English at the Senior School
“I believe that the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity, is daring to dare.” Maya Angelou
Creativity and critical thinking continue to lie at the heart of English lessons at St Mary’s. This year, the English department has placed extra focus on the High Performance Learning concepts of taking risks and daring to fail. In striving to promote the importance of risk-taking and resilience, we have encouraged our pupils more than ever to plough their own furrows, find their own voices and respond with their own informed and well-articulated opinions; for, if girls can be more comfortable trusting in their own ideas and interpretations, they can become even more accomplished readers, writers, critical thinkers and learners.
Breaking boundaries, making links and taking risks have taken place throughout our English Language and Literature lessons, but they have also occurred this year through several collaborations with other departments, such as during the two integrated learning days with Years 7 and 8. In Year 7, the girls used their creative voices to make a stand about a social or global issue that mattered to them, inspired by Martin Luther King’s famous speech, and making links with History and Politics. Year 8 pupils, exploring the idea of the Renaissance (and making links to History, Art and Classics) investigated how classical myths could be re-born and re-invented through modern storytelling.
In addition, higher up the school, the English and Classics departments teamed up with students from Hills Road for a Sixth Form seminar on tragedy, led by visiting speaker Dr Jennifer Wallace from the University of Cambridge. Dr Wallace presented on notions of tragedy from Shakespeare to 9/11 to a room packed with Classics and English Literature A Level students; excellent questions were posed by both English and Classics students from St Mary’s and Hills Road, with interesting connections made across a range of fields.
Links have been forged internationally and environmentally, with the launch of the British Council's Unexpected Voices international speech writing competition. We ran our own in-house round of the competition, in order to choose our winning speech, and our partner school (Jai Hind Primary School in South Africa) did the same. Our in-house winner, Marina, presented her impassioned, informative and engaging speech during an assembly in the spring term.
Wider global issues were also tackled by our creative writing scholars, who entered the HART Prize for Human Rights and the Global Acts of Unity competition. One of our scholars, Anna, discovered in April that she had been shortlisted as a finalist in the competition, with her poem chosen as one of the top 25 poems out of 2400 entries!
World Book Day in March provided an exciting opportunity for Years 8 and 9 to listen to and learn from the visiting Carnegie nominated author Louisa Reid, whose latest novel, Gloves Off, was published earlier this year. Daring to take risks herself, Lousia’s novel is written in verse form, and she discussed with the girls how she made the leap from prose to verse, and how she used the idea of boxing to tackle important issues such as bullying. The girls then had the chance to enjoy writing workshops in groups, creating their own daring pieces of writing that broke the mould and took risks on the page, with several groups brave enough to share the beginnings of their brilliant pieces at the end of the session.
Theatre trips started well with an A Level English trip to see ‘Othello’ in January, which gave the girls a chance to see a modern interpretation of the text on stage, thereby making links with their own study of tragedy at A Level and the seminar by Dr Wallace earlier in the year. However, at GCSE, the theatre trip to see ‘An Inspector Calls’ had to be cut short due to the beginning of ‘lockdown’. We hope to be back to the theatre soon, enjoying interpretations of both set texts and those beyond the curriculum. In the meantime, we have been delighted at the streaming services provided by so many theatres across the country.
The English department has also been busy with the enthusiastic Year 10 members of our debating club. The year got off to a great start with a friendly debate against The Leys. The motion, chosen by The Leys, was ‘This House believes that Brexit is a nightmare’. With several supporters in tow, the team gave an excellent performance and enjoyed the event so much that they’ve asked for a return debate as soon as possible! In addition, in the Spring Term, two Year 10 teams also entered for the public speaking competition run by the English Speaking Union, hosted by Bassingbourn Village College. We are particularly proud of Amelie, who was awarded ‘Outstanding Personality’ of the evening!
English in lockdown
Learning in lockdown has come with its own challenges in the summer term, but what has remained true is that emotional engagement, investigation, genuine thought, questioning and discussing are all possible online and continue to be essential processes needed for deeper understanding when it comes to English Language and English Literature.
We’ve also loved hearing about the surge in reading taking place at home! In this way. taking risks, daring to fail, and being both critical and creative continue to be alive and kicking in the English classroom at St Mary’s, whether we are united in one space or connected across many.
St Mary's Debating Club
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