Wednesday, June 8, 2016

English Language Arts

Like our math program, English Language Arts (ELA) instruction at BCS goes well beyond reading a story, answering multiple-choice questions, or writing a few summary sentences. Instead, the ELA program is carefully designed to encourage students to develop as critical thinkers and strong readers and writers, while meeting the needs of all of the school’s diverse learners with a variety of proven teaching practices.

In kindergarten, a lesson may begin with a quick review of short and long vowel sounds followed by small group “reading centers,” where students work with teachers on their reading skills and reading comprehension. The teacher stops every few pages to ask, “What have we learned so far in the story?” or “Which describing words were just used?” Recently, a kindergarten ELA lesson included a comparison of writing styles and a discussion of how a writer can use words to convey feelings, tell a story, or even teach a new subject. Science was then integrated into the lesson when students were asked to “teach” by writing true facts about a science topic they just studied.

In second grade, the teacher may incorporate the Common Core State Standard, “compare and contrast two or more versions of the same story by authors or from different cultures,” by reading to the students the classic version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and the Chinese rendition, Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas. While listening to the two stories, students take notes on the similarities and differences. Using their notes, the students create a Venn diagram (an illustration of the relationships between and among sets or groups of objects that share something in common) and work with a partner to develop a storyline for their own version of the Goldilocks story.

In fourth grade, students study a new historical fiction novel every three weeks in small group book clubs. Time is reserved for students to independently read their assigned books, but they must take notes on the characters, settings, and themes in preparation for their book club discussions. The book clubs are designed to help students think more deeply about the text and to make real-life connections about what they are reading.

Part of the fourth grade Common Core State Standards is to learn about multiple perspectives, and BCS combines fourth grade California history curriculum with language arts to meet this standard in an integrated and comprehensive way. As students study the Transcontinental Railroad or the Mission Period in California, they are tasked with role-playing various characters to help them understand the multitude of perspectives of people who lived in these time periods. They are also taught the correct procedures for conducting online research, including differentiating between authoritative and non-authoritative sources as well as identifying primary sources. Through this research, they begin to understand how historical events impacted people differently, and they learn that the winners are most often those who write history. This is why, as readers, they have to be mindful and think about the different sides of every story. These lessons are not about memorizing and regurgitating historical information but rather about how to understand history and literature in context from multiple perspectives and how to write an essay that thoughtfully and accurately conveys these multiple perspectives.

In fifth grade, students continue to analyze literature by creating empathy maps where they interpret how a character’s speech or action provides insight into how the character is thinking or feeling. Through these maps, they demonstrate how the characters evolve throughout a story, and they learn to employ language using phrases like “it was a metaphor for…” Students also develop their ability to concisely summarize a story by using sentences that begin with “In the beginning….,” “In the middle….,” and “In the end….” They also learn to end their literary summaries with a concluding sentence that reflects on the story and its theme.

Fifth grade students also learn how to create arguments.  An example of one of their prompts is “Should chocolate milk be served in school?” To help students develop their arguments, the teacher distributes several nutrition articles about chocolate milk. Students then create flash drafts of their argument and work with the teacher to develop plans to find more evidence for their opinion or to find an additional reason to support their claim. The teacher discusses the importance of textual evidence and tasks the students with using articles to find textual evidence to support their claims. Students discover the importance of quoting sources from their research and paraphrasing if a quote is too long.

The English Language Arts program at BCS is designed to support the school’s mission of educating the whole child. Through ELA instruction, we hope to develop students who are critical and analytic thinkers, who can examine the meaning of a text beyond the surface of its words, who can see and empathize with different points of view, who can support their opinions and arguments with evidence, and most importantly, who will develop a lifelong love of learning.