Language Arts

Children enter school with a natural curiosity about the world of language and with various levels of literacy skills. At MCS, students are surrounded by words, stories, discussions, books, debates, rhythm, and poetry, and the life and purpose of language. Teachers follow a sequential program of instruction in writing mechanics, vocabulary, spelling, and grammar. In the younger grades, teachers use a reading and writing program called Fundations that has structured reading, spelling, and handwriting lessons which use engaging, multisensory techniques, and a phonemic awareness program called Sounds in Motion to teach early literacy skills. The teaching of reading and writing in the upper grades is characterized by a critical exploration of text, voice, and perspective.
Teachers support the 4-5s’ growing language arts skills by integrating literacy activities into their daily routines. In addition to daily read-alouds, students independently look at a variety of books every day. 4-5s participate in many listening exercises along with the Sounds in Motion program which helps them to differentiate letter names and sounds to build their phonemic awareness. As a result, the 4-5s learn to break words into syllables, rhyme, and follow directions. While the students are learning to converse effectively with classmates and teachers during meetings, they also develop essential skills including listening, formulating opinions, and responding to and appreciating others’ perspectives. During times such as morning meetings, worktime discussions, and morning messages, the 4-5s create necessary strategies for participating in thoughtful conversations. The 4-5s writing program draws on the student’s excitement to express their thoughts on paper. Students’ ideas may be written phonetically or dictated, often with accompanying illustrations to help solidify the meaning of their writing. 4-5s work on their printed letters and strengthen their fine motor skills through the Learning Without Tears program. 
The 5-6s begin to view themselves as writers and readers as they explore oral and written language in meaningful and engaging ways. Through a variety of games, activities, and experiences, the children investigate letter names, letter sounds, and begin sight word vocabulary. They learn to listen, tell, and respond to a wide range of stories, and cultivate strategies for both decoding (reading) and encoding (writing) words. Discussions during meetings, explanations for their creations, story acting, and conversations about books read help enhance their oral skills. Formal and informal writing times offer children opportunities to express themselves in meaningful and varied ways. Weekly journaling and the class newspaper are activities used to develop emergent writing skills such as leaving spaces between words, including beginning, middle, and ending sounds in words, and making text-to-speech connections. The 5-6s strengthen their fine motor skills and work on their printed letters. Teachers use Fundations, a structured literacy program grounded in the science of reading, to support instruction. Sounds in Motion is a phonemic awareness program that builds students’ aptitude for reading and writing by connecting sounds with kinesthetic movements, helping students to differentiate letter names and sounds, rhyme, and break words into syllables.
The 6-7s work on reading and writing during specific language arts times as well as throughout other subject areas during the day. They develop and use their reading and writing skills in meaningful ways during small guided reading groups, whole-group mini-lessons, and writing projects. The 6-7s learn many different strategies for decoding: phonetic analysis (including sounding out and spelling rules), context and picture clues, and sight vocabulary. As their reading skills grow, they also practice multiple reading comprehension skills, including retelling and summarizing the story, inferencing, sequencing, discriminating between fact and fiction, recognizing text features, utilizing prior knowledge of the subject matter, and making text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections. 
The 6-7s practice writing daily in both “free writing” and structured writing units. Throughout the year, our writing units include: writing about their own identity, a Farm Festival book, a collection of family gathering stories, an exploration of different kinds of writing (such as lists, how-tos, poetry, letters, and comics), an author study, and a bird research book. They also write about their personal experiences once a week in a Weekly Journal. As they engage in these writing activities, the 6-7s practice organizing ideas, revising and editing, using punctuation, applying knowledge of spelling rules, and writing in lowercase letters.
The 7-8s language arts curriculum encourages students to make the connection between language and experience. Consequently, the essential skills of reading and writing are continually integrated into social studies. Through project-based writing work and creative writing, students explore and apply spelling, vocabulary usage, organization of ideas, and writing conventions such as the correct application of punctuation and capitalization. Language arts classes take the forms of guided practice, small group experiences, and independent work. 7-8s students solidify their application of decoding strategies through sequential phonics and spelling lessons. At the end of the school year, students are expected to independently decode multisyllabic and unfamiliar words, read and apply sight words, read aloud fluently, and continue building their stamina to read independently for an extended period of time. Comprehension skills and analysis of story structure are brought into focus through whole-group read-alouds, small-group reading sessions, and creative writing assignments. Additionally, essential dialoguing skills of oral expression and listening to others are practiced during all language arts times. 
The 8-9s work to enhance their reading skills in many ways. They explore genres and develop an appreciation for a variety of texts through independent reading both at home and at school. During guided reading, students read, discuss, and analyze texts together in small groups. This guided reading time provides 8-9s with an opportunity to practice modeled comprehension skills in small group settings to help them learn how to think more profoundly about books, elevating their enjoyment of reading. Students also explore nonfiction texts throughout many other areas of the curriculum studying nonfiction text features and identifying key facts and main ideas. 
The 8-9s writing curriculum engages students in the writing process through a range of projects and activities. The personal narrative unit in the fall is followed by an expository writing unit in the winter. In this unit, which is integrated with their study of the Haudenosaunee in social studies, the 8-9s develop their non-fiction writing skills. They collect facts and take notes about the traditional lifestyle practices of the Haudenosaunee, and then organize them into a paragraph complete with topic and concluding sentences. For the spring writing unit, the 8-9s write pourquoi tales, in which they create original stories about a New York State native mammal of their choice. This creative writing project is integrated with the study of the Lenape, as well as connections with science, art, and Spanish. Through writing both creative and expository pieces, the 8-9s hone their writing skills and develop their ability to respond attentively to the mechanics of writing, including third-grade conventions for punctuation and capitalization. They continue to develop their spelling skills through weekly spelling units. In differentiated spelling groups, students study spelling patterns and rules.
The 9-10s read and write in various areas across the curriculum each day. They focus on building their fluency and reading comprehension skills through both their daily independent reading and through literature circles. They learn and practice specific reading skills, like summarizing and making inferences. The 9-10s engage with various comprehension tools, like the signposts, which help to foster a greater understanding of the features of texts and to aid close reading. Through class books and book clubs, the 9-10s develop skills in a variety of areas, including interpreting books by exploring vocabulary usage, creating and answering questions, leading each other in discussions, and utilizing their artistic expression.
During writing, the 9-10s are immersed in genre studies, which include personal narrative, historical fiction, persuasive writing, and poetry. Through their personal narratives, the 9-10s learn more about each other by reading about momentous occasions in the lives of their peers. The historical fiction unit is tied directly to their immigration study in social studies and provides an opportunity for the 9-10s to think creatively about the historical information presented. When writing persuasive letters, the 9-10s use details and evidence to support their arguments. In all the writing projects, the 9-10s look closely at word choice and work to add descriptive language to their pieces. The spelling and grammar program is designed to expand and reinforce students’ understanding and application of writing conventions and vocabulary.
©2020 Manhattan Country School. All Rights Reserved.