Language ArtsLanguage Arts is the cornerstone for all learning as it allows us to communicate with others and share ideas. Language Arts means so much more than just reading, writing, listening, and speaking. It means expert teachers providing rich and diverse content within the context of meaningful learning opportunities. It means students’ individual points of entry being recognized and valued. Language Arts at PMFS combines evidence-based practices in skill building with passionate teachers and learners eager to dive into content and explore together. With sensitivity to different learning styles and needs, teachers support and challenge students as they approach reading workshop, debate prep, spelling rules, read aloud, thank you letters, and so much more. As students’ skills increase, there are more cross-curricular connections between Language Arts and social studies; by Fourth Grade, such content-based learning adds authenticity to classwork and assignments. A tradition practiced in all grades is Listening, with teachers choosing books using literature or social studies themes, offering students a shared experience and a literacy-building opportunity to hear and discuss texts above their independent reading level.
The teacher-developed curriculum is supported by several mechanics skill programs. The Handwriting Without Tears program, Grades Kindergarten – Fifth, allows students to turn handwriting into a comfortable, automatic and mastered skill so necessary for school success; in Kindergarten through Second Grade the focus is on print skills, with cursive being introduced in the Third Grade. In addition, students learn keyboarding skills beginning in Fourth Grade, as these too will be be invaluable moving forward academically.
An integrated and recursive approach to Language Arts fosters learning in Kindergarten. Students learn reading-readiness skills with the multi-sensory Wilson literacy program Fundations, which focuses on phonological awareness, building the recognition that words are made up of sounds and sounds are manipulated to form words; teachers make use of keyword puzzles, letter tiles, word cards, and practice rhyming in activities. In Writing Workshop, Kindergartners use invented spelling —lovingly referred to as “Guess and Go” in the Kindergarten class—to analyze sounds and develop these emerging writers’ skills with word and sentence formation; children develop self-confidence and writing skills in writing responses and open-ended descriptions, which they energetically read back to a teacher for feedback. Children engage their growing listening and pre-reading skills through games, audio books, and book read-alouds.
The learning environment in First Grade Language Arts combines meeting each child at their entry point with introducing strategies to help all emergent readers and writers. First Grade builds upon skills learned in Kindergarten with the Fundations program: oral and written practice with letters and letter sounds, instruction and practice of phonics, spelling, and grammar. First graders learn both spelling patterns and sight words. In Writing Workshop, a mini-lesson focuses students’ attention, while broader themes emerge: What do authors do to add dimension to their writing? What does it mean to edit your work? Mostly the children write “small moment” stories from their own life, working to extend and deepen their work. Writers always have the opportunity to create stories independently or collaboratively during their free writing time, as well as illustrate their work. Similarly, Reading Workshop provides reading strategies, followed by guided practice, allowing children to develop reading skills naturally while reading different levels and books. An example of a strategy First Graders work on is, “When you get to a tricky word, don’t just try one thing.” While some First Graders work on fluency, others continue to work on phonics, word recognition, and “chunking” word parts. All stretch and grow their comprehension and vocabulary skills. Students stretch themselves within the safe class environment with flexible, guided reading groups, with choice time, with independent or collaborative story creation, with partner reading, with Listening, with class discussions, and with D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read).
Second Grade reading and writing are intricately connected and build upon each other as students strengthen their ability to identify and represent sounds, common spelling patterns, and an increasing sight word vocabulary. Spelling is supported through the Primary Spelling by Pattern curriculum. Through Reading and Writing Workshops, Second Graders examine the behaviors of good readers and writers and learn approaches to improve their own reading and writing. “Practice, practice, practice” is employed as students read and write independently and examine print as a group each day. Students develop their reading skills in small reading groups, S.A.B.O.R.A. (Share a Book or Read Alone, a quiet reading time in which students read alone, with a friend or with a teacher), and literature groups. Developing readers focus on picture and context clues, look for patterns of repetition or rhyme, and find small words or ‘chunks’ within new words to help them read. All readers practice their phonetic skills by examining sounds within multisyllabic words. More advanced readers practice these skills with increasing proficiency and apply the same lessons to more complicated texts, with a focus on fluency and comprehension. In Writing Workshop students choose ‘small moments’ from their life and develop those into lucid stories by adding details and descriptions, and using language in interesting ways. Additionally, Second Graders write in other styles such as a descriptive essay about ‘Home’, How To’ and ‘All About’ books, and poetry. Students edit their own writing and then conference with a teacher to go over grammar, spelling, and form. These one-on-one conferences allow teachers to personalize writing instruction to a writer’s individual progress.
“I think it’s truly amazing when you see someone learn—when you see things develop.”
-Leo, Second Grader
Third Graders actively engage in Language Arts skills through daily reading and writing experiences in paired, small-group, and whole-class settings. They are ready to deepen their understanding of what it means to be a reader and a writer, and reading and writing activities complement explicit skill-building lessons. Third Graders strengthen their attitude towards and skills in reading by tackling longer but “just right” level novels, taking part in book club, doing a mysteries unit, and learning to talk back to the text. In Reading Workshop, students discover and develop the different mind-work they are doing as they read (Can I picture the story in my mind? How does what I read help me predict what comes next?), uncover character traits and motivation, and discover story patterns across different texts. Third Graders learn spelling through spelling patterns, syllable types, and “tricky words,” with a new spelling pattern or syllable rule introduced weekly; emphasis is placed on integrating correct spelling into their everyday writing.
Writing Workshop provides strategies for Third Graders to take seed ideas and develop them into focused and meaningful stories, going through the stages of planning, drafting, revising, editing, and, finally, publishing. Students greatly enjoy the Publishing Party at the end of units, in which every child reads their published work to the class. Units include: personal narrative, realistic fiction, opinion writing, and fairy tale adaptation. The Ocean Animal book is a hallmark of Third Grade writing and social studies, in which students compose a book integrating facts learned during their first research project.
The Fourth Grade Language Arts curriculum is enriched by its relation to the class’ emphasis on U.S. history, with activities that expand reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. Students read and enjoy Listening time with books that represent various themes in U.S. history, which provide a launch pad for discussions, projects, and debates; for example, Forge explores what it means to be free during the Revolutionary War, while Dave at Night explores meanings of home in 1920’s Harlem. Students also read self-selected books during daily silent reading time and develop comprehension and synthesis skills through writing book reports.
Students have a variety of directed writing during Fourth Grade, from simple paragraphs to multi-page compositions and research reports. An Underground Railroad research project and a state research project both complement the class theme and stretch students’ writing abilities. Multiple writing projects—creating adventures in creative writing, writing book reports, and crafting new endings to books—encourages children to work at their own pace while developing structures and complexity, as well as coherence, theme, and conflict resolution within stories. Throughout, the writing and editing process is emphasized, as students plan, compose, edit, and rewrite pieces. Students share ideas and progress with their teachers; in addition Fourth Graders share their work with classmates during the writing process, learning to solicit, give and receive feedback and ideas. The Spellography program complements students experiences, as Fourth Graders build syllable spelling and irregular word knowledge while exploring morphology, parts of speech, idioms and more.
While they are their own entities, Language Arts and Social Studies are interwoven and often integrated in the Fifth Grade curriculum, as class literature is connected directly to the Social Studies themes. Fifth Graders explore humanity, the world, and our place in it through assigned novels and articles, with SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) books, and during Listening. They learn about civil rights with The Watsons Go to Birmingham, refugees and migration in Home of the Brave, sustainability in Omnivore’s Dilemma, to name a few examples. The class draws on these resources weekly to generate relevant vocabulary lists, as students not only define unknown words but also practice using them in sentences and in context. The Spellography program complements such vocabulary work; after completing a spelling inventory, each student works on individualized sections in the book to best support their identified areas for spelling and morphology growth.
Responses to literature expand students’ abilities, as Fifth Graders explore, respond to, and interpret it in a variety of ways: students synthesize and analyze, they participate in discussions and deliberations, they evaluate with projects or writing. In addition, after targeted lessons on grammar rules or writing techniques, Fifth Graders have the opportunity for both non-directed writing and directed writing assignments. Time is dedicated to editing and rewriting, letter writing, and reflection. Fifth Graders study character development for story writing, often using the diverse perspectives offered in Seedfolks, by Paul Fleischman, as a springboard. As students incorporate a fully developed character in the clear beginning, middle, and end progression of their stories, they are guided in including a conflict of global significance—and multiple attempts for solving it. Even in creative writing, Fifth Graders are encouraged to see themselves as global citizens.
Sixth Grade creates a thoroughly interdisciplinary program where the ongoing development of reading, writing, speaking, and listening spans all subjects and activities. The curriculum stresses more than discrete skills or fluency; it stresses students’ self-expression and versatility as communicators across diverse situations. Sixth Graders explore myriad ideas through books -with Listening, SSR books, and ‘book group’ books- where they encounter varied authors, genres, styles, and vocabulary. The richness of world cultures and history gets explored with breadth and depth. The year begins with a core text, The Egyptology Handbook, which primes students for the interrelated nature of social studies, literature, and applied math throughout the year. In book group, Sixth Graders read relatable books that are both interesting and educational. Whether learning about 18th century exploration in the historical fiction Stowaway or seeing the hardships of war-torn Afghanistan in the fictionalized story Shooting Kabul (each told from the perspective of a twelve-year old), Sixth Graders are eager to contemplate critical ideas with deep discussion, consideration of nuance and inference, co-curricular tie-ins, and even an occasional Skye interview with an author.
Writing is likewise diverse, as students challenge themselves to find their voice and style, to expand and sustain writing, and to write with accurate grammar and conventions for longer periods of time and across genres. Working on creative stories, essays, research papers, poetry, note-taking, and more, each child’s writing talents are individually embraced and expanded in the Sixth Grade curriculum. Students’ experiences are rounded out with unique opportunities for speaking and listening: organized debates on issues of global consequence, a robust speaker series focused on diverse global experiences, and a classroom lecture series tying history and culture.