The goal of the Lower School Language Arts program is to open and enrich young minds and to promote learning across the curriculum. Strong reading skills are developed through various sequential and structured reading programs and exposure to classic children’s literature. The use of a balanced reading program includes the development of phonemic awareness, strong decoding skills, vocabulary, comprehension strategies, and the attainment of fluency. Students are taught to be critical, purposeful, and careful readers, thinkers, and writers. Written work also stresses clear, neat handwriting, increasingly accurate spelling, and the use of appropriate rules of grammar and punctuation. In addition to their writing, students in the Lower School have a rich tradition of oral communication. Assemblies often feature class presentations of plays, poetry, music, and skits, as well as professional presentations by guest speakers. Beginning in Second Grade, boys participate in the Laura P. Mulfeld Spelling Bee; beginning in Third Grade, they participate in the Lyman B. Tobin Public Speaking Program and the Betty Jean Johnson Poetry Contest.
The objectives are to initiate a positive attitude towards reading and literature, to develop beginning reading and writing skills, and to enhance communication skills and the ability to listen carefully. These objectives are achieved through writing, tracing, cutting, pasting, and matching exercises as well as creative dramatics, listening games, stories, big books, poetry, and author studies. Many different games are used for reading readiness. Among the texts are: a Houghton Mifflin reading program; Wiggleworks by Scholastic; Recipe for Reading; and the Handwriting Without Tears writing program, which stresses such skills as letter formation, word spacing, and correct pencil grip.
The Language Arts program includes reading, literature, writing, spelling, and grammar. Reading is structured to include grade-level books and trade books. Students are exposed to a wide variety of literature, including stories, poetry, plays, and nonfiction works. In addition to being presented a strong phonics program, students are taught to use syntactical, configurative, and contextual clues when reading to develop both oral fluency and accurate comprehension. As boys develop higher-level skills, enrichment activities help to increase understanding and develop critical thinking. Creative writing is encouraged through the use of personal narratives. The boys become authors of their own books and begin to learn a defined writing process designed to improve the content of their writing together with their grammar and spelling skills. The Handwriting without Tears program prepares students for cursive writing.
The program continues to promote a love of literature using a wide variety of theme-related trade books and current authors. Comprehensive exercises and discussions foster critical thinking and develop students’ ability to make inferences and draw conclusions. Studying authors’ styles, comparing fantasy and reality, and using reference books for research build skills in creative and factual writing. Spelling work increases sight vocabulary by exploring short and long vowel sounds, irregular spellings, blends, digraphs, diphthongs, prefixes, suffixes, and abbreviations. Reference work includes the use of glossaries, dictionaries, and thesauruses. Grammar, sentence structure, and parts of speech are reinforced through written and oral exercises. Daily writing and writing workshop include journals, creative story writing, exploring different forms of poetry, brainstorming, and working on rough drafts for later editing and publication.
Students build upon previous skills to increase vocabulary, develop higher thinking skills, and move toward greater fluency and understanding of oral and written language. At this level, students continue to develop their love of reading through various literary forms.
Books read at this level include George Washington: Young Leader, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, The Midnight Fox, and The Witches. The following books provide material for elementary analysis: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Time for Kids biographies, Stone Fox, Henry and Ribsy, The Chocolate Touch, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, and Superfudge. “Book studies” include retelling, understanding the structure or parts of a story, and locating the main idea in a plot. The study of poetry is continued in class, emphasizing an appreciation for poetry, the oral presentation of poems, and the creation of poetry using similes, metaphors, or other structured poetic elements. Creativity, self-motivation, and independence in all areas of reading and writing are emphasized. Correct spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and proper grammar and sentence structure continue to be studied. Students participate in Writers’ Workshop, where they revise and edit their own work. Students also use various software programs to develop projects. They also develop study skills such as “dictionary highlighting” and summarizing through theme units.
Students are given a rich and varied linguistic experience. Literature is chosen to inspire, stimulate, and present significant ideas and achievements of the past and present. Novels read at this grade level include Tuck Everlasting, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Loser, Brian’s Winter, Detectives in Togas, and Mystery of the Roman Ransom. In creative writing, emphasis is placed on spelling, grammar, punctuation, and paragraph development. Grammar and usage are reinforced through weekly exercises. Research skills and strategies are taught during an interdisciplinary unit on Ancient Egypt and Rome, which includes locating and assessing the appropriateness of Internet resources.
Enrichment is designed to enhance the Language Arts program, to capitalize on students’ strengths, and to meet students’ specific needs at their particular developmental levels. Classes are divided into half groups, and lessons incorporate an extensive array of teaching methods and materials. The Enrichment Program focuses on developing competency in several areas: mastering sound to symbol connection, attaining reading fluency, acquiring various comprehension strategies, and learning to generalize from a text using a variety of inferential thinking skills. Written and oral assignments develop receptive and expressive language and writing skills. While all of these areas are addressed in each instructional group, the content and emphasis varies according to students’ readiness and mastery. Groups are fluid, and students may move from one group to another depending on focus and concepts being covered. Additionally, interdisciplinary units may include fairy tales in Grade Two, biographies in Grade Three, and Ancient Egypt in Grade Four are used to maximize the latest developments in brain research and learning techniques. The focus is to elevate the students’ appreciation and understanding of literature and to help them become competent in all areas of literacy, both written and oral. In addition, strategies for improving and clarifying ideas and vocabulary through the use of graphic organizers may be used throughout the division. More formal study skills are presented in Grade Four and are connected to content areas across the curriculum when possible. The goal is to help the boys to integrate, to synthesize and to apply these skills on a consistent basis.