Our literacy program offers a balance of challenge and support while building children’s confidence in their emerging abilities. Our goal is to develop fluent, capable readers and writers who enjoy the process and learn from it, drawing from a diverse array of literature.
Preschoolers are encouraged to verbally express their thoughts and feelings in order to communicate effectively with those around them and further their thinking. The value of words, both written and spoken, is modeled throughout the day and phonemic awareness is woven into these interactions. Children develop confidence in themselves as pre-literate thinkers and doers, and craft a solid foundation of literacy skills.
Words and Language
Students and teachers tell stories (both real and pretend), read books, and discuss the intricacies and surprises of words, sounds, and language. Children are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the world of print by looking at books independently and figuring out the story through the pictures. They are asked to take these understandings further by expressing their thoughts pictorially and using the language that goes with their pictures. Their small motor skills are monitored, as they are an integral part of the mechanics and art of writing.
- Expressive and receptive language
- Phonemic awareness (rhyming, recognizing sounds in words)
- Beginning to recognize letters
- Concepts of print (holding a book, recognizing that print carries meaning)
- Retelling and creating stories through drawings, creative movement, drama, and conversations
- Asking and answering questions about stories read aloud
- Using drawings, shapes, and letters to represent thinking
Reading and writing are integrated throughout the kindergarten program. The classroom is a print-rich environment, and reading for authentic purposes is a part of every student’s day.
Learning within context
Whether students are reading the schedule to see what is next in their day, searching for information in a book, enjoying a story, reading a message from a friend, creating signs and labels for the playhouse, or writing a story, reading and writing in kindergarten always occurs within a meaningful context.
- Expressive and receptive Language
- Phonemic awareness (rhyming; identifying, segmenting, and blending sounds in words)
- Identifying and writing letters
- Producing the primary sound for each letter
- Reading common high frequency words
- Concepts of print (print moves left to right, top to bottom; one-to-one word correspondence)
- Retelling a story including its characters, setting, and key details of stories through drawings, creative movements, and discussion
- Making connections (text to self, text to text, text to world)
- Making predictions
- Spelling words phonetically
- Forming letters
- Communicating ideas through writing, drawings, and dictation
First grade is a year for building skills, confidence, and a love of reading. Students are encouraged to see themselves as competent, and supported to always be working within their zone of reading development. A variety of related strategies guide reading instruction:
The multi-faceted approach begins with shared reading, where teachers read picture and chapter books that are beyond what readers can access independently, so children experience complex language and stories. Through these read-alouds, students practice comprehension strategies, engage in discussions, and share their thinking as they listen and respond to texts.
Instruction continues with guided reading groups, where students work in small groups based on their ability and zone of reading development. Groups change throughout the year, as reading develops differently for each child. Students are supported in using text features, context, and phonics strategies to decode and recognize words and make meaning of texts.
As students build skills and comfort, the instruction moves to independent reading, with students guided to select “just right” books that provide challenge and enjoyment at an appropriate level. These books promote confidence in early readers, offer opportunities for students to practice strategies they have learned in reading groups, encourage genre exploration, and inspire their desire to continue reading.
First graders engage in writing across genres, including expository, narrative, poetry, and fiction, as well as writing integrated into other subject areas. Each day’s Writer’s Workshop begins with a mini-lesson, and then offers opportunities for guided practice, independent practice, and sharing stories with each other. Students are taught the same writing process that adult writers use: pre-writing though planning, outlining, graphic organizing, and telling one’s story aloud. Before their work is complete, first graders draft, revise, and edit, and then publish.
Through whole class and small group lessons and explorations, spelling instruction is differentiated to support students as they are developing as readers and writers. Students focus on learning to spell high-frequency words and recognizing common word patterns.
After their fundamental deep learning in 1st grade, 2nd graders can put less energy into decoding words, and now focus on reading comprehension. As they read more complex texts, the emphasis is on comprehension strategies, such as making connections, questioning, visualizing, inferring, determining importance, and synthesizing.
Second graders’ improved reading comprehension correlates directly to their growing abilities in reading fluency. They improve their understanding of texts by practicing fluency skills including pacing, phrasing, and intonation. They also become more reflective readers by reading across a variety of genres and setting their own literacy goals.
Second graders learn to read nonfiction books, and learn to use them differently; they gain the ability to find the information they need. Students learn how to use a table of contents, captions, a glossary, index, and other features of nonfiction texts.
During Literacy Workshop, students participate in read-alouds and shared reading, and practice reading independently. They also develop specific strategies in guided reading groups, which are composed of four to eight children reading at a similar level, or who are all working on similar skills.
Second graders write every day for a variety of purposes. They learn how to write from their own imaginations and experiences, and write in several genres including personal narrative, poetry, and nonfiction. During each genre study, 2nd grade writers learn the conventions and strategies specific to the genre, and study mentor books for inspiration, learning how their favorite authors write. In this way, the connection between reading and writing is reinforced, and 2nd graders learn how to “read like writers.”
Students generate writing ideas, plan stories, create drafts, revise, edit, and publish. They are encouraged to get their ideas down first and refine later, proofreading their work for spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and word choice.
Many 2nd graders begin the year as phonetic spellers, who understand that letters relate to sounds that they hear. Others are transitional spellers, who experiment with and apply spelling patterns. In 2nd grade, both groups begin to use conventional spelling, learning to identify on their own the misspelled words in their own writing.
The Words Their Way study program is integrated into the 2nd grade literacy curriculum, with customized word study activities that fit the needs of each child. Every week students receive a list of words to study, and during their literacy block they engage in word study mini-lessons and independent word study practice. Rather than memorize a list of unrelated words, word study teaches the patterns of English language; the curriculum spirals and builds as students develop.
Third graders engage in six types of reading throughout the year: reading aloud, shared reading, guided reading, independent reading, literature circles, and reading conferences.
Teachers read aloud from chapter books, picture books, nonfiction, and poetry, and encourage discussion. Children hear fluent and expressive reading while gaining access to texts that might be beyond their reading ability.
Shared reading is used on a limited basis to strengthen fluency. Partners might share a poem for two voices, or a small group might take on character roles from a text to practice reading with fluency and expression.
Guided reading brings together small groups of students who are at similar stages in their reading development. Teachers select texts that will expand processing powers. Students work on comprehension strategies and parts of grammar such as contractions, syllables, and proper nouns.
Students practice the habits of effective readers during independent reading time. They learn about their own preferences and develop favorite types of books, genres, topics, and authors. Teachers expand students’ tastes in reading by giving book talks, inviting students to tell the group about a favorite book, and sometimes by assigning a book that will stretch a student. Teachers are available during independent reading time to confer with individuals or teach small reading groups.
Students routinely have check-in conferences with teachers to go over some aspect of their independent work. At the beginning of the year, conferences serve as a time to assess each student’s reading level to determine reading groups and to help students select appropriate independent reading books. As the year progresses, reading conferences are used as a time for teachers to listen to each student read orally, provide immediate feedback, and chat about the book.
During literature circle discussions, students develop their own thinking about books while sharing and listening to others’ thinking. Students are often asked to read with something in mind, such as questions they would like to ask, or to look for particular features of an author’s writing or elements of literature. Students develop proficiency with thinking deeper about the text, and thinking beyond the text itself. They search for evidence within the text to back up their ideas and answers. Discussions are a rich opportunity to learn more about books from many perspectives.
The 3rd grade writing program has four components: mini lessons, independent writing, writers’ circles, and writing conferences.
Mini-lessons include the whole class together and are intentionally brief so the material covered can be incorporated into student writing right away. Students are guided in specific writing tools, concepts, and techniques. They also model different types of writing from expository to narrative to poetry. Students learn the importance of supporting details, use of paragraphs, and punctuation.
Students work on self-selected and assigned writing topics during independent writing time. Some students work quietly on a draft with headphones to focus their thoughts; others use the time to confer with partners or a teacher, meet in a guided reading group, revise an almost finished piece, or prepare a piece for publication.
Writers’ circles vary in size and purpose. Sometimes the whole class meets together; other times writers’ circles are composed of a few students. Writers’ circles might be devoted to sharing drafts to get feedback and ideas, or to provide an opportunity for sharing published pieces and hearing peers’ compliments.
Writing conferences are one-to-one meetings between students and teachers to discuss a work in progress or look over a piece that's ready to publish. This is when the teacher can offer personalized feedback about organizing ideas, the writing process, spelling, punctuation, grammar, and story elements. It is also a time to assess the student’s strengths and develop goals for the next steps in developing as a writer.
The focus is on spelling patterns where students construct an understanding based on studying groups of words. Additionally, students focus on spelling while participating in writers’ circle during the editing phase of the writing process.
Fourth grade students make the shift from learning to read to reading to learn with an emphasis on comprehension and nonfiction. They are presented with high interest, theme-based, or genre-related literature and allowed to choose what they read. Students track the books they read and reflect throughout the year. They read across all content areas, and social studies units are integrated into reading studies.
Students move between discussion-based read-alouds, reading partnerships, small group literature circles, and self-selected independent reading workshops. Workshops focus on students developing skills in metacognition, predicting, making connections with the text, summarizing, questioning, and determining importance.
Throughout the year students focus on six writing traits: conventions, organization, ideas, word choice, voice, and sentence fluency. They learn a variety of writing forms, ranging from poetry to informational and report writing.
Using relevant and focused literature as examples, 4th graders learn through mini-lessons, one-on-one interactions, and in small groups. Components of writing are incorporated into project-based learning where students use their composition skills to demonstrate understanding and share information.
Handwriting and spelling are important components of 4th grade literacy studies. Students learn cursive italic penmanship, practicing four times a week.
Vocabulary building is part of every aspect of literacy studies in 4th grade. More than simply memorizing new words, students are engaged weekly in the practice of sorting, building, reading, writing, and looking for patterns in their spelling words. They investigate the etymology of words to make meaning of the spelling system.
In 5th grade the emphasis in reading is on comprehension and non-fiction; students continue the shift from learning to read to reading to learn. They become increasingly capable of understanding the meaning between the lines in a variety of texts. Students are presented with high-interest, theme-based, or genre-related literature and allowed a choice in their reading. They move between self-selected independent reading workshops, guided reading groups, reading partnerships, and literature circles. They read across all content areas, and track the books they read throughout the year. Some Social Studies units are integrated into 5th grade reading studies.
Reading components include discussion-based read-alouds, reading partnerships, small group literature circles, and independent reading.
In 5th grade, students identify themselves as writers and write in authentic ways each day. They identify their audience and purpose, use visual planners to organize their work, draft, revise, edit, and publish. Revision takes on an important role in helping to clarify, add, or delete to a given piece of writing.
Writing workshop components include skills-based, styles-based, and conventions-based mini-lessons. Students have sustained writing time and engage in active feedback.
Using relevant and focused literature as examples, students learn through mini-lessons, one-on-one interactions, and in small groups. Components of writing are also incorporated into project-based learning where students are using their composition skills to demonstrate understanding and share information.
Throughout the 5th grade year, students continue to focus on and build competency in the writing traits introduced the previous year: conventions, organization, ideas, word choice, voice, and sentence fluency. Students write in a variety of forms, including creative writing (poetry, fiction, plays) and informational writing (reports and presentations).
Vocabulary building and etymology is taught in differentiated groupings through multi-sensory practice. It is also an integral part of reading and writing workshops throughout the year.