Our Approach to Basic Skills
Basic Skills are brought to life through the lens of each given theme. Actual assignments such as “Write a story about a deep sea diver” (during a study on oceans) or “Figure out how many candles would be needed to light the menorah during all the eight nights of Hanukkah” (as children are given actual candles to work with during a study on the Winter Solstice with its Holidays of Light). Children participate in literature groups with assigned reading. Jane Yolen’s Letting Swift Water Go, for example, is compared to the real town of Moncton that used to be on Rainy City Lake, after a field trip to the Cedar River Watershed. Children might then be asked to write a story based on the point of view of a resident living in either town at the time when it was evacuated.
Teaching is not only teacher to student but peer to peer.
We understand that bringing basic skills to life through purposeful activities as exemplified above and so bountifully suggested by the themes is in keeping with best instructional practices in working with elementary age children.
We realize, as well, that isolating instruction in a particular skill is often necessary and can provide its own joy:
If we teach the structure of the number line at the introductory primary level we offer mathematical beginners the “whole nine yards”. They soon come to realize that numbers go on and on in both directions, and find it fascinating that the Romans hadn’t thought of zero and therefore couldn’t make a number line like ours. Children find it natural to imagine negative numbers and are brought into an understanding that the greater and lesser than signs, so typically confusing for the young child to grasp, are actually vestigial arrows from either end of the number line. They take this structural awareness with them as they progress, moving from a horizontal line to a vertical one, then going on to construct an axis and then soon after a whole grid with its corresponding ordered pairs. Camille Hayward is the Coordinator of Basic Skills Instruction. Dr. Marian Sheehan works across the grades, providing small group and individual instruction, supporting growth in the basic skills. Teachers regularly meet to discuss children’s progress in these key areas.
Cooperation in preparing a presentation on a thematic unit of study.
We pay attention to grade level norms in terms of academic growth and expectations, choosing to wait to begin to teach formal reading to children who are ready for instruction. (A six year old who is technically in kindergarten may be ready for beginning reading, which we provide individually or in a small group format.) We watch for signs of developmental readiness, i.e., able to rhyme words orally, showing interest in print, etc. If the child did not receive reading instruction as a six year old in the kindergarten year, we begin teaching reading in the first grade year, when many children are six, which is typical for the majority of children at Lake and Park. Instruction is provided systematically and usually individually, replicating a tutorial in many ways. Children begin with whole language for confidence building: Let’s “read” Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, and before long children are “reading” already. We soon go on to work with basal readers to develop a basic sight word vocabulary, hone initial consonant auditory skills and visual awareness. Concurrent with beginning reading instruction, children are asked to write simple sentences such as I like ______, with the child encouraged to sound out the word for the blank, furthering her/his awareness of sound/symbol relationships–to initial consonants are now added final consonants, some initial blends and final blends and thereafter medial vowels– all while making a meaningful statement of the child’s own expression. Drawing is seen as a key component of this work. As time progresses and phonetic skills develop, children grow in ability to identify individual sounds and to accurately represent them in writing. Soon after, they are introduced to increasingly complex constructs: th, sh, ch, ing, tion, for examples. As they grow in reading they come to recognize basic words as the, said, etc., and are asked to spell those words in standard form; the transition from inventive spelling to standard spelling continues in this way. Words from the theme are often presented conventionally and add to the young child’s sense of mastery.
While each child operates independently, the above progression is typical of every child’s development in early writing and reading. Children are held accountable in reading acquisition by reading orally to a teacher, often on a one to one basis. The teacher guides the selection of materials to supplement the basal reader and monitors the transition to entry level trade books such as Frog and Toad, Little Bear, and Ricky Ricotta, and in this way the child is launched into reading. During the initial year, children are taught to sustain silent reading, exposed to high quality works of poetry and composition, asked to read for informational purposes and begin to participate in a literature group.