Each day for 90 minutes we read, write, and participate in word work (a combination of phonics, phonemic awareness, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and handwriting).
Our language arts program is varied and engaging, moving deliberately and fluidly between modeled activities in which the teacher presents a skill or concept, shared lessons in which the class works collaboratively, guided experiences in which a teacher works with a small group of students with similar levels of skill or ability, and independent learning in which individuals, pairs, or small groups of students learn without direct teacher intervention yet with clear expectations and preparation.
Each day I visit classrooms, engaging in learning and sharing feedback . Examples of recent literacy activities I have observed include:
- kindergarten students summarizing a story with puppets;
- first-grade students building their independent reading stamina, using Post-it notes to record observations, such as noting a “c” each time a new character is introduced;
- second-grade students participating in an interactive read-aloud session, discussing predictions they can make as readers compared to predictions characters in the book can make based on the information available to them
- third-grade students collaboratively writing a paragraph as a class, learning about topic sentences, concluding sentences, detail sentences, and “jazzing up” paragraphs with descriptive language; then writing their own paragraphs independently
- fourth-grade students writing persuasive essays independently, following a range of steps in the writing process including peer conferencing and conferencing with the teacher; students collaboratively writing a sequel to a book they read together
- fifth-grade students participating in book clubs, analyzing the meaning of quotes from their books
Walk through our school on a typical day and you’ll find:
students spread throughout the classrooms working independently or in a range of combinations including the entire class, small groups, and partners. You’ll see teachers guiding a group or conferencing with individual students. You’ll encounter classroom furniture arranged to promote collaborative learning and comfortable corners for students to read independently or with a partner. You’ll hear a noisy buzz of students speaking with one another. You’ll recognize a mix of required learning activities and opportunities for students to choice among various options.
There is a rhythm to the school year; the beginning six weeks were devoted to setting up the structures, routines, and expectations that set the tone for learning moving forward. Students are gently introduced to the increased requirements for independent and collaborative learning at each grade level. Class learning communities are nurtured. We then commence with formal reading assessments in order to guide learning experiences with even greater precision and extend the opportunities for individual and collaborative learning. The foundational learning accomplished during the first six weeks, prior to formal assessments, prepares our children to thrive, not only as readers and as writers, but as independent and collaborative learners.
There is also a rhythm to each school day. Indeed, we read and write each day for more than the 90-minute literacy block. In addition to speaking, we read and write during 45 minutes of Hebrew language daily, developing similar literacy skills to those we emphasize in English language arts. We read and write during 45 minutes of Judaic studies daily, engaging in high-level serious analysis of chumash (Bible) in the original Hebrew in our third through fifth grades, while spending additional time on Hebrew language skills connected to Jewish values and Jewish life in kindergarten through second grades. We read and write during 45 minutes of science or social studies daily (three days science and three days social studies for each six-day cycle), developing nonfiction reading comprehension and textual analysis skills.
Each day, we also spend 45 minutes in math, 30 minutes in tefilah (prayer), and 45 minutes in a special (science lab, media center, enrichment, physical education, art, and music). These schedules maximize instructional time; giving us the recommended 90 minutes for excellence in English and 45 minutes recommended for excellence in mathematics. Since we schedule specials separately rather than taking time out of Judaic or general class time, the slightly trimmed time of Judaic studies and Hebrew (45 minutes instead of the hour we had in the past) is made up over the course of the 6-day cycle.
For most of each day, we read and write, collaborate and create. We think critically, analyze, and apply our learning. Each day we grow as readers, writers, and as learners.