Language Arts/English Philosophy
Language Arts consists of the broad subject areas of reading, writing (which includes spelling, grammar, mechanics, language usage, and penmanship), listening and speaking. From the earliest days of life children are learning to use language to communicate and to make sense of the world. Our goal in literacy instruction is to give them the tools to communicate and effectively interpret the spoken and written word. In addition, lower, middle and high school teachers of English and language arts communicate their love of language and instill in their students a deep appreciation of both the beauty and practicality of carefully constructed stories, essays, poetry, novels, and speeches.
Nursery and Kindergarten Language Arts
At the nursery level, we believe that an integrated language arts program in which children use language in order to communicate and learn about their world is the most effective way to develop skills in speaking, listening, and emergent reading and writing. Our program builds on young children's curiosity and enthusiasm and is based on the understanding that young children learn best when they can construct meaning in a context-rich environment. It is in this environment that children have many opportunities to engage in pretend play, look at books and be read to, listen to stories being told and on audiotape; use the classroom library; dictate and dramatize stories; see, create and use a wide variety of print in everyday classroom activities-signs, notes, lists, labels, etc.; express ideas and feelings, ask questions, play with language, and listen to the ideas, feelings and questions of others.
Our language based, context-rich approach to literacy is also developmentally appropriate for supporting young children for whom English is a second language. Research shows that young children learn a second language more readily when they engage in meaningful everyday activities such as conversation, play experiences, and children's literature within an accepting environment. English language learners and their families are welcomed and encouraged to share their language and culture with the class. English language learners move through a sequence of stages at a varying individual rate. Research indicates that the stronger, more developed young children are in their first language, the easier it will be to learn a second. We encourage parents to continue speaking the first language at home and we recognize that there is an ebb and flow to children's bilingualism and that it is rare for both languages to be well balanced.
Our lower school program builds on children's curiosity and enthusiasm and it provides them with many opportunities to develop and strengthen both the love of language and skills at using language creatively and well. Through rich and diverse daily experiences children come to develop an understanding of the sound and structure of language. The program also allows students to develop their capacity to reason.
First and Second Grade Language Arts
Children learn reading skills in both large and small groups and individually. Beginning readers learn a variety of strategies, including decoding, phonics, and retelling and summarizing stories in order to achieve success in reading. Students begin to develop writing skills as they dictate stories; the connection between reading and writing becomes clear as students move toward creation and sharing of their own written work. The writing program supports children because it is individualized to meet the wide range of developmental levels among students. Students generate topics, research, record, reread, revise and edit as they write both fiction and non-fiction. While students use their imaginations to create stories, they also learn practical spelling, capitalization, and printing skills.
Third and Fourth Grade Language Arts
From second to third grade, students make a developmental shift from "learning to read" to "reading to learn." In third grade, students are reading both for information and for pleasure. In order to do so effectively, they learn and practice a wide variety of skills and strategies; they analyze for detail; they synthesize information; they make inferences; they use phonics and context to determine pronunciation and meaning. Students in third grade will begin to use a dictionary and thesaurus as they develop vocabulary. Students engage in discussions about books they read in order to understand and evaluate meaning. Students also practice reading aloud.
Students also engage in a writing process that extends throughout the curriculum. Students brainstorm ideas, plan, draft, conference, rewrite, edit and share their written work. In the process of writing, students also encounter grammar and they practice mechanics and well as spelling patterns and rules. Students practice several types of writing, including description, persuasion, comparing, organizing, summarizing, and giving directions.
In fourth grade students continue the work begun in third, with the addition of reading chapter books from a wide variety of genres (including adventure, fantasy, poetry, drama, biography, and non-fiction).
Students practice writing skills as they continue to use the method learned in third grade. They additionally learn to write short book reports and research reports in which they gather, summarize and organize information from non-fiction sources. Students continue to write about personal impressions and experiences and develop their skills so that they can share ideas with others in written form.
Middle School students have newly developing skills in abstract and critical thinking along with increasing abilities to understand new perspectives. They exhibit great curiosity, engagement, and enthusiasm for challenging themselves to become critical thinkers. Middle School students also run the gamut of developmental needs and the humanities program allows teachers to address those need deliberately and confidently. With 90-minute periods and an interdisciplinary program that allows for individual attention and pacing and special focus on writing, students in 6th through 8th grade develop and hone their skills as readers, writers, speakers and thinkers.
The fifth grade writing program seeks to capitalize on students' creativity and enthusiasm for writing by providing students many opportunities to try different writing styles. Teachers encourage students to refine their writing by utilizing constructive criticism and peer review and the sharing of written work further enhances the students' progress as young writers. Students more clearly develop their skills as expository, research, and creative writers. Building upon lower school introduction to various genres, fifth grade students focus on plot development and resolution, characterization, setting and dialogue in creative writing. They practice summarizing and interpreting reading material and they write essays and journals to develop expository skills. They use libraries, organize materials, take notes and present findings in written and oral formats to practice research writing. In addition, students continue to practice the mechanics of writing with a particular focus on sentence and paragraph structure.
Proficiency in reading is nurtured by exposing students to reading in as many areas as possible, including reading their own classmates' writing. With a particular focus on comprehension of fiction and non-fiction, students come to a solid understanding of literary themes and expository information. Students share literary experiences by listening to and responding to texts read aloud by teachers. Students also participate in small group discussion of novels read throughout the grade.
The Humanities program aims to inculcate in students a love for reading and writing and a critical but open-minded view of the diverse world. Through coherently planned thematic units, constructive and consistent feedback, and opportunities for personal choice that include both remediation and enrichment, students leave middle school with a strong sense of themselves as capable writers, readers, and thinkers.
Sixth Grade Humanities
Sixth grade humanities is an interdisciplinary course that uses discussion, projects, simulations, and guided research as a basis for studying language arts, literature, and ancient history. Students engage in an intellectual, creative, and artistic process and work as individuals as well as in whole group and small group formats. The course covers four major interdisciplinary units-geography, Mesopotamia and/or other river valley civilizations, ancient Greece, and ancient China-that link literature selections with historical concepts. Students use the process approach to write a research paper and creative pieces.
Students in sixth grade learn geography and mapping, historical perspective and chronology, political and economic structures of governance, the role of religion in human societies, philosophies of ancient peoples, and the foundations of democracy. The Sixth grade units allow students to explore and understand current world issues by providing a context and framework for human behavior. For example, as they role-play the ancient Greek city-states, they encounter questions of gender and class equity, slavery and ownership, education, and the beginning of democracy. They also begin to understand the philosophies that influence modern political thought and action.
As they read, students begin to ask interpretive questions, notice significant details of plot, character, and setting, recognize figurative language, and acquire and use new vocabulary. They develop writing skills by summarizing both fiction and non-fiction pieces coherently, narrating personal experiences, writing short fictional pieces, organize prose into paragraphs and organizing paragraphs around topic sentences. Students practice note-taking strategies, organize notes into basic outlines, and learn and use correct bibliographic formats. Students continue to revise and self-edit their work with the guidance of teachers. In the revision process, students pay close attention to the details of grammar, usage, and mechanics.
Discussion is an important component of the humanities curriculum because it allows students to develop their capacities to reason. Students listen to and consider others' ideas, recognize and articulate similarities between ideas, support ideas with textual evidence, and carefully further discussion with ideas expressed at appropriate times.
Seventh and Eighth Grade Humanities
The Seventh and Eighth Grade Humanities curriculum explores how people in the past and present express themselves in thought, in the arts, and in action. The course encourages students to engage in a deliberative process that leads them to intelligent and compassionate participation in the world. The course aims to produce active citizens as well as thinkers -- reflective and analytical young people who will apply the habits and the insights they develop to their own decision-making.
In seventh grade, students investigate the problems, challenges, and opportunities of nationhood. As students investigate, discuss, and explore Colonialism, Rebellion and Independence, the Constitutional Convention, Westward Expansion, Slavery, and the Civil War, they develop their skills as critical thinkers and historians.
In eighth grade students build upon the seventh grade experience as they investigate the American experience from Reconstruction through the Civil Rights Movement with the Constitution as a foundation. Chicago provides a case study approach to urbanization, industrialization, and immigration at the turn of the Century. Students explore America in the world as they study Imperialism and World War I. Current events provide a stimulus to many of the discussions and investigations of the past in order to shed light on the problems of today's world.
The Humanities curriculum integrates history and literature and uses the tools of anthropology, sociology, art, music, geography, philosophy and law to help students understand American history. By reading both historical non-fiction and fiction that parallel the topics and periods studied, students make significant connections as they ask meaningful questions about history, literature, and humanity. In humanities, they learn how to ask effective questions and to evaluate primary and secondary sources; how to detect point of view; how to use evidence to support an argument; how to find, define, and research a fruitful question; how to write an analytical essay with a thesis statement using evidence and sources to support their claims.
Students read to understand literal meaning and they reread to make deeper connections. The study of literature allows students to analyze story elements, identify themes in literature, and to enrich their vocabularies. Students' critical reading skills develop as they work to summarize, quote, and paraphrase succinctly. Various types of writing, such as research papers, interpretive essays, and creative pieces, including poetry, drama, journals, and personal narrative, encourage further development. Students refine their writing by using a clearly structured self, peer, and teacher review process in which they focus on both content and grammar, usage and mechanics.
Discussion is an important component of the humanities curriculum because it allows students to develop their capacities to reason, to marshal evidence for their arguments, and to defend their ideas orally. As a result, students are encouraged to listen and respond to the ideas of other students. They recognize important issues and interests and engage in problem solving during discussions. Student ownership of discussion grows progressively from small group, student-led discussion in 7th grade to whole class, student-led discussion in 8th grade. Teachers carefully work with students to develop analytic questions and to hone students' listening and responding skills.
High School English
The curriculum of the English Department is designed to help students read literary texts (including film) very closely in order to discover, through class discussion and through writing, what the text says and means, how the text affects them, and how the text achieves its effect. Students study texts by a variety of authors from various countries (concentrating especially, though by no means exclusively, on literature originally written in English) and from various periods. Students read a range of novels, novellas, poems, plays, essays and short stories.
English 1 and 2 focus upon the analysis of literature and the fundamentals of writing. Specifically, students draw comparisons within a text, and among texts; they recognize archetypal patterns within texts; they recognize simile, metaphor and symbol; and they identify moral and ethical questions raised within a text. Students explore patterns of imagery within a text, ask genuine questions about a text, and distinguish authorial voice from narrator/character voice. Students also learn to accept and appreciate ambiguity within a text.
In English 3-4, students may choose to take a year-long course, Analysis and Composition, or a series of three quarter-long courses per year. Students taking quarter-long courses make selections from among three or four options detailed at the end of every quarter for the following quarter. These course options emphasize analytical writing in response to literature. The basis for both discussion and written work is a close reading of the course's texts. The works are typically chosen around a theme, an author, a genre, or a combination of any of these. In addition to these literature courses, each year, at least one course emphasizes story and/or poem writing. Building upon skills learned, practiced, and developed in English 1 and 2, students continue to attend to specific language in the texts as they ask important questions of the text and make increasingly sophisticated inferences about it.
The year-long Analysis and Composition course specifically strengthens writing skills through both analytical and imaginative writing. Students practice writing clear and concise prose and organizing and developing their ideas according to the logic of their theses. The course also focuses on grammar, mechanics and vocabulary. The Analysis and Composition classes are smaller to allow for more teacher-student conferences about writing.
In all English classes, students focus on the process of writing an analytical paper. Students create original and suitable theses; closely read a text for support of their theses; organize introductions and arguments from general to specific; use clear, simple, direct and natural language; check for errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics; connect the ideas they have developed to a larger context (the rest of the text, the unit of study, humanity); support analytical ideas with quotes from the text and integrate those quotes smoothly into their papers. In addition, students often write about their personal connections with the texts.