ENGLISH CURRICULUM

It's not just about the classes here at FSHA. In addition to a full slate of class offerings, including 24 Advanced Placement classes and electives that cover all disciplines, learning extends throughout and beyond the classroom.

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English Program Overview

The English department guides students through an in-depth program in critical reading, literary analysis, interpretation, discourse and writing. The department offers nine courses on two levels — the standard courses English 1-4 and the advanced courses, which comprise Advanced English 1, Honors English 2, AP English 3 (Language and Composition), and AP English 4 (Literature and Composition). Journalism is offered as an elective. In fulfillment of the four-year English requirement, students read, discuss, analyze and write in response to over 40 major works from the canons of world, American and British literature. With the aim of developing strong competencies in analytical, argumentative, creative and personal writing, all English courses are writing-intensive and deeply supportive of independent thinking and original expression. Each course includes instruction in vocabulary acquisition, grammar, usage, mechanics and style; additionally, each year's curriculum includes a substantial research assignment. The overarching goal of the department is to give our students every opportunity to become effective readers, thinkers and writers.

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English Courses

List of 12 frequently asked questions.

  • Creative Writing

    Prerequisite: None

    The goal of Creative Writing is to encourage students to explore a variety of types of written forms. The class is flexible enough to accommodate a range of interests, from short fiction to poetry to personal writing to screenwriting, depending on who is enrolled. Over the course of the semester, students will respond to a series of prompts built around class discussions and short readings. The prompts are designed to encourage low-pressure experiments in creativity. In addition, students will choose two of their shorter exercises to expand into longer works to submit to workshop. Through the prompts, students will learn to stretch their voices in new ways. In the workshops, students will learn how to think deeply about their work.
  • AP English & Language Composition

    Prerequisite: Prerequisite: A- in English II, B+ in Honors English II and department approval.

    The third year of English includes integrating literature, writing, grammar and vocabulary. The course seeks to improve the students' control of the skills of communication: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Offering the students a variety of texts—both fiction and non-fiction—from the American canon to read and enjoy, the course aims at making them critical readers with fertile imaginations and a keen interest in reading. The writing skills of the previous years are reviewed and expanded. While studied as a separate unit, vocabulary is also incorporated with literature. Students are asked to consider the role writing plays in the field of American Studies. 

    This AP course includes more challenging reading and writing assignments aimed at preparing the students for successful completion of the Advanced Placement English Language examination given in May. Many more short writings are also included with the focus on rhetoric, analysis, and support of ideas. Emphasis is placed on usage of the language. Students are taught advanced research skills and time in spent learning how to use their grammar books and research guides as learning tools.
  • AP English & Literature Composition

    Prerequisite: A- in English III or B+ in AP English III and department approval.

    Advanced Placement English IV includes challenging reading and writing assignments aimed at refining the students’ critical thinking and communication skills and preparing the students for the successful completion of the Advanced Placement examination in literature and composition given in May. Required texts include novels, plays, poetry, short stories, and essays from both British and world literature. Students will write on every work they read, focusing on the details and style of the text. Vocabulary and rhetorical techniques enrich the curriculum as students incorporate both into the development and control of their own writing voice and into their increasingly sophisticated analysis of the literature.
  • English I

    Prerequisite: None

    A one-year course, English I integrates grammar, writing, literature and vocabulary. Grammar lessons focus on an understanding of the basic sentence structures in the English language and of the grammatical rules that follow from those. The course also provides instruction in and opportunities for written expression, helping the students develop their ability in writing sentences, paragraphs, and full formal essays. In literature the students are introduced to the basic elements of the various literary genres for the purpose of developing their critical reading skills. Besides being taught as a separate unit, vocabulary is also integrated with literature. Vocabulary and grammar skills are also taught in preparation for the PSAT taken in the sophomore and junior years. During the summer prior to English I, accepted freshman students complete an independent reading assignment. This assignment is due the first week of school in September and students will receive credit.
  • Advanced English I

    Prerequisite: Superior score on HSPT entrance exam and department approval.

    Advanced English I is an intensive course in writing and critical reading. Students should come to the course having already mastered basic grammar skills and elementary expository composition. A genre-based course, Advanced English I exposes the students to poetry, a play, novels, and short stories. Requiring students to do both imaginative and analytical writing, the course focuses on topics and skills that are relevant to the writing process: grammar, syntax, usage, mechanics, vocabulary acquisition, critical thinking, analysis, and interpretation. Reading challenging works of literature, students learn how to structure and lead discussions based on the details of the text. Lively class discussions and smaller group work represent an important part of the development of critical thinking and expression. The Advanced English I course requires significant reading, and students are expected to assimilate material rapidly. Prior to the beginning of the school year, students complete two summer reading books and write an essay due when they begin school. This is the first of two courses intended as preparation for AP English III and AP English IV.
  • English II

    Prerequisite: Successful completion of English I.

    English II is a one-year course in world literature that strengthens the grammar, writing, literature and vocabulary skills acquired in grade 9. Writing assignments include short pieces, in-class timed writing, paragraph-length responses to reading, longer analytical essays, and a research paper. These assignments focus on the development of rhetorical structure and argumentative technique, in order to prepare students for the upcoming research program and the final two years of high school English. Literature assignments come from a variety of challenging works–-novels, essays, short stories, plays, personal narratives and poetry—that depict the different ways people interact with both foreign cultures and their own. Discussion is a central element of the course.
  • English II - Honors

    Prerequisite: A- in English I or B+ in Advanced English I and department approval.

    Honors English II, while covering much of the same material as English II, (literature, writing, grammar and PSAT preparation) is designed to include a greater depth of study of the material. Students entering the course will be expected to have a solid foundation in English grammar and to have advanced writing skills. Reading and writing assignments will be more varied, with an emphasis placed on further development of critical thinking skills. This course is strongly recommended as a preparation for AP English III.
  • English III

    Prerequisite: Successful completion of English II.

    Integrating literature, writing, grammar and vocabulary, English III, a one-year course, seeks to improve the students' control of the skills of communication: reading, writing, speaking and listening. Offering the students a variety of texts—including poetry, fiction, and non-fiction—from the American canon to read and enjoy, the course aims at making them critical readers with fertile imaginations and a keen interest in reading. The writing skills of the previous years are reviewed and expanded. While studied as a separate unit, vocabulary is also incorporated with literature. Students are asked to consider the role writing plays in the field of American Studies.
  • English IV

    Prerequisite: Successful completion of English III.

    While maintaining an emphasis on critical reading and thinking, and a reinforcement of the essential skills of grammar, usage, writing, and vocabulary, English IV will now be based on a thematic senior seminar model. This change in curriculum is intended to expose the students to concentrated semester seminar courses with an emphasis on a specific thematic area, thereby granting the students a degree of choice for both subject matter and instructor and introducing them to the type of course selection they will enjoy in college. Courses may rotate from year to year, giving the students a greater variety of content and exposure to faculty, while retaining the focus on core skills.

    Modern & Contemporary Drama:
    This course offers a survey of canonical and outsider American and European plays. It begins at the turn of the Nineteenth Century with A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen, the father of modern drama, and ends with plays recently performed in New York and London, notably A Doll’s House, Part II, by Lucas Hnath. In addition to reading the texts of plays we will watch live performances and film versions of certain plays. Drama--as the word suggests--brings to life the conflicts and tensions of historical and cultural moments with particularly intense vividness. Our focus in this course will be identifying how each play reveals and questions the social norms and politics of the cultural moment in which it was written. The course will continue to develop the basic English skills of literary analysis, analytical writing, grammar and vocabulary, while also developing students’ awareness of issues particular to drama such as production, set design, casting, and performance.

    School Stories:
    How are we shaped by the schools we attend? This is the big question at the heart of this course, which offers a survey of modern and contemporary works that explore the insular, fascinating, and sometimes sinister worlds of private schools. School stories as a genre are inevitably interested in the social and moral formation of the students who attend them and often center around life-changing moral decisions. Because they are (almost always) set in bastions of privilege and power, school stories also explore social belonging and rejection, particularly as it relates to class, race, and gender. This course will trace these big questions while continuing to develop the basic English skills of literary analysis, analytical writing, grammar and vocabulary.

    Literature of Los Angeles:
    Literature of Los Angeles is offered as a one-semester course. The course covers a variety of forms from Los Angeles’s literary tradition, including novels, poetry, essays, and films. The aim of the course is to use literary representations of Los Angeles not only to make critical readers and writers out of students, but to help students understand the themes that are central to the region in which they live, specifically Los Angeles as a racially mixed melting pot and Los Angeles as a dreamscape that blurs the lines between imagination and reality. In terms of skills, the course integrates the various language arts: critical reading, critical writing, grammar, and vocabulary. Written assignments, which include a research paper, are focused on critical analysis and independent thinking. In addition, usage, punctuation, and vocabulary are reviewed as a support to writing and as a means of helping students with college placement tests.

    Literature of the Americas:
    Literature of the Americas is offered as a one-semester course. The course will use examples of North American, Latin American, and Caribbean literature to explore the ideas and aesthetics that unify the region and comprise the New World. The course will pay particularly close attention to the Americas’ mixture of indigenous, European, and African cultures, and the course will use the perspective gained from examining this theme in Latin American and Caribbean literature to provide expanded perspective on the United States. In terms of skills, the course integrates the various language arts: critical reading, critical writing, grammar, and vocabulary. Written assignments, which include a research paper, are focused on critical analysis and independent thinking. In addition, usage, punctuation, and vocabulary are reviewed as a support to writing and as a means of helping students with college placement tests.
  • Journalism I

    Prerequisite: None

    Journalism is a one-year elective course. The class’s purpose is to publish the school newspaper, The Veritas Shield. Over the course of the year students will have the opportunity to write in a variety of forms that the newspaper publishes, including news reporting, opinion writing, feature writing, movie reviewing, and more. The paper is designed to be flexible and to accommodate the interests of the students in the class at the time. In addition to writing, Journalism I students will gain experience pitching article ideas, using InDesign for page layout, editing photos, soliciting advertisements, and managing circulation. 
  • Journalism II

    Prerequisite: Journalism I and department approval.

    Journalism II is a one-year elective course that builds on Journalism I (see separate course description). Second-year journalists can expect to take on more ambitious writing assignments than they did in their first year. They will also assume editing responsibilities. The Veritas Shield relies heavily on peer editing, a process in which second-year journalists assume leadership roles. In addition to providing feedback to peers, engaging in the editorial process means that second-year journalists have input on published content.
  • Journalism III

    Prerequisite: Journalism II and department approval.

    Journalism III is a one-year elective course that builds on Journalism I and Journalism II (see separate course descriptions). Third-year journalists can expect to take on significant leadership roles of the Veritas Shield. Leadership of the paper includes managing article pitch sessions, article assignments, the production calendar, the peer-editing process, page assignments, and the layout process. These responsibilities require substantial time outside of class. Leaders of the Shield will gain experience in a workplace-like setting as they learn to manage a team of writers and editors.

Can Instagram Help Students Understand a 19th-Century Novel?

by Dr. Emily Wilkinson, Ph.D.

When I was in high school (back in the olden days), if I wanted to carry on a covert conversation in class, I had to undertake the dangerous work of writing and passing a note. For my students, such furtive exchanges happen via iPhone and are as often pictures or videos as they are texts. Where I would have written a paragraph (in cursive handwriting) about how boring my English class was, they send a SnapChat video of the boredom in process.

Dr. Emily Wilkinson English teacher at FSHA
Ms. Wilkinson encourages students to create visual images to attain deeper insights to texts read in class
Of course my students — and Flintridge Sacred Heart students in general — are so enraptured by their studies that they would never do any such thing, but my point is more that our world is increasingly visual and that as responsible educators we have to reckon with this truth in our teaching: The world changes and so our classrooms and our practices as teachers must change.

They pick a particular scene or image from the text that they translate into an image— a photograph to be shared on our class Instagram. Their first task is collecting quotations from the scene: details of setting and mood, descriptions of the postures, props, and expressions of the characters in the scene. This task forces them to read with a rigor and depth of attention they may never have exerted before. It’s an exercise in slow, deep reading.
I am a teacher of English and literacy is still the heart of what I do: I teach reading and writing, and the cornerstones of my English IV course are canonical great books such as “Jane Eyre” and “Hamlet” and more contemporary classics such as Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go,” and Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God;” my students still learn grammar and vocabulary and strategies of argument.

Read more about Dr. Wilkinson's assignment and see examples of student work
"FSHA always challenged me to be a better student. The classes pushed me to expand my thinking and work hard. I'm ready for college because of the education I received here." —Kayla Grahn '15

English Faculty

List of 6 members.

  • Holly Hunnewell 

    English Dept. Chair / English Teacher
    626-685-8335
    Stanford University - A.B.
    Claremont Graduate University - M.Ed.
  • Mark Bernstein 

    English Teacher
    626-685-8592
    Georgetown University - BSFS
    University of California, Los Angeles - M.A.
    University of California, Los Angeles - PhD
  • Tom Dibblee 

    English / Journalism Teacher
    626-685-8300
  • Andrew Eisenstein 

    English Teacher
    626-685-8385
    University of Southern California - MA
    University of California: Santa Cruz - BA
  • Charlie Tercek 

    English Teacher
    626-685-8300
    Middlebury College - BA
    Loyola Marymount University - MA
  • Emily Wilkinson 

    English Teacher
    626-685-8516
    Stanford University - PhD
    Columbia - BA
Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy is an all girls' Catholic, Dominican, independent, college-preparatory day and boarding high school in the hills of La Cañada Flintridge. Overlooking Pasadena, FSHA educates girls from Los Angeles, Southern California and around the world for a life of faith, integrity and truth. 

Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy

440 St. Katherine Drive
La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011
High School Office: 626-685-8300
Admissions: 626-685-8521

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