Archives for category: Brearley

Excerpt from Sandra Stotsky’s The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum:


The Brearley School is a highly regarded private school for academically strong girls in Manhattan. Brearley’s intellectually rigorous and coherent literature curriculum is the kind of curriculum that should be available in our public schools to a majority of students starting in grade 8 or 9. The amont of writing done and responded to by teachers in thie particular private school may well reflect the low teacher-student ratios that high tuition makes possible, but the rationale for the titles assigned is independent of tuition costs.

Grade 6

  • Folk Tales (summer reading continued into the fall): A large number are read and a few are selected for class discussion. They include: “The Valiant Chattee-Maker” (Indian), “The Young Head of the Family” (Chinese), and “The Wonderful Tar-Baby” (African-American).
  • Ballads: Five Scottish ballads—“Sir Patrick Spens,” “Edward, Edward,” “Mary Hamilton,” “The Twa Corbies,” and “Barbra Allen,” the last two having available English counterparts.
  • Book of Genesis, King James Version, with some abridgement.
  • Greek mythology, based on selections from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, The Iliad, and The Homeric Hymns.
  • The Odyssey

The grade 6 curriculum, like the curricula of other grades, is the product of the collective wisdom of many teachers over many years. All Brearley teachers teach at three or four different grade levels simultaneously. While such variety refreshes the teacher, it serves a more important purpose. It means that students receive instruction from teachers who know what their students will go on to learn and what they have already learned; texts read in one grade can be confidently referred to in another grade.

Brearley’s middle school literature curriculum (part 1)
Brearley’s middle school literature curriculum (part 2)

The unit on Scottish ballads, which students must read aloud, legitimizes so-called ‘misspellings,’ as in the opening to “Sir Patrick Spens”:

The king sits in Dumferling tone,
Drinking the blude-reid wine,
“O what call I get guid sailor,
To sail this scrip of mine?”

Students enjoy pronouncing the Scottish “r” and the now-silent “k” and guttural “gh” in “knight.” More important, since words need to be looked at very closely in the pronunciation of such sounds and often analogized to make their meaning clear, reading ballads aloud forces students to pay close attention to each word and phrase, such attention being precisely the skill they will need when they begin to look at more sophisticated literary texts.

The ballads themselves are highly dramatic—full of murder and betrayal—and highly elliptical, with plot elements that must be inferred. Such reading material turns students into little Inspector Clouseaus, training them to read between the lines, to make inferences from the evidence before them—what was the “counsel” given Edward by his “mither”?–who murdered the “new-slain knight”?—and to find corroborative evidence within the rest of the ballad for whatever conclusions they reach. Comparing two versions of the same ballad provides additional experience in close reading.

Students then read a somewhat abridged version of the King James Book of Genesis, taught as a narrative rather than a religious text.

The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum by Sandra Stotsky

Core Knowledge ELA (poems, stories, fables): Grade 1
Core Knowledge ELA (assigned reading & topics of study): Grade 8
Brearley’s middle school literature curriculum (part 1)
Brearley’s middle school literature curriculum (part 2)