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Curriculum Highlights: Enhancing the Language Arts at 
NLS

Posted on: Wed, April 04, 2018 at 10:51

Curriculum Highlights: Enhancing the Language Arts at 
NLS

This year, due to the very generous support of a three-year operating match, Nantucket Lighthouse School is able to provide even more refined and specialized instruction for all different levels and kinds of readers. We are very fortunate in that our long-time Upper Primary teacher and reading specialist Sandy Mitchell has come back to work with us this year. Sandy is helping all teachers with literacy planning and development, as well as with literacy instruction for individual and small groups of students. Because reading skills vary greatly within any given classroom, Sandy is able to support students anywhere along the reading spectrum, as well as teachers working to individualize instruction in the classroom.

Curriculum Highlights: Enhancing the Language Arts at 
NLS
By Sandy Mitchell | Reading Specialist and Consultant


Recently, I transitioned from full-time classroom teacher to part-time reading specialist and consultant for the Rugged Road campus. In my new role, I consult with teachers as they have questions about specific students or seek guidance in planning their daily instructional practices. It is a pleasure and an honor to work with individual and small groups of students and support their teachers on a daily basis.

In Kinderclass, small groups of students work together to identify and write letters, sequence them in alphabetical order and generate words that begin with a specific letter’s sound. As I offer additional, specific practice for the group working with letters, their classmates enjoy a more intimate classroom experience with their teacher. My observations of the students’ work inform the educational decisions for subsequent instruction and games. Sharing ideas, Barrie creates new activities as we reflect upon the students’ responses. Each student in the class works in these small groups every week. We get to hear unique insights that enliven our instruction, such as ‘the letter V is like the letter U with a corner!”

Moving to Primary class, individual students work on carefully selected books to build their awareness of print and increase their reading vocabulary. The children enjoy camaraderie as they share simple books together, chanting repetitive phrases, creating their own lines and writing words from memory. The matching of speech to print is emphasized and students work to write simple words and phrases, building on their understanding of letter sounds. The alphabetic principles learned in Kinderclass are the foundation of this important work, as the thread of letter-sound knowledge is woven into words.

In an older Primary class, small groups of students work together on ‘word sorts’ to focus on beginning sounds in words or the various spellings of vowel sounds. Recently, all of the groups began ‘word study’ notebooks to record what they find as they ‘hunt’ for words that follow the phonetic pattern studied in their weekly spelling sorts. After reading a book with their teacher, they meet with me to create written and illustrated responses to their reading, which encourage thoughtful reflection and the opportunity to revisit the text in order to glean additional understanding. Specific students work with me to further develop their reading skills, increasing their word recognition and enjoying good books together. The strands of word recognition, phonetics and reading for meaning are braided together, strengthening each student’s development as a reader and writer.

In Upper Primary classes, specific students work individually or in groups to refine their reading and writing skills, selecting books to read with me, creating artistic responses and practicing phonetic patterns through their developing spelling abilities. Compositions are created based on research they have read and noted. One student gravitates to books set in the natural world while another enjoys ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ comic stories, working to create his own. One small group of students chooses retellings of Greek myths to read and discuss. The choices are as varied as the interests of the individual readers.

Additionally, all of the teachers in the Primary classes, (grades 1-5), have worked with me to assess individual students through informal inventories in order to identify specific abilities and reading levels. This is an important step in determining instruction and selecting appropriate reading material for each student. The practice of carefully observing children as they read serves to inform the interaction that occurs between teacher and student during the reading process. Is the child fluent when reading? Can individual words be recognized with ease? What does the child do when encountering an unfamiliar word? How does the student retell what was read? What does that child need next in order to continue his or her growth as a reader?

Working with the children and teachers at each stage, as reading and writing is developed, helps to strengthen the connections between grades and supports the daily instruction from each teacher. As students move from one class to the next, a beautiful and unique tapestry is created with threads as varied and colorful as the individuals who weave them.