Lower School Language Arts seeks to cultivate students’ love of language and build their skills in critical thinking and written/oral communication. Throughout the grade levels, students are immersed in print and literature-rich environments, with both direct and indirect instruction as they move from global to analytic processing, learn to link specific sounds with specific symbols, and progress from context-driven to print-driven reading. Special attention is given to building phonemic awareness, phonics decoding skills, reading fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
In ECD through Grade 2 the primary purpose of Language Arts instruction is to guide students through the predictable stages of reading, spelling, and writing acquisition in a manner that is developmentally appropriate, research-based, multi-sensory, and fun. Students discover many facets of the world around them by daily listening to read-alouds of fiction and nonfiction. Songs, rhymes, fingerplay, and picture books play leading roles in ECD and Kindergarten, while independent and shared reading experiences expand the program in Grades 1 and 2.
Upper elementary grade levels are organized around the overlapping and mutually reinforcing skill areas of reading, writing, vocabulary, and speech. Students are exposed to a broadening base of fiction and nonfiction texts as students become better readers and start to read to understand the world. While examining more challenging fiction works, students begin to examine and compare character traits. As they make connections and host discussions about characters, students are encouraged to be analytical thinkers. Admirable values such as being open-minded, trustworthy, responsible and sincere are reinforced during discussions of novels and short stories. As students progress through the Lower School there is a shift from “learning to read” and “learning to write,” to “reading to learn” and “writing to learn.”
Kindergarten through fifth grade students use the Junior Great Book series, a program that builds reading comprehension, writing, and critical thinking skills. The reading selections are drawn from world literature, and the reading, writing, and discussion activities promote inquiry skills and increase student engagement with literature. In Kindergarten through second grade, the teachers use Junior Great Books in conjunction with Reading Street, a phonics-based program that develops foundational reading skills. In third through fifth grade, the teachers use Junior Great Books alongside their novels to hone in on comprehension strategies, literary response, and critical thinking processes. The students become stronger and more thoughtful readers who learn how to engage with text and with one another through inquiry-based discussions.
In addition to ongoing classroom assessments, the Fountas and Pinnell reading assessment program is used three times throughout the year to measure student progress in reading. Students read a fiction story with their teacher and then answer a series of comprehension questions about the story orally. This assessment helps to determine instructional and independent reading levels.
For writing instruction, the Lower School teachers use a research-based teaching approach, Units of Study in Writing from Columbia University Teachers College. Units of Study brings a unified scope and sequence to teaching writing, as well as building vital skills, teaching children not only learn how to write but also to fall in love with writing. The Units of Study program provides sequential work in opinion/argument, information, and narrative writing; opportunities for repeated writing practice; renewed attention to writing about reading and writing across the curriculum; and a responsive process approach to writing instruction.
At each grade level, at least one unit of study is devoted to each of the three kinds of writing. Students write multiple pieces of each kind of writing (opinion/argument, information, and narrative), with the repeated practice helping to escalate their expectations. The units have strong emphasis on close reading, text-based questioning, and on reading like a writer.
Students also benefit from explicit handwriting instruction (“Handwriting without Tears”) in ECD through third grade, which moves progressively from writing readiness in Early Childhood to print in Kindergarten through second grade and cursive in the latter part of second grade and third grade.
Speaking and listening skills are integrated throughout the Lower School Language Arts program, and each student finds his or her unique voice through participation in class discussions, presentations, debates, public speaking opportunities, and performances.