculum that emphasizes the way stories are told, students will encounter challenging and divergent styles of narrative that will enhance their ability to reflect on the consequences of abstract ideas in the world beyond the text. Classroom discussion and online discussion board posts function as the bedrock of course, and, as the year progresses, class will be run via student presentations and leaderless discussions. In their writing, students continue to develop their analytical skills from tenth grade, but with a focus on putting texts in conversation with contemporary articles, pop culture, and literary theory. Their writing throughout the year consists of in-class essays, homework posts, reflective journals, some creative work, and formal multi-stage essays that move from generative writing to topic proposals to drafts to final versions.

    Possible course texts include a summer reading text, American fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and scholarly articles (past works include: Homegoing, Slaughterhouse Five, The Passion, The Great Gatsby, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and The Bluest Eye).
  • English 12: Overview

    6 meetings per seven-day cycle/3 credits. Required for seniors.
    English 12 divides into two parts: a two-trimester literature course and a one trimester exploration of good writing in a variety of subject areas and modes.

    The Two-Trimester Literature Course

    Choosing from American literature, British literature, the literature of Africa, India, and the Caribbean in English, and World Literature in English and in translation, each of Hackley’s three twelfth-grade literature courses comprises a two-trimester unit introducing students to collegiate-level work in exploring and writing about literature, culture, and theory.

    While each of the courses offers a unique selection of texts, themes, and critical perspectives, all courses serve to develop students’ skills as readers of many types of “texts”: literature, journalism, film, theatre, advertisements, and the visual arts.

    In addition, students will develop their skills both as writers and thinkers through class presentations, group projects, and writing tasks in a variety of genres.

    Students will come to appreciate that the Anglo-American literary tradition is not the only viable tradition; that the Anglo-American tradition has complexities they have not yet encountered; that a historical approach must not look purely at the center of a literary domain, but must also look at its borders on the margins of the text; that there are no “theory-free” readings of texts or cultures; that all language is political and that even the “plain style” has an agenda; that the politics of “othering” limits our perceptions; that we must step out of and look critically at the center of society; and that we have much to learn from the range of critical theories open to us – including but not limited to historicism, new criticism, feminism, Marxism, deconstruction, new historicism, cultural materialism, queer theory, post-colonial theory, social-spatial theory, etc.

    Students will pursue class presentations, group projects, and writing tasks in a variety of genres, with a major written project (but no exam) due in the second trimester.

    The One-Trimester Exploration of Good Writing

    In the third trimester, students will stay with their English teachers and schedules, but they will start a new course exploring reading and writing on various subjects and the writing skills and forms common to those subjects.

    Our goal is for students to develop their facility at flexibly applying their skills to any kind of writing--both in terms of content and in terms of form. Each section will select several subject areas in which students would like to read and about which they would like to write.

    Possible subjects may include: sports, food, music, film, theatre, visual arts, technology, environment, social-justice, political opinion, social commentary, and—of course—literature.

    Students will explore and write essays on those topics in 1) position papers such as op-ed pieces, sports commentaries, etc.; 2) reviews such as book-, film-, and architecture-reviews; 3) creative nonfiction pieces including such forms as traditional essays, lyric essays, and poetry; and 4) for those who choose traditional analytical essays.

    Students will also explore how these may be translated in public speeches. Students will not only read and write, but they will write about the writing of their peers, write metacognitively about their own writing, and participate in writing workshops on selected pieces of student work.
  • English 12: Panopticon Prime: Privacy, Surveillance, & Digital Citizenship

    English 12 Logistics
    The English Department will offer three two-trimester course options to seniors:
    • Panopticon Prime: Privacy, Surveillance, & Digital Citizenship
    • Comedies of Courtship
    • Listening to Dead People
    Students will rank their preferences first, second, and third when they register. While we will make every effort to accommodate student preferences, both scheduling conflicts and the necessity of maintaining a favorable student-to-teacher ratio will mean that some students will be enrolled in a second choice and a few may be enrolled in their third choice for English 12.

    Panopticon Prime: Privacy, Surveillance, & Digital Citizenship

    Do you feel watched – on the internet, on the roads, at school, or at home? By whom? What sort of agendas do those watchers have? Who watches the watchers? This course examines the literary, philosophical, and sociopolitical dimensions of our over-lit, always-on, and forever-remembered contemporary moment. We proceed from the assertion that we live in a panopticon -- a prison in which total control would be possible through the implication of 24/7 constant surveillance. What does a society gain, and lose, when it privileges publicity and transparency over privacy? What is the optimal balance between state power and individual right? When and how should contemporary national concerns -- for instance, the need for safety in a post-Sept. 11th world -- supersede individual concerns? Further, what happens if the panopticon becomes so normative in the daily lives of the citizenry that its occupants either do not realize or do not care about the questions above?

    Readings may include fiction such George Orwell's 1984, Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s We Cast a Shadow , Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale , or Amniatta Forma’s Happiness; poetry such as Claudia Rankine’s Citizen; nonfictions such as Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, essays by Kiese Laymon in How to Live and Die In America or Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything Click Here; various media by and about Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei; and visual material including episodes of Black Mirror, and other film excerpts.
  • English 12: Comedies of Courtship

    English 12 Logistics
    The English Department will offer three two-trimester course options to seniors:
    • Panopticon Prime: Privacy, Surveillance, & Digital Citizenship
    • Comedies of Courtship
    • Listening to Dead People
    Students will rank their preferences first, second, and third when they register. While we will make every effort to accommodate student preferences, both scheduling conflicts and the necessity of maintaining a favorable student-to-teacher ratio will mean that some students will be enrolled in a second choice and a few may be enrolled in their third choice for English 12.

    Comedies of Courtship

    What is it about love and dating that turns people into such ridiculous fools? In this course we will examine stories that treat the experiences of dating, falling in love, and marriage as comedic endeavors. We will consider such questions as: To what extent is love natural, and to what extent is it culturally constructed? What are the cultural practices that govern how people go about finding and choosing a mate? How do things like class and gender affect our notions of love and dating and the ways we experience it? How have different eras conceived of love and dating?

    Why our texts generate laughter will also be the focus of our study. The class will explore several specific types of comedy, such as high comedy, low comedy, satire, farce, black comedy, and comedy of manners. We will also debate the merits of comedy itself. What can it achieve? What are its effects? What social role does it play? We will examine different theories of comedy to see how it can serve as social criticism, escapism, as a means to subversion, as a vehicle by which to express socially suppressed ideas, as a lubricant to ease social change, and more. Can comedy function, according to theatre critic Ben Brantley, “to defuse bombs that in real life often explode and destroy”? Or does comedy serve to excuse immoral behavior and justify degradations within a society? An analysis of the literature of this class will not only facilitate an appreciation of the ridiculous, but will also help to develop a humorous worldview and a greater understanding of the comedic aspects of the human condition in order to develop perspectives that potentially can ease the problems that confront people in love.

    Texts may include: Anagrams by Lorrie Moore, Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, An Octoroon by Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang, and Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros.

    Film and TV may include: Moonstruck directed by Norman Jewison, screenplay by John Patrick Shanley, and The Earrings of Madame de . . . directed by Max Ophuls.
  • English 12: Listening to Dead People

    English 12 Logistics
    The English Department will offer three two-trimester course options to seniors:
    • Panopticon Prime: Privacy, Surveillance, & Digital Citizenship
    • Comedies of Courtship
    • Listening to Dead People
    Students will rank their preferences first, second, and third when they register. While we will make every effort to accommodate student preferences, both scheduling conflicts and the necessity of maintaining a favorable student-to-teacher ratio will mean that some students will be enrolled in a second choice and a few may be enrolled in their third choice for English 12.

    Listening to Dead People

    Telling a story from the perspective of the dead or creating a character with whom dead people communicate makes possible the ultimate retrospective narration--whether such speakers communicate honestly about life, or they remain so enmeshed in life that they confirm their biases, or they struggle with the meaning of their lives, or they do penance for their misdeeds, or they speak from within a faith tradition, or they speak from the void itself. Some of these non-corporeal speakers may be spirits, some may be hallucinations, and some may be echoes in print, recording devices, or social media.

    At their worst, narratives from the place between life and eternity promise inanely that everything will be okay. We won’t read those books! At their best these narratives challenge us to see that the unexamined life is wasted; that we must accept ourselves and others; that it is difficult to see ourselves as the object of others’ consciousnesses; that right actions are rarely easy and that wrong actions often seem right; that life is more complex, difficult, and beautiful than we ever dreamed; and that everything will not be even vaguely okay unless we make it so.

    How do we do that? Join us and join the debate!

    To explore these texts and debate their implications, we will explore aspects of Buddhist, Christian, and other belief systems, and we will consider the intersections of those beliefs with funerary practices, everyday acts, philosophy, and big questions about existence and reality.

    We will explore various stories of the dead told in various ways, refine our skills as readers and analytical writers, and spin a few tales--some fictional, some factual--from beyond the grave.

    Texts may include: “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” Thomas Gray (1751), The Posthumous Memoir of Bras Cubas , Machado de Assis (1881), Spoon River Anthology, Edgar Lee Masters (1914), “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” T.S. Eliot (1915), Our Town, Thornton Wilder (1938), No Exit, Jean Paul Sartre (1944), The Third Policeman, Flann O’Brien (1967), Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987), A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozecki (2013), Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders (2017), Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward (2017), and Where Reasons End, Yiyun Li (2019).

    Film and TV may include: Sunset Boulevard, dir. Billy Wilder (1950), Beetlejuice, dir. Tim Burton (1988), Donnie Darko, dir. Richard Kelly (2001), and “Silence in the Library” and “Forests of the Dead” (2008) from the Dr. Who series.
  • Advanced Placement English Exams

    During the spring semester, Juniors and Seniors who wish to take the AP Language and Composition exam and/or the AP Literature and Composition exam may take advantage of an after-school review program in the appropriate AP English test-taking strategies. These sessions will be provided by the English Department.

English: Minor Courses

List of 10 items.

  • The Vision: Multiple Views, Rich Media

    3 meetings per seven-day cycle/2 credits.

    Open to grades 10-12.

    Enrollment in the course is by application only. Enrollment will be limited to 12 students, including two editors-in-chief (who have already been selected), three managing editors (to be selected from current sophomores for a two-year commitment in junior year and senior year, when they will serve as editors-in-chief), two literary editors, two art editors, one web editor, and one media/sound editor. When applying, students should indicate for which role or roles they feel they are best suited.

    Past experience with InDesign or a similar graphics program is a plus, though not a requirement, and students should mention what relevant experience they have in their applications. This course will involve students creating a year-long presentation of Hackley creative writing and visual arts through print, web, and digital media.  

    Students will begin by soliciting, evaluating, and editing literature and artwork for inclusion in a new online literary and art magazine. They will help create and manage a basic online posting system on the Hackley website, and they will work as editors to support the online presence of these materials—both for internal and external audiences-with regular bi-weekly postings.

    Students will select the best of the art and literature gathered for online presentation and will include this work in the printed publication.

    Students will learn to use the InDesign graphics program to develop and manage visual layouts. They will design the printed publication and see it through all phases of editing, proofing, and print production. They will also have to work within a budget, which will necessitate creative decision making as they bring their vision (pun intended) into reality. And they will be required to support and meet frequent deadlines for various components and phases of the project, culminating with delivery in the spring of The Vision publication.

    In addition, The Vision will offer published students the opportunity to read their work (or have it read) for an audio CD that will accompany the printed magazine. Students working on the publication will help support the recording process and oversee the creation of the CD.

    Throughout the process of presenting both online and print versions of The Vision, students will learn to combine and manipulate different types of media such as text, audio, and graphics. They will employ microphones, scanners, and other input devices to gather information. While students will be enrolled based on the application for specific roles in the editorial structure, where they will hold primary responsibility, students will participate in and learn all aspects of the project.
  • Collaborative Storytelling and Role-Play Gaming

    3 meetings per seven-day cycle/ 2 credits.
    Enrollment limited.

    This interdisciplinary course will use roleplay gaming and collaborative worldbuilding as a means to analyze literature and historical periods, write creative fiction, and foster social learning. The structure of course units will involve building a fictionalized world and characters based on literary and historical texts and films, and then roleplaying scenes and scenarios to foster ideas for individual student writing and group presentations.

    In addition to role-playing, creative writing, and making presentations for class, students will learn about game system creation, reflect on metagaming, and lead games as the head storyteller—which requires public speaking and improvisation skills.

    Potential game modules may include Collaborative Worldbuilding by Trent Hergenrader, Vampire: The Masquerade by White Wolf, Dungeons and Dragons by Wizards of the Coast, Star Wars: Age of Rebellion by Fantasy Flight Games, and Dread by The Impossible Dream, among others.
  • Sophomore Seminar in Creative Writing

    3 meetings per seven-day cycle/2 credits
    Open to sophomores.

    This is a course for those who think they can’t write creatively and for those who think maybe they can. Our major goal is that students become comfortable not only writing, but also talking about what they and others have written.

    Some topics for writing will come from the teacher, and some from the students, but there will also be free writing without a particular topic and writing in which individuals choose their own topics.
  • Foundations of Creative Writing

    3 meetings per seven-day cycle/2 credits

    Open to juniors and seniors; open to sophomores with special permission of the Department Head. Enrollment limited to two sections.

    Foundations of Creative Writing students are required to keep a journal and to carry a small notebook in which they jot down thoughts, observations, overheard dialogue, or anything else that might be useful material in their creative writing. In addition, they have weekly assignments of varying lengths that involve them in a variety of writing techniques and subjects. The class meets three times a cycle to analyze and critique assignments, and to talk about writing.
  • Advanced Creative Writing

    3 meetings per seven-day cycle/2 credits

    Prerequisite: Foundations of Creative Writing or special permission of Department Head

    “Life, friends, is boring,” writes John Berryman in his fourteenth Dream Song. “We must not say so.” And yet, clearly was Berryman compelled to do so, in this poem and the 384 other poems that make up his masterwork. The Dream Songs is many things – confessional, angry, sullen, sensual, jazzy, offensive, compassionate, elegiac – but it is first and foremost a work that is inimitably Berryman’s. Advanced Creative Writing, then, will provide a setting for proven (but still learning) writers to explore those topics, themes, ideas, and utterances they feel compelled to put to page. It is a course in which students will learn the further use of the creative tools they will need in composing what might turn out, one day, to be their own masterworks. It is a course that will train creative writers to recognize  creative voice – in canonical writers, in each other, and in themselves.

    Students will read and write in a range of creative writing genres (including poetry, short fiction, plays and screenplays, and song lyrics), but they will also focus on a self-selected topic or aspect of craft – akin to the sort of concentration a student might develop and pursue in an AP art studio course. The workshop experience will be the cornerstone of the course: students will submit their creative pieces for peer review and discussion.

    Peer creative writers will read those works prior to the workshop, and prepare some feedback in advance. As personal reflection helps foster the development of a distinct unique voice, students will reflect in various ways on their own works and creative processes. Finally, students will encounter a variety of creative practices by reading widely from canonical and contemporary sources (which may include volumes from The Best American Poetry series and literary journals such as Poetry, American Poetry Review, and Tin House). The course may include occasional texts about the writing process (such as Dillard’s The Writing Life, Hugo’s The Triggering Town, and Dobyns’s Best Words, Best Order).

    The pre-requisite for Advanced Creative Writing 124 is Creative Writing 123. In exceptional cases, students who have not satisfied this requirement may apply for departmental approval with a writing sample.
  • Independent Research in English and History

    3 meetings per seven-day cycle/ 2 credits.
    Open to Juniors and Seniors.

    IREH offers students the opportunity to conduct advanced research and writing at the college level under the guidance of English and History faculty. Students will develop their own topics or research questions, review the scholarly literature in the relevant discipline(s), understand and employ the research methodologies relevant to their research, and write on the research question, ultimately producing significant research essays.

    Students may choose to research and write on questions in English or History, or they may develop interdisciplinary questions touching on both. While much research can be carried out using resources available at Hackley, we will support students in developing relationships with scholars whose own work is relevant to the students’ research.

    Students may complete the course in one academic year, or, should their research require it, and with approval of the relevant instructors and department chairs, may continue the course for a second year.

    Enrollment in IREH is by application to the relevant department(s). Students wishing to pursue research in English should direct an application to the English Department Head. Students wishing to pursue research in History should direct an application to the History Department Head. Students wishing to do interdisciplinary research in both departments should direct applications to both Department Heads.

    Students should submit at the time of course registration an application consisting of a short statement (approximately 250 words) explaining why they would like to pursue this course of study and what topic they think they might like to explore. Department Heads will then seek the recommendation of the students’ current teachers in the appropriate disciplines.
  • Foundations of Reading, Writing, and Thinking

    3 meetings per seven-day cycle /2 credits.

    Open to all Upper School students with preference to freshmen, sophomores, and juniors.

    Focused on the practical, immediately useful basics of writing, “Foundations of Reading, Writing, and Thinking” is intended for students who want to improve their skills as readers and writers.

    Language allows us to communicate our ideas and to learn those of others. The more skillfully we put our ideas into words, the better we can understand ourselves and the world around us. Focused on practical reading, writing, and thinking skills, the goal of this course is to help upper school students develop and strengthen their reading and writing skills, and through them to strengthen their thinking and communication skills. We will examine both published and student-generated writing.

    We will begin by working on introductions and theses: what to include in them when writing and what to look for in them when reading. Next, we will work on organization and support of ideas within paragraphs and organization of paragraphs within essays: how to organize to express ideas clearly and how to read actively to discern the organization and meaning of others. Then we will take up the often-neglected conclusion, giving it the same attention. In the process, we will focus on close reading skills and on developing sensitivity to diction, syntax, and tone.

    As the year progresses—and in response to student needs—we will also work on editing and proofreading skills, which will involve learning the necessary grammar and punctuation. As much as possible we will deal with grammar through online exercises and quizzes. In the 2nd and 3rd trimesters, the teacher will provide students with individualized instruction and feedback.
  • Literature of Fishing, Wilderness, and Identity

    3 Meetings per cycle/2 credits

    In 1653 Isaac Walton wrote in his opening to The Compleat Angler that “Angling is an Art.” Since the publication of this book, writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Annie Proulx, Sebastian Junger, John Gierach, James Prosek, and Herman Melville have explored the sublime and absurd aspects of fishing, using it as a way to explore the meaning of the wilderness and the complications of human nature.

    Students will read fiction, nonfiction, and memoir in addition to looking at works of art and film. While the majority of the class will focus on reading and discussion, there will also be short reflective writing pieces and class presentations. And, of course, we’ll take a fishing trip or two!

    Texts may include: The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton, The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger, Big Two-Hearted River Parts 1 and 2 by Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, A River Runs Through It by Norman McLean, The Song of Wandering Aegnus by William Butler Yeats, Wyoming Stories by E. Annie Proulx, Fifth Grade Autobiography by Rita Dove, Moby Dick (excerpts only – “Loomings” and “Stubb Kills a Whale” + maybe one other), The River Why by David James Duncan, Walking by Henry David Thoreau, Arthur Rackham illustrations, and Hudson River School paintings, and possibly works by James Prosek and John Gierach.
  • Public Speaking

    3 meetings per eight-day cycle/2 credits

    Open to all students.

    (Note: This course does not satisfy the Visual/Performing Arts graduation requirement.)

    This course will assist students in developing better public-speaking skills through the use of voice, speech, and presentation techniques.

    Topics covered in this class will include:
    • Presenting informative, persuasive, storytelling, demonstration, impromptu and group speeches
    • Dealing with stage fright
    • Using one’s voice to one’s advantage
    • Relating to the audience

    Students will be required to write their own speeches throughout the course of the year. They will watch and analyze great inspirational speeches, as well as those of their classmates.
  • Psychology (Not Offered 2021-22)

    3 Meetings per cycle/2 credits

    Open to seniors and juniors. Preference to seniors. Juniors admitted as space may permit.

    Understanding human behavior, whether it be that of others or of oneself, is at the core of all of life’s endeavors. This introductory course in psychology is designed to examine human behavior, social development, and mental processes. Students will learn how biological heritage, environment, and experience influence development and behavior.

    Through examination of psychologists and their research, students will gain a clear understanding about what motivates human behavior and how we perceive, remember, adapt, solve problems, form relationships, and find our place in the world.

    Topics will include development, learning, memory, intelligence, motivation, emotion, personality, social psychology, and abnormal psychology. Theorists will include, but will not be limited to, Freud, Piaget, Erikson, Pavlov, Skinner, Bandura, Kohlberg, Gilligan, Maslow, Gardner, Rogers, Milgram, and Zimbardo. Students will unravel the history of the field of psychology and discover the importance of psychological experiments through examination of past studies and their design, as well as through creating and developing their own experiments.
    • Gleitman, Gross, and Reisberg, Psychology.
    • Hock, 40 Studies that Changed Psychology: Explorations into the History of Psychological Research
    • Oltmanns, Neale, Martin, and Davidson, Case Studies in Abnormal Psychology