LanGuage Arts & Humanities
Through a wide range of texts, unique courses, and a rigorous writing program, Maret teaches students to analyze and debate diverse topics in history and literature and challenges them to think creatively—and proactively—about the world around them.
Lively discussions, debates, and deep dives into challenging issues are hallmarks of our Humanities classes. Using a variety of thought-provoking strategies, teachers let the students take center stage, while encouraging courageous but congenial discussion. Innovative group protocols and stimulating activities create a fluid learning environment that challenges students to take nurtured risks.
UPPER SCHOOL students are required to earn seven credits in the humanities, choosing required courses and from a wide variety of history and literature electives.
The language arts program uses the organizational structure of Reading Workshop for the components for reading instruction. Each reading period includes a teacher-directed minilesson on a skill or strategy that proficient readers use. Students practice what they have learned with “just-right” book during independent reading time. They receive individualized instruction through student-teacher reading conferences and work with a partner to share ideas and support one another’s reading goals. In addition to whole-group lessons, students work to develop their decoding skills in word study and guided reading groups. They read a variety of genres including poetry, historical fiction, fantasy, and books that address social issues and are exposed to quality children’s literature through daily read-alouds. Reading Workshop fosters students’ ability to read, think, and converse about books on a daily basis and fosters a lifelong love of reading.
Writing is an integral part of every classroom every day. Looking at writing as a process, students learn to plan, execute, critique, and revise their own writing in a variety of styles and genres. Students are encouraged to express their unique creative visions and to find their own writing “voice” while utilizing English grammar conventions. Recognizing that reading and writing are complementary aspects of language arts, the program introduces children to writing in kindergarten. Again, they participate at the appropriate developmental level, writing in individual response journals, dictating stories, and contributing to class letters, reports, and books. Classrooms and hallways become showcases for children’s writing. One of the year’s biggest events is an annual Publishing Party, where all K–4 students present bound versions of their written work to parents and other important adults in the children’s lives.
The books the children create for the Publishing Party are particularly cherished because of the important role books play in the everyday life of the student. Reading is treasured in the Maret Lower School, and each K–4 child is expected to read independently (or to be read to) for at least 30 minutes per night. Reading thus becomes a part of the daily fabric of a child’s life both at school and at home.
While homeroom teachers provide instruction in language arts, social studies, and mathematics, their efforts are supplemented by subject-specific resource teachers in all grades. All K–4 students take music, library, art, science, physical education, and Spanish classes taught by disciplinary specialists. Classes in these “resource” areas meet frequently, and their lengths are age-appropriate..
The humanities block is the first half of a two-year interdisciplinary sequence. The students form the foundation for their middle school humanities experience through Readers’ Workshop, Writers’ Workshop, and history lessons. They focus on language arts and American history through a reading program of assigned fiction, poetry, biography, primary sources, and historical texts, and a writing program that includes creative work as well as analysis and synthesis of key topics. Each unit emphasizes the political and social diversity of the American story, including the beliefs and practices that those who became Americans brought with them. At the same time, historical fiction and primary sources help build an understanding of each time period, deepening and broadening students’ understanding of the issues.
“Identity” is the overarching theme that motivates study in fifth grade, allowing students to connect their own developing sense of identity to institutions of family, community, and nation as they explore fictional characters, biographies of eminent and lesser known Americans, and the social and historical development of the United States. In addition, the fifth-grade course explores the theme of “freedom” (including limits to and constraints on freedom), as students examine key moments in early American history, such as the Colonial Era, the American Revolution, and the writing of the Constitution, along with the stories of Native Americans, African Americans, and others who struggled for autonomy and freedom as they contributed to the developing nation.
The course emphasizes writing of all kinds, helping students become familiar with informal and formal modes of composition. Students write a memoir, a short story, short speeches, poetry, vignettes, and short scenes for plays. They also learn research, note-taking, paragraphing, punctuation, and revising skills for analytical writing. They practice reading, discussing, and debating works of literature that challenge them but are appropriate for their age and experience. Fifth graders and sixth graders participate in an American Experience festival incorporating historical research and oral history. Texts include Social Studies Alive! America’s Past, Carbone’s Blood on the River; Fleischman’s Seedfolks; and Philbrick’s Freak the Mighty.
In the sixth-grade English course, students continue to expand their writing skills. Students write historical fiction, a memoir, short speeches, poetry, vignettes, and short scenes for plays. They also hone research, note-taking, paragraphing, punctuation, and revising skills for analytical writing. They practice reading, discussing, and debating works of literature that challenge them but are appropriate for their age and experience. In the spring, the sixth grade travels to New York City to visit Ellis Island and other pertinent sites and participates in an American Experience festival incorporating historical research and oral history. Texts include Creech’s Walk Two Moons; Fleischman’s Bull Run; Gibson’s The Miracle Worker; Goodrich and Hackett’s play The Diary of Anne Frank; Lowry’s The Giver; and Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry.
Students extend their skills through language arts and the study of American history from before the Civil War to the present. Sixth graders experience separate history and English courses, although the teachers collaborate. Each unit emphasizes the political and social diversity of the American experience, including the beliefs and practices that those who became Americans brought with them. At the same time, historical fiction and primary sources help build an understanding of each time period, deepening and broadening students’ understanding of the issues.
In their humanities classes, sixth graders continue to explore the theme of “identity” and develop the theme of “the journey,” reading fiction and biographies about migrating and travelling characters set against the backdrop of America’s complex journey from the pre-Civil War era to the present, from an agrarian nation to an industrialized world power, and from an imperfect democracy to a more inclusive one. Field trips to national landmarks and historical sites, as well as to D.C. neighborhoods and community centers, help students understand the role their own city has played in American history, as well as how the diverse people who have lived in D.C. have sought and achieved freedom, autonomy, and identity in different eras.
Empathy, integrity, and the politics of belonging are the big ideas that percolate through English 7. We focus on close reading and using textual evidence to craft and support an argument. The novels we read deal with issues of belonging and inclusion, nonconformity and justice, and individuality and identity, and students are asked to explore the issues that surface in their readings while also recognizing connections between the characters’ and their own lives. Students work intently on understanding the mechanics for proper writing while also developing their voices as writers. They have frequent writing assignments, including formal essays, informal freewrites, and creative writing. Students also have numerous opportunities for oral expression, including debates, formal and informal presentations, dramatic recitation, and reading aloud. All the while, students explore abstract thinking and make thematic connections between their ideas and evidence from the texts. The reading list includes The Circuit, by Francisco Jimenez and Esperanza Rising, by Pam Munoz Ryan (summer reading), To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee; No More Strangers Now, by Tim McKee and Annie Blackshaw; Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai; Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury; A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare.
Seventh-grade social studies take a regional approach to the world’s physical and cultural geography. Students examine the diverse geography, history, cultures, and economies of Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, while building critical reading, writing and research skills. A major theme of the course is how the physical environment shapes human cultures, and vice-versa. In light of course topics, students seek to understand contemporary global challenges, such as overpopulation, poverty, political oppression and revolutions, and water shortages. Students hone their skills through a variety of assessments—including essays, formal reports, debates, and collaborative projects. Highlights include Prezi projects on the Arab Spring uprisings and a culminating Global Issues Day, in which students research and present to the school community information about a country of their choice, with a focus on water issues and potential solutions in that country.
English 8: The Individual & Society
Designed to develop reading, writing, and grammar skills, English 8: The Individual and Society, draws partly from texts from the ancient world (to link with students’ study of world history) and partly from more recent works. As varied as the texts are, each raises questions about society’s impact on the individual and on the individual’s decision to conform or not. Students write frequently, including brief condensed assignments, as well as long papers, projects, journals, and creative responses to the literature. A focus of the course is the art of persuasion, and students produce both written persuasive essays as well as a persuasive documentary film. In the final month, the course is modeled after a writing workshop. Students create poems, essays, and stories to submit for a final project: a literary magazine that features work from every student. Texts include Golding’s Lord of the Flies; Homer’s The Iliad; Things Fall Apart from Achebe, Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Guene, Alexie’s The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, Zusak’s The Book Thief, and selected short stories and poetry. Students also participate in book circles throughout the year.
The eighth-grade course in world history surveys the development of civilization from Paleolithic times through the High Middle Ages. The course focuses on the complex and evolving relationships between humans and the environment, humans and other humans, and humans and ideas. The course also emphasizes the question of how we “know” what we know; where historical information comes from; and how we know it is reliable. Civilizations studied include Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, Greece, Rome, medieval Europe, and Africa. Our major projects, the Uluburun Shipwreck project, an essay VoiceThread project on African cultures, a Pixton project about creation myths, and the Silk Road project, focus on the interconnectedness of ancient civilizations. We also study world religions and philosophies, including Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Christianity, and Islam, from a historical perspective. We supplement our primary text, History Alive! The Ancient World and Beyond and The Medieval World and Beyond with a variety of other primary and secondary sources.
REQUIREMENTS: Seven credits
- English 9: Elements of Literature
- History 9: Shaping of the Modern World
- English 10
- United States History
- Comedy and Satire
- Coming of Age in the Modern World
- Comparative Literature
- Contemporary American Literature
- Etymology of Scientific Terms (MSON)
- Law, Culture, and Society
- Literature and Theories of Knowledge
- Media & Literature
- Philosophy: The Nature of Evil (MSON)
- Philosophy in Pop Culture (MSON)
- Religion and Literature
- Style and Literature
- Technology & Identity (MSON)
- World Literature
SOCIAL SCIENCE ELECTIVES
- Accelerated United States History
- Advanced Economics (MSON)
- American Food System (MSON)
- Art History: From Venus to Vera (MSON)
- Black America
- Civil Liberties
- Environmental Bioethics (MSON)
- Environmental History and Philosophy
- Globalization and the Modern World
- Human Geography
- Mapping Inequity in DC
- Medical Bioethics (MSON)
- Music History: History of Rock and Roll (MSON)
- Topics in Psychology
- Survey of American Art (MSON)
The Humanities Department offers courses that explore the human condition in a variety of forms, including literature, history, art, psychology, economics, philosophy, religion, and film. Its course offerings reflect the richness of human experience and expression. At the same time, the courses demonstrate the interconnectedness of the humanities, in ways that may include interdisciplinary courses, interdepartmental courses, independent study, and varying methods and content within individual courses. The department strives to broaden and deepen each student’s understanding of the universality of ideas, themes, and images, while emphasizing the uniqueness of particular works and events.
The Humanities Department offers courses that meet the needs of students with varied abilities, backgrounds, and interests. The courses have four clear goals: careful reading; crisp, clear writing; critical thinking; and articulate speaking. With these goals always in mind, students seek first to improve reading comprehension, interpretation, analysis, and synthesis. Second, students are encouraged to develop clear, persuasive, accurate, and imaginative ways of writing. Third, students engage in critical thinking, through close analysis, rigorous questioning, and lively debate. Finally, students practice public speaking through discussion, debate, speeches, and oral presentations. The department strongly emphasizes class discussion to encourage respectful dialogue and advocates creative approaches to analysis, writing and problem-solving.
Seven Humanities credits are required for graduation. Most students accrue eight and some even nine credits. Of these, English 9: Elements of Literature, History 9: Shaping of the Modern World, English 10, and U.S. History are required for every student. In addition to these four required courses, students must take at least three electives: one elective that encompasses history/social studies, one that encompasses literature, and a third elective of their choice. In all courses, students are expected to write, frequently and at length, in the form of journals, short essays (1–2 pages), and longer analytic or interpretive essays (5–10 pages). All history electives and English 10 require at least one substantial research paper.
Analysis and imaginative response to literature and history are our highest priority. Students have individual conferences with advisors before building their schedules to ensure that courses are appropriate to students’ interests and needs.