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Overview: Language Arts

The literacy program provides students with opportunities to develop the essential capacities necessary for success with a focus on complex oral and written communication and analytical and creative thinking and problem-solving.

Language and literacy development are essential for learning in all curriculum areas. The TAS standards and benchmarks for language arts outline a rigorous progression of thinking, listening, speaking, reading, and writing across the grade levels.

In the Lower School, we implement the components of balanced literacy: reading and writing workshop, read aloud with accountable talk, shared reading and writing, and word study. With Columbia Teachers College Reading and Writing Units of Study anchoring our instruction, we also use regular assessments to meet individual needs.

Reading

Across the year, teachers and students engage in real world reading skills and strategies during a daily reading workshop. Each day, children gather for a whole class mini lesson, after which they read independently as teachers move around the room, conferring with individual students and small groups. Children practice a variety of reading skills and strategies that support decoding, fluency, and, above all else, meaning making. Each year, students read across genres, developing their skills in understanding both fiction and nonfiction.

Assessments, administered across the year, ensure that children are reading just-right texts and receiving individualized instruction. These assessments include anecdotal conference notes, running records, and performance assessments.


Writing

In each classroom, students participate in a writing workshop that parallels the work they do during reading workshop. Children write every day and study various genres across the year; they move through the writing process selecting topics that they care about and craft writing that communicates their ideas clearly. Children have the opportunity to learn about and write a variety of genres, including narratives, information pieces, and persuasive essays.

Teachers study student writing and administer regular performance assessments to track progress and plan for instruction.


Grammar

The ability to communicate effectively in English requires accurate grammar usage. Grammar instruction begins in KA as students practice subject/verb agreement in oral sentences and builds to studies of combining clauses to show the connectedness of ideas in Grade 5. Grammar instruction in our classrooms takes the form of oral games, direct instruction, and inquiry.


Handwriting

Starting in KA, students begin to learn the basics of handwriting in the "Handwriting Without Tears" program. This developmentally appropriate program includes a focus on both gross and fine motor skills, body awareness, and proper pencil grip. Beginning in Grade 3, the emphasis shifts to efficient keyboarding. Students who have been taught other methods of handwriting prior to arriving at TAS are not asked to convert their style. Legibility and ease of writing is stressed, rather than a particular style.

Word Study

Each primary classroom implements Words Their Way, an assessment-based spelling program that emphasizes spelling patterns over memorization. After teachers administer a spelling inventory appropriate for their grade level, children are divided into small groups, where they learn to study words, look for patterns, and apply these patterns to their daily writing to help them spell both known and unknown words. This structured approach to spelling in the early grades provides the instruction and experiences necessary for students to move from unconventional to more conventional spellings.

In the intermediate grades, students begin to explore the meaning-based units of words: prefixes, suffixes, base words, and roots. Through inquiry-based studies and teacher directed lessons, they build their vocabulary while learning how connected the words in English are.

All children learn high frequency words appropriate to their grade level and are expected to apply their knowledge of these sight words to both their independent reading and writing work.

At TAS, we want students to have a deeper understanding of how words work, with added emphasis placed on the use of spelling as a communication tool.

Speaking and Listening

At TAS, conversation strategies are explicitly taught in each and every classroom. Children are instructed on how to engage in meaningful discourse; they are expected to make contributions to class discussions, work with partners to practice partner talk, and to listen actively to the contributions others have made. Children are also taught to offer appropriate responses in the form of questions and statements. With repeated practice and consistent coaching from teachers, children are taught to articulate their thoughts clearly, with appropriate grammar, enunciation, and volume. Talk is taught formally during read aloud, where a book serves as the anchor for conversation. In the intermediate grades, students begin to participate in debates during reading and writing workshop. These informal, mini-debates lay a foundation for logical thinking.

Students have multiple opportunities to develop their speaking and listening skills throughout the day and the curriculum; students talk and listen in all subject areas.