Language Arts Builds String Skills
Reading is Fundemental
Research shows that reading ability is a strong indicator of overall school achievement. Adults who cannot read well will have a difficult time succeeding, even in the high tech environment of the 21st century. Studies also show that once students have mastered basic reading skills, their reading improves most rapidly by regular reading in subjects of interest. For these reasons we emphasize daily reading and discussion for all our 7 – 8 grade students. This is also the best way to address gifted students in their education.
Students are required to independently read 300 or more pages each month. At the middle school level, our students typically read 500+ pages per month. At the end of the month they are asked to choose a book they have read and do a reading summary and project. Projects can take many forms, but are typically a 3-Dimensional construct or a dramatic re-enactment of some important aspect of the book.
The summary and project are presented and the class is required to ask relevant questions of the presenter. This serves as an important assessment tool for the teacher of student comprehension and analysis.
Watch this video about Book Projects!
Our in class reading program focuses on high quality literature. Emphasis is on analyzing character and plot, connecting themes to ones own life and the world, evaluating style, purpose and point of view and engaging students in constructing meaning through group discussion. Using group discussion is a key component of our regular and gifted education program.
Each semester, one novel is read aloud in small groups. Some of these books are historically based and linked to our current area of history study. This allows us to explore history and current issues from many different perspectives (fiction/non-fiction). It also provides us with the opportunity to integrate the language arts and history curriculum.
Watch this video about Willow’s D.E.A.R. Time
DEAR Time (Drop Everything and Read) – D.E.A.R. time, is a time regularly set aside in the afternoons for both students and their teachers to “drop everything and read.”
D.E.A.R. time conveniently accommodates a variety of student interests and ability levels, since each student selects the book he or she wishes to read.
D.E.A.R. supplements the regular reading program by encouraging independent reading. At Willow we schedule D.E.A.R. every afternoon for 20 minutes. Students recognize that D.E.A.R. time is a priority and they look forward to this special period, although the main purpose, is getting students excited about their reading.
Kindergarten – Grade 2
Reading is taught through the use of children’s literature. Much of this literature (fiction and non-fiction) ties into units of study the children are learning. Children experience: reading aloud, independently and in small groups.
Initial emphasis is on phonological and phonemic awareness, leading to the decoding of words and sentences. Systematic instruction is provided for this using the Wilson Fundations Program. The Wilson program is recognized as a leader in multi-sensory, research-based reading instruction. Fundations was developed after more than a decade of working with pupils in a systematic and explicit method.
Each level of Fundations presents skills in a structured scope and sequence. These systematically build on previously taught skills from unit to unit, a from year to year. Some of the skills taught include:
Phonological and phonemic awareness
Irregular word instruction
Click here to learn more about Wilson Fundations: Overview of Fundations
Once a child is decoding and reading independently, s/he is encouraged to choose books to read. Studies show that once students have mastered basic reading skills, their reading improves most rapidly by regular reading in subjects of interest. For these reasons we require daily reading for all our K -6 students.
Drop Everything And Read (D.E.A.R) is an integral part of our reading program. It is a time for children to self-select books from our library and read independently. During this time, teachers or volunteers read one on one, with each child focusing on the specific needs of the child whether it is with decoding, phonics, learning through context, or by responding in writing to the literature read.
Kindergarten – Grade 2
Writing is woven throughout the curriculum and children write in all subject areas including math, science, and social studies. In addition, the children have journals for daily entries and do project writing.
Project writing varies year to year and is based on the thematic units of study the children are working on. Project examples include:
Handwriting: Children learn basic manuscript and practice using a handwriting book. Willow uses the Zaner-Bloser series of workbooks to assist with teaching handwriting.
Spelling: Children are required to memorize weekly spelling lists. Spelling words are typically comprised of grade level spelling rules as well as high frequency words.
As an experiential school we believe that it is by regular practice of writing that student’s writing fluency will most rapidly improve. Writing provides the foundation for many reading and research assignments.
In class, students write regularly in their journals and are asked to share these out loud with the class. Twice a year students are required to publish a 5 – 10 page “book” of their favorite essays, poems and journal entries.
Writing is often shared one on one with fellow students in “partner conferencing”. These conferences give students the opportunity to share and critique each other’s work, while requiring them to explain and make suggestions for improvement.
Grammar and Punctuation are frequently taught in “mini-lessons”. These are 10 – 15 minute teacher presentations addressing a specific area of study. Teachers also use work sheets, quizzes, and homework assignments to reinforce these areas.
Spelling: Students are also required to memorize some of the most widely used rules of spelling, along with their exceptions. Students also review and memorize high frequency words, words with irregular patterns and irregular verbs. Each student works at his/her own level.
Handwriting: Those 3 – 6 grade students who are ready are required to use cursive writing for in class writing assignments. Zaner-Bloser workbooks are provided for anyone who is in need of regular formal practice in cursive or manuscript.
All students in grades K-6 participate in Writer’s Workshop. During this time, children learn about the writing process, taking stories through the various stages of writing: pre-writing (story map), 1st draft, 2nd draft, edit, revise and publish. Children share their stories out loud with the class.
Writing is done across subject areas and is explored in depth in the older grades at Willow. Children are expected to write longer papers and incorporate writing into all of their projects- be they language arts, science, math or social studies. They also write daily in class, in journals and often share these writings orally.
Willow students learn grammar, spelling and vocabulary as part of our gifted school curriculum which incorporates the Common Core Standards as well as challenges children to reach their potential. It is common in this classroom to see many different groups working on words that range from appropriate grade level to high school levels. Many children actually learn SAT prep words for their weekly vocabulary tests.
Watch this video about Writing Projects!
At the end of each semester, students are required to write a 10-15 page paper. This is peer reviewed and edited before submission. The students work hard on these projects but are extremely proud of their accomplishments. It is not uncommon for students to be inspired to write even longer pieces. One student wrote a novel from her 8th grade spring writing project.
Our graduates also report loving to write and consistently score very well on their SATs. This is definitely a result of Willow’s challenging, curriculum geared towards gifted students.