English Language Arts
We want our students to develop the necessary reading comprehension and writing skills to broaden their minds, stimulate their intellectual curiosity, enhance their appreciation of the beauty of the English language to think for themselves, and express their own voice in a clear, intentional and engaged fashion.
Reading fluency and comprehension is an integral part of everything we do in our ELA classes. Students read a variety of texts in order to build their vocabulary, learn different literary skills, and language concepts. Students are asked to use critical thinking to analyze what they have read and find direct evidence in the text to offer a deeper meaning of the “ why” it was written or developed in a specific way. This allows the children to find a deeper understanding of and connection to the subject content.
Unless specified otherwise, our students are asked to annotate all the texts they read in all subject areas. While a beginner is mostly asked to summarize, select an important detail, or extract the main idea of each paragraph they read, older students are expected to respond to the text, make personal connections, make inferences, draw conclusions, and later on connect what they read to other texts, ideas, or events.
While children are able to learn life lessons through the literary and informational texts they read, they demonstrate how completely they have processed knowledge through writing.
By the time they leave Discovery, we want all our students to employ textual evidence in their writing to support their ideas and to make inferences which are directly connected to the evidence they cite. We introduce our younger students to the R.A.C.E model (respond, answer, cite, explain), and challenge our older students to then expand on their methods of response to various writing tasks.
We design a mix of informational and creative writing tasks to insure our students acquire all the tools necessary to write in any given scenario..
For example, students often start the academic year by writing their “Where I’m From” poems, This exercise is designed demonstrate their knowledge of the literary art of poetry, to show their comprehension of the specific lesson taught, as well as give them an opportunity to be introspective and make personal connections with the subject matter.
Unless otherwise directed, we ask students to write in complete sentences by being mindful of syntax, grammar and punctuation. Our goal is to help students write coherent, logical responses to questions that are syntactically accurate.
Themes & multidisciplinary units
We use all of the skills we teach to help students better understand the specific themes that are contained within a multidisciplinary unit. For example, this year, students were asked to explore the idea of the American Dream. To that end, they read fictional literature in short story, dramatic,and poetic forms. Within those readings, in addition to the content, they focussed on the skills and strategies associated with understanding those literary forms (theme, story structure, character development, figurative language, etc.). They also read informational texts which related to the subject. They then practiced the skills that support informational reading and writing (main idea, text structure, author purpose, etc.).
In the previous years, our children have explored topics such as the Newark Rebellion of 1967, the challenges of providing drinkable water to all, the power of voting, the changes brought by children around the world (with the book, “I am Malala”), and the interaction between sports and society.
In the 2022-23 school year, we will explore the world of entrepreneurship, the building blocks of democracy, and the challenges of digital citizenship.
Our desire is that these topics will enable the students to become intellectually curious about new ideas and aspects of the world and challenge many of the preconceived notions they may have had. Analyzing and interpreting new information helps to keep the students engaged and encourage them to practice the skills we would like them to master.
Since 2017 we have been able to regularly integrate the visual arts with ELA units. It shows our students that their work can have many different interpretations and allow different points-of-entry for understanding of a topic. This past year, our students studied poster design –and produced their own – when we read A Raisin in the Sun, and they represented themes of the Harlem Renaissance while studying digital drawing techniques.
Our goal is to develop prolific readers and writers, as well as eloquent speakers. In addition to reading in class, all our students are asked to read and write independently everyday. They are assigned a mix of at-level reading and challenging reading, whether it is to continue reading a book studied in class, complete their daily homeroom reading assignment, or work on a weekly packet designed to reinforce class activities.
Major projects and activities are launched during mixed-group classes. While some tasks are the same for all students, we often design two versions of a project and assign students the level that is most accessible to them. Teachers use a variety of grouping and co-teaching strategies to initiate meaningful class conversations, engage all students, and provide the appropriate level of support and challenge.
In the labs, students are grouped by level and in addition to acquiring additional vocabulary at their grade level (Wordly Wise), our children work on writing skills that progress from writing grammatically and syntactically correct sentences to writing complex sentences in well articulated paragraphs for a variety of writing purposes.
The midday workshops gather small groups of children of different grades, and for a limited period for the daily practice of a specific skill. In 21-22, ELA skills covered in these 45-minute workshops included spelling homonyms correctly, close reading, using verb tenses appropriately, writing and thinking (Bard College style), writing and speaking, verifying sources, to name a few..
When they enter school students pick-up their “daily.” They start working on this assignment as soon as they enter their homeroom and while their teachers check-in with all the students.
While these dailies can be prepared by any teacher on any topic, they always contain a reading component, which the students have to annotate. In 21-22, we had a series inspired by the Reading Graphs feature of the New York Times, and read excerpts from The Number Devil. Current events sourced from Newsela allow us to easily offer differentiated versions of the same articles.
The goal of the dailies is both to strengthen the reading habits of our students,to expose them to a variety of topics they will not necessarily engage with in their other classes, as well as build rigor and regularity into their study habits-of-mind.
In addition to the accommodations required by some of our students’ I.E.P., we use many of our Friday afternoon PD sessions to adjust the reading and writing demands made on students based on our observations and the reading screenings. When appropriate, we modify assignments, offer one-on-one tutoring, both during and after school hours, pair students to work together, and use different co-teaching configurations to provide any support our students might need.