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Composition and Analysis

Course Overview

Composition & Analysis focuses on textual analysis, creative and critical thinking, and written expression. The class is split into four thematic units: Fairy Tales and Archetypes, Activism and Leadership, Conformity and Individuality, and Heroes and Villains. Each unit offers a variety of texts to explore, including novels, short fiction and non-fiction, film, poetry, and drama. Particular emphasis is placed on compare/contrast analysis, analyzing symbolic and archetypal patterns, and poetry analysis, with a significant amount of practice offered in both short-form writing assignments and full-length essays. Essay assignments guide students through all stages of the writing process, including peer work-shopping and effective revision strategies. The class is designed to prepare students for the more advanced literary analysis classes they will be taking in the upper grades.

Course Content

Unit 1: Fairy Tales and Archetypes

In this unit students will develop a basic understanding of archetypes as a foundation for the analysis of literary symbolism. To this end, they will read a multitude of fairy tales to practice identifying and analyzing the archetypal characters, settings, conflicts, and situations present in said tales. In addition to the classic tales, students will also read poems that disrupt our traditional understanding of archetypes, and which also function to jumpstart our study of poetic form. Creative thinking is also encouraged, with students undertaking an art project, using visual symbols and archetypes to reflect their own identity. The unit begins with a diagnostic essay comparing four versions of Cinderella from different cultures and ends with a viewing and analysis of Disney’s Into the Woods.

Unit 2: Activism and Leadership

This is an inquiry-based unit, the guiding question for which is “How do you make the change you want to see in the world?” Throughout the unit we will explore the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a lens through which to view positive social change. We begin with a full-length essay assignment in which students will analyze an activism song from the 1960s, focusing on the archetypal imagery and symbolism the songwriters are using to convey their message of change (carrying over from Unit 1). After completion of the essay we undertake our first novel of the year, using a book-club format that encourages students to create and respond to their own questions about the book. The unit wraps up with readings and discussions about leadership qualities—with students participating and reflecting on a variety of leadership activities—and we conclude with a viewing and discussion of the film He Named Me Malala. In addition to these activities, students spend much of the unit working on a long-term project—“being the change” by petitioning for a cause they believe in. The unit is designed to empower students and show them how writing and communication skills can be an effective vehicle for change.

Unit 3: Conformity and Individuality

In this unit students will examine the seemingly dichotomous relationship between individuality and conformity. This is a writing-intensive unit, with a strong focus on textual analysis. We begin with our second full-length book, and students will write a series of six analytical paragraphs on this text, building skills with each subsequent submission. We then use that momentum to move on to the next major essay, an analysis of one of two Amy Tan stories. We complete the unit with more poetry analysis, looking at Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, and Emily Dickinson. Through the use of consistent short writing assignments (and one long one), this unit allows students significant practice in identifying strong evidence from a text and integrating said evidence into their own arguments.

Unit 4: Heroes and Villains

This unit wraps up our year-long exploration of archetypes by focusing on the Hero’s Journey. Students will learn about Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth and apply that knowledge to a variety of texts, including Star Wars and Macbeth. They will also learn about the variety of heroic archetypes and discuss how villainous archetypes might fit into this model. Students will examine their own journeys in a personal narrative essay, applying the Hero’s Journey to their own lives. This unit allows for analysis of texts from a variety of media, including performing Shakespearian scenes and watching professional performances, considering film-making techniques, and exploring graphic novels and comics. In addition, students are encouraged to pose their own subjects of study, suggesting popular heroes or villains that they would like to analyze with their classmates.