Many consider the fall of English 12, a required class in personal narrative, to be the signature course of the Holton English Department. It is a major departure from the other levels of required English where the girls study great writers, practice expository writing , develop a broader vocabulary, and review English grammar. All senior sections use Ken Macrorie’s Telling Writing as the major text, and teachers supplement with articles from newspapers, The New Yorker, and a variety of other sources.
Macrorie presents a sequence of “W” assignments, with “W” the abbreviation for “Writing.” The first Ws are “free,” where the goal is to shake off inhibitions about writing and let natural instincts take over. Any topic is acceptable, and students may roam from one topic to another without constraint.
The direction of the class soon moves to narrative, or the telling of stories. In the world outside of Holton, these stories are sometimes called “creative non-fiction,” a label which suggests that the stories are generally true but may need to be modified for literary purposes.
Most girls discover that they have much rich material for these more focused Ws, material which includes the people, places, and experiences which have meant the most to them. They tell stories of family and friends; travel, vacations, camp; and activities such as sports, drama, student government, and clubs. They may write about issues that face them or their families and political issues which affect the community. Some write about heart-wrenching conflict or serious medical problems, and others focus on the ups and downs of friendship and a changing dynamic with extended family. Most girls end up writing about all of the above as they try to navigate a key transition point in their young lives.
Read student writing in Holton's digital literary magazine Scrolling.