About Elementary English/Language Arts
K-5 Literacy is taught using the Balanced Literacy method, which is an approach that supports students as they work to become independent readers and writers. A range of learning opportunities are utilized so that students have a balance of reading and writing by themselves, reading and writing with their teachers and classmates, and watching their teachers do the work of readers and writers. Balanced Literacy is part of a K-5 vision for literacy instruction in the Caldwell-West Caldwell School District and is compatible with Columbia University’s Reading and Writing Project founded by Lucy Calkins. Two of the major components of Balanced Literacy are Reading Workshop and Writing Workshop.
In Reading/Writing Workshop, one strategy is taught each day. During the first part of the Workshop-- the mini lesson-- teachers demonstrate how to use the strategy and then students give it a quick try. Following the mini lesson, students go off on their own for a large chunk of time to read/write independently. This time increases throughout the school year, as the students’ stamina strengthens. During this time, students utilize strategies from their “toolbox,” deciding when to draw on previously learned strategies. While students are reading or writing independently, the teacher spends this precious time conferring with individual students. During these conversations, the teacher informally identifies a strategy that the student is using and explains to the students how it is helpful and that they should keep using it. Teachers may also decide upon a next teaching point that will raise the level of the child’s reading/writing work. Additionally, teachers may work with small groups while the rest of the class is working independently. Groups are often fluid and are formed based on readiness for new types of books or on a strategy that a few children in the class could use. Workshop always ends with a “share”-- a time for the class to celebrate the hard work that students are doing.
In addition to reading and writing workshop, students in grades K-3 learn foundational skills through the Wilson Fundations program. This systematic program in critical skills emphasizes phonics, word study, fluency, vocabulary, handwriting and spelling.
All grades benefit from read alouds which support the work that is done in reading and writing workshops. During read aloud the teacher reads aloud to students for enjoyment and meaning. Students observe and listen to the experienced reader. The teacher provides a high level of support while the students as the listeners experience and contemplate literary works they may not yet be able to read.
Students in kindergarten and first grade learn skills through Shared Reading. Shared Reading is an interactive reading experience that occurs when students join in or share the reading of an enlarged text while guided and supported by a teacher. Through Shared Reading children participate in reading, learn critical concepts of how print works, and begin to perceive themselves as readers.