Lower School Language Arts
The preschool Language Arts curriculum develops our young learners’ speaking, listening, pre-reading, and pre-writing skills. Over the course of the school day, during class time, free choice, and outdoor play periods, preschoolers practice active listening and respectful speaking with their classmates and teachers. During Share Time, students share a meaningful object or story with the class and develop their public speaking and storytelling abilities. Preschool teachers model reading, proper care for books, and love of storytelling during daily Read Aloud. Students get creative with personal journals, in which preschoolers can draw and practice their letter-making skills in response to class prompts. As the year progresses, preschoolers grow more fluent in proper pencil grip, reading and writing their names, and the preliminary processes of decoding.
The pre-k Language Arts curriculum is dedicated to helping our young learners develop critical pre-reading, pre-writing, listening, and speaking skills. Students work individually and in small and large class groups to build their alphabet skills, phonemic awareness, sound and letter correspondence, and fine motor skills. By learning and playing in a print- and literature-rich environment, pre-k students come to see reading, writing, listening, and speaking as tools to facilitate deeper understanding. Pre-k students also begin participation in the school-wide handwriting program, Handwriting Without Tears, with a specific emphasis on uppercase letter formation.
The Kindergarten Language Arts program incorporates literacy skill-building into the class’s daily and weekly schedule. Over the course of this critical year, kindergartners develop in their conventional reading abilities, phonemic awareness, and love of books and storytelling. During the class-wide Read Aloud, teachers read books of all genres to students, who are prompted to look closely at pictures, structures of print, and the meaning behind text. Kindergartners read book on their own or in groups during the Reading Workshop segment of the curriculum. In Writing Workshop sessions, students expand their storytelling and writing skills with writing that includes drawings and an increasing amount of written language. Throughout the year, teachers give individualized attention to all students, ensuring that each kindergartner progresses in her or his literacy at a comfortable and supported pace.
Language Arts is the cornerstone for all learning. The reading and writing skills first graders develop are vital in communicating with others and sharing ideas. Students develop their ability to identify and represent sounds, learn common spelling patterns, and increase their sight word vocabulary.
During Reading Workshop, we focus on developing our students’ metacognitive skills and encouraging the growth of voracious readers. First graders are asked, What does your brain do when you read? How does it feel to read with understanding? How can we make personal connections to the text? First graders study the behaviors of good readers and writers and learn approaches to improving their own reading and writing. Students are encouraged to incorporate these behaviors as they work independently or in small groups. As the year progresses, students develop greater accuracy and fluency, expand their vocabulary, and strengthen their comprehension skills.
In Writing Workshop, students write about everything from personal memoirs to nonfiction. First graders are encouraged to craft detailed vignettes about things that are true and important to them. As they write, students learn to refer to their “word wall” for standard spellings of high frequency words. In the process of writing, students develop phonemic awareness by listening for and representing the sounds in words they are writing, and grammatical awareness as they learn when to appropriately use upper and lower case letters.
In second grade Language Arts, our focus is on growing as creative and conscientious communicators. Students gain confidence in their reading abilities as they participate in Reading Workshop. Students can read at their own “just right level,” chat with book partners, or conference with their teacher. During Writer’s Workshop, students develop the building blocks for long-form thinking and writing. Each Workshop centers on a mini-lesson that focuses on a specific writing skill. After engaging with these lessons as a class, students are given the chance to test out these skills independently. Second graders write and publish many pieces of writing throughout the year, in genres ranging from journalism to poetry.
The third grade Language Arts curriculum ensures that students acquire reading and writing proficiency as they also develop a love of literature and self-expression through writing, oral presentations, and drama. Third graders develop their speaking skills in weekly Morning Meeting sharing and the annual Storytelling Festival, during which students share a meaningful story with the school community.
In third grade Reading Workshop, students learn important reading skills through individual and group learning. Each student reads at his or her “just right level.” The third grade reading C.A.F.E. — short for Comprehension, Accuracy, Fluency, and Expanding our Vocabulary–provides a set of skill-building “menu options” from which students can choose when reading. Class-wide reading workshop units present strategies for engaging with a wide variety of texts. Students learn the features of different genres, ranging from nonfiction to historical drama, and explore the best ways of thinking and talking about them.
Third grade Writing Workshop prepares students to think of themselves as writers and to envision new writing possibilities. Third graders gain writing skills and confidence through frequent “think aloud” journaling and writing-based units of study, during which students write memoirs, informational essays, and poetry. Our writing curriculum help students understand the craft of writing, from the nitty-gritty basics of spelling and punctuation to the higher-order concerns of organization, research, and the philosophy of communication.
In fourth grade Language Arts, school subjects become lifelong tools. Reading is not simply a set of skills to be mastered, but a rich medium for receiving information and experiences. Writing is not just a period in the school day, but a way of entering into a conversation. Fourth grade language arts is grounded in the familiar Reading and Writing workshop model, but our focus is increasingly on engaging with the world beyond the classroom.
During Reading Workshop, fourth graders expand their engagement with books. Students continue with individual reading time and reading responses. The focus of these responses is on strengthening fourth graders’ comprehension, accuracy, fluency, and vocabulary skills.
Students come together in small groups and as a class to discuss and build on each others’ reading experiences. As fourth graders’ comprehension and conversational abilities flourish, so does their desire to learn more about the world through reading. The fourth grade reading curriculum exposes our increasingly book-hungry students to genres ranging from poetry and performance to world history.
In Writing Workshop, students learn to create many of the same genres they discover through reading. Fourth graders work on a variety of writing projects, including free choice journal writing, realistic fiction, non-fiction research writing, persuasive essays, and poetry.
Throughout the language arts curriculum, students hone their thinking, listening, and speaking skills. As fourth graders share their own opinions and listen to others’, they learn to think critically and interact thoughtfully with diverse ideas. Students develop strong, confident speaking voices through oral presentations, a unit on storytelling, and the much-anticipated fourth grade play.
Middle School English
Fifth and Sixth Grade English class is foundationally conversational. By the time students enter fifth grade, most have mastered the foundations of reading comprehension. Our Middle School English program therefore focuses on teaching responsive reading and writing. Fifth and sixth graders read a text–a young adult science fiction novel, maybe, or a nonfiction book on current events–and ask questions like, What message is the author trying to communicate? What techniques does she use to get her point across? Who is the audience for this text? After reading and reflecting on a text individually and in groups, students consider different methods of communication they might use to respond to the original text. Maybe a sonnet? A research report? A comedy sketch? Students share their responses to texts in the form of literature circles, group work, and class discussions.
In the process of reading and responding to texts, fifth and sixth grade English students develop critical language arts skills, including the basic mechanics of prose and poetry, critical research skills, and how to read for meaning..
In Seventh Grade English, students ask, What does it mean to be courageous? What are we willing to try to accomplish in the face of great odds? These initial questions lead students into an exploration of heroism in Greek mythology and in modern times. In addition to selected myths, students study modern texts like Karen Harrington’s Courage for Beginners, The Diary of Anne Frank, and the film Whale Rider. During the second half of the course, students consider the relationship between identity and place by analyzing works from different historical and cultural perspectives; seventh graders read Langston Hughes’ poetry, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, and Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. Throughout the course, seventh graders practice their analytic thinking and writing skills and develop their understanding of literary devices such as theme, symbolism, and narrative voice.
In Eighth Grade English Class, students explore justice and ethics as they read about characters who dare to challenge social and political systems. Eighth graders begin the year with an investigation of dystopian societies in Lois Lowry’s The Giver and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which encourage students to think critically about the meanings and implications of freedom, equality, censorship, and oppression. Students then consider how these same concepts relate to modern times and modern texts, as they read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Julia Alvarez’s Before We Were Free, and essay from National Public Radio’s “This I Believe” program. Later in the year, eighth graders study Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet and explore modern adaptations of the play. Throughout the year, students reinforce their analytical writing skills as they develop assertions about texts, create thesis statements, expand their understanding of literary devices, and build on their critical vocabulary.