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 third grade, the boys 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 and to develop poise and confidence when speaking in front of an audience.
Kindergarten Language Arts program focuses on beginning reading and writing skills, as well as enhancing 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. Kindergarten boys follow the Writer’s Workshop model out of Teachers College, and they learn to use drawing, letters, and words to express their ideas. Among the texts are: “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, and nonfiction works. In addition to being presented a strong phonics program using an Orton-Gillingham based curriculum, students are taught to use syntactical, configurative and contextual clues when reading to develop both oral fluency and accurate comprehension. In addition, students are taught explicit spelling patterns using Orton-Gillingham procedures, which is further enhanced with Recipe for Reading and various multi-sensory activities. 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 emphasizes the correct use of lowercase letters in words and sentences.
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. Grade Two reinforces phonemic awareness, spelling and sight words, exploring short and long vowel sounds, irregular spellings, blends, digraphs, diphthongs, prefixes and suffixes. Grammar, sentence structure and parts of speech are reinforced through written and oral exercises. Daily writing includes creative story writing, exploring different forms of poetry, persuasive writing and non-fiction report writing. Grade Two students learn to brainstorm, edit, and revise their writing.
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.
Some books read at this level include Stone Fox, Abel’s Island, James and the Giant Peach and various author studies. Book studies include working with the various reading strategies, understanding the structure or parts of a story, and finally, studying and learning how to read and write non-fiction text. 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 draft, revise and edit their own work. Students also partake in a vocabulary program called WordMasters Challenge, a vocabulary competition based on completing analogies. This program helps to strengthen and sharpen critical thinking skills while solving analogies.
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 Rules, Chains, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Esperanza Rising and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. In writing workshop, emphasis is placed on spelling, grammar, punctuation and paragraph development. Grammar and usage are reinforced through weekly classroom exercises and an online application called “NoRedInk.”