Sending two skiers to the Eastern High School Championships in New Hampshire was icing on the cake for Big Blue's ski racing team.
The goal of our balanced literacy program is to foster self-directed readers and writers who are equipped with the skills necessary to navigate, create, and discuss text for both personal and academic purposes. Our instructional approach throughout the reading, writing, and word study curriculum invites students to notice, evaluate, share ideas, and apply their understanding. This emphasis ensures our focus on higher level thinking and application, rather than memorization or formulaic repetition.
The reading and writing curriculum at each grade level balances work in narrative, informational, and persuasive texts. Within each genre, engagement is high as students bring their passions, their ideas, and their questions to their learning. Through modeling and investigation, students explore the specific skills, strategies, and features that underpin each text type and are given opportunities to incorporate their learning into their own work. Frequent feedback leads students to individualized next steps and is a cornerstone of our program. While teachers regularly conference with students about their progress, students are also taught how to offer and receive purposeful peer-to-peer suggestions, and how to independently reflect, self-evaluate, and goal set.
Beginning in Kindergarten the reading curriculum challenges students to go beyond literal comprehension and also consider an author’s craft and intentions. Our students realize that authors are driven by purpose and audience, and thus they make intentional decisions for their own writing pieces with these in mind. Rich conversation abounds as our students learn to generate ideas, share and clarify their thinking, explore various possibilities, and appreciate multiple perspectives. With an early start, continued practice, and targeted feedback, our students excel in their keen observation, thoughtful insight, evidence-based analysis, and nuanced thinking. They develop the skills to share ideas with confidence, experience, purposeful word choice, and clarity of thought in written and oral communication.
Pingry’s literacy curriculum not only prepares students for the increasing demands of their academic future, but inspires a life enriched by critical thinking, respectful communication, and engaged participation as citizens and change agents in the world at large.
The goal of instruction is to immerse students in a print-rich environment that develops oral language skills, phonological awareness, print awareness, vocabulary, fluency, an appreciation and understanding of literature, and a love of reading and writing. To attain these goals, Kindergarten students use multisensory, multileveled activities for learning sound-symbol relationships and phonetic principles. They learn that stories have a beginning, middle, and end and develop vocabulary to describe people, places, and events. Students develop beginning reading skills through a variety of activities, such as rhymes, songs, morning messages, poetry, big books, guided reading, and read-alouds. From the start students learn to interact with books and deepen their understanding. Throughout whole class read-aloud, partner reading, and independent reading, an emphasis in placed on making observations, asking questions, and sharing ideas. Journal writing begins in the earliest days of Kindergarten. Students use drawings, labels, and developmental spelling to express complex ideas. They become authors and illustrators as they create books during the writer’s workshop program. By sharing their books with classmates, children learn to expand, clarify, refine, and edit their writing.
In Grade 1, students continue to be immersed in a print-rich environment to develop oral language skills, phonetic skills, vocabulary, fluency, expression, comprehension, and an awareness of print materials as sources of information and enjoyment. Picture books, leveled readers, nonfiction books, poetry, reader's theater, and author studies are used to teach vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension skills. Shared reading activities are used to teach and reinforce the phonetic principles and word families. Guided reading, partnership reading, individual book baskets, and book clubs enhance the reading program by meeting the needs of individual students as they develop reading fluency and strategies to read new words. All reading activities encourage students to deepen their understanding through noticings, conversation, and questioning.
Reading, writing, speaking, and listening continue to be developed and refined in Grade 2. The reading emphasis is on further developing reading fluency and strengthening comprehension. Students develop a love of literature and reading while learning, using, and mastering basic strategies necessary for reading and writing. Teacher-selected trade books are used for thematic studies, often integrated with social studies. Student-selected books allow students to apply strategies in individualized texts, pursue their interests, and develop their individual identities as readers. Students gain deeper understanding of texts as they generate and respond to increasingly nuanced questions in both oral and written form.
In Grade 3 the literacy curriculum continues to focus on fostering independence, developing skills, and increasing intellectual engagement. Students further deepen their level of comprehension through specific skills such as sequencing, noting details, and drawing conclusions. As students become more nuanced in their understanding of characters, they begin to consider motivations, acknowledge complexity, and appreciate various perspectives. Students also develop nonfiction reading and research skills through the use of print and multimedia sources. There is an emphasis on identifying main ideas and supporting details, putting new knowledge into their own words, and thinking beyond facts to also consider connections and implications. Class discussions, written responses, and partner conversations offer the repeated practice necessary for students to become comfortable sharing their thoughts with specificity and supporting their ideas with evidence from their texts.
Students keep both reading journals and writing folders. All parts of the writing process are practiced as students plan, draft, revise, and edit written work in the form of narrative essays, poetry, reports, persuasive pieces, and creative writing. Teachers introduce and model specific strategies for improving writing, and students work to incorporate these into their pieces. Students have opportunities to grow and set goals for themselves as writers using both their own initiative and the feedback received from teachers and peers.
Departmentalization allows for classes that concentrate specifically on Reading and Language Arts. As students transition from Grade 3 to Grade 4, their literacy skills improve in terms of degree of depth. The program assumes new dimensions, resulting from the increasing maturity of students and the increasingly more complex and varied reading materials to which they are exposed. The reading program continues to stress the skills that lead to independence in reading. More detailed and broader discussion questions involving inferential thinking give students greater opportunity to expand their comprehension and vocabulary. Drawing conclusions, making inferences, understanding literal and implied meanings, thinking critically, and evaluating meanings are important comprehension skills taught in Grade 4. Literary concepts of theme, symbolism, figurative language, and character development are explored. Teachers integrate independent reading, class novels, and trade books that focus on the higher level skills required at this time. In Language Arts classes, the focus is on the process of writing. Students keep Writers’ Notebooks where they record their “seeds” for writing. They plan, draft, revise, and edit written work in the form of essays, poetry, and expository and creative writing. Grammar and the mechanics of writing are taught in mini lessons and incorporated into the students’ writing. Both reading and writing are often integrated with other subject areas.
In Grade 5, grammar, usage, writing, reading, and study skills are incorporated into the language arts program. Students learn critical thinking skills by analyzing and evaluating texts. Students read for deep comprehension and to acquire information to answer questions. They support opinions, make predictions, use inference to draw conclusions, and compare and contrast relationships. Students learn to distinguish between main idea and supporting details while reading nonfiction passages and current events publications. The elements of literature are presented through novels and short stories. As part of their language arts curriculum, children participate in an invaluable study skills course which is particularly helpful as preparation for middle school. Organizational skills and study habits are stressed. Class discussion and note-taking skills are modeled and refined.
Students experience one additional writing class per six day cycle during which they put to use grammar and vocabulary skills from language arts classwork while crafting expository and creative pieces. Character analysis essays are planned, guided, and revised in class using Google Drive. Students are held accountable for thesis statements, organized evidence, appropriate transitions, and formal essay mechanics while being introduced to page citation for text quotations. They develop awareness of metaphorical as well as literal meanings in mentor texts from diverse literary voices and build imagery into their own poetry and creative fiction.