The intention for FAST to be math and science focused does not mean that literacy is a secondary goal; it means that STEM concepts are integrated into the literacy equation for our students. Literacy encompasses three components for students; Reading Workshop, English Language Arts (ELA) and Writing. These subjects will be taught as a block, particularly in the early grades when students are progressing from learning to read, to reading to learn, so that students have more opportunities to link the concepts together.
One of the key characteristics that sets high progress classrooms apart from typical classrooms is the teachers in these classrooms. Teachers in high progress classrooms do not depend on single programs or approaches to bring about higher achievement. Rather, these teachers have many tools in their toolboxes and know how to use them flexibly and strategically.
A second key characteristic is that teachers in high progress classrooms engage their students in much more text reading and writing than typical teachers, and they limit their students’ work in low-level materials, such as test prep and workbooks. In addition, they are more likely to give students opportunities to choose the texts they read and the topics they write about.
A series of studies on the characteristics of high progress first grade classrooms found that these classrooms consistently featured;
- “Extensive and diverse” reading and writing with kids fully engaged in reading and writing text during most of the time devoted to reading and writing instruction.
- A focus on teaching for self-regulation and decision-making to help students operate as independently as possible.
- Students who were totally engrossed in the work of reading and writing to learn.
- Many books to read at students’ instructional and independent reading levels, both fiction and nonfiction, and of interest to readers.
- Smaller group and individualized instruction.
- More instruction and support for struggling readers.
- Extremely positive environments featuring engaging instruction characterized as positive, low-risk, encouraging, accepting, conveying goals, self-selection, with ownership of reading and writing topics.
FAST teachers, in keeping with the research, will utilize the workshop model in reading instruction for grades K-5. With this model, teachers employ a structure that allows for small, flexible grouping and the targeting of instruction on the specific skills and concepts that need to be reinforced. Small groups may include students focusing on mastering a portion of the lesson or providing time for more intensive teaching.
Reading Workshop - For reading workshop, teachers use assessment data from DIBELS as well as RAZKIDS to determine each student’s instructional level. Teachers then develop guided reading groups to teach students at their own level. Since those at the same reading level may still vary in their mastery of specific reading skills–such as understanding embedded phrases or complex letter-sound relationships–teachers will also organize "strategy groups" to target students needing extra instruction and practice with specific skills. In shared reading, teachers read a book aloud to model expression and comprehension strategies and to build children's vocabulary. Students then reread these books during independent practice to build fluency. In independent reading, children read a book at their own level and respond to the text in writing tasks. Teachers are able to carefully monitor the progress of every student and target identified individual students or groups for extra support.
Based on the above principles, FAST will work to provide a balanced literacy program with high quality literature and informational text to instill a love of reading along with instruction in phonics, grammar, and effective writing. Teachers will use the following curriculum to challenge and support students at every instructional level using a variety of evidence-based instructional strategies;
- Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study® (K-5) developed at Columbia University, this research based program is designed to challenge and support students at every instructional level using a variety of evidence-based instructional strategies.
- Storytown® is a research based reading curriculum for grades K-3. It helps develop phonemic awareness, a robust vocabulary, and offers an easy path to differentiated instruction.
- Reading A-Z® and RazKids® are widely used (K-2), research based reading curriculum that provide teachers with leveled reading resources. Students have online opportunities to learn more at home to improve fluency and reading comprehension.
- Dibels Developmental Reading Assessment® (K-8) will be used to monitor students’ reading fluency and comprehension.
ELA and Writing instruction will also be accomplished using the workshop method which combines mini-lessons focused on standards-aligned goals, for example, using evidence to support an argument followed by guided practice and extended time for independent writing. During this time, teachers circulate through the room, providing feedback and correction as well as conferring with individual students. Teachers will help students analyze and revise their writing. At each grade level, students develop a deeper mastery of argumentative, informational, and narrative writing.
Writing across the Curriculum® is another concept we will utilize to teach and improve writing skills of our students, most prominently in grades 3-8. This concept is designed to improve student’s critical thinking skills by requiring them to write in all of their classes. There are numerous ways to implement this concept across subject areas; journal writing, think-pair-share, quick writes, self-assessments, real world writing, note taking, and research projects are just a few.
Based on the above principles, FAST will work to provide a balanced ELA/Writing program. Teachers will use the following curriculum to challenge and support students at every instructional level using a variety of evidence-based instructional strategies;
- Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study in Opinion, Information and Narrative Writing® (K-5) is a research based program that includes three basic structures; the mini-lesson, independent writing time with conferring and small group work, and share sessions at the end of writing time.
- Write Source® is a writing curriculum implemented in Grades K - 8 that enables students to master the writing process, key writing forms, the 6 + 1 Trait Writing Model, grammar, usage, and mechanics.
- Core Knowledge Sayings and Phrases® are integrated throughout the English Language Arts curriculum in Kindergarten through Grade 8. Mastering these idioms and foreign phrases supports reading and listening comprehension. Every lesson incorporates character values to help students learn the saying or phase as well as understand appropriate social behavior.
- FAST may consider Shurley English® for the research proven English Language Arts, Writing and Grammar portions of the curriculum as well as Empowering Writers® or Write Step® for a writing curriculum after a full review of the prescribed course work and to discover if one is a better fit to align with the writer’s workshop teaching method.
During middle school grades, 6-8, reading, writing and English language arts become more intertwined when it comes to teaching and learning. The middle school curriculum includes vocabulary and concept development. Reading skills develop as students continue to learn using grade level appropriate reading material. Students describe and connect essential ideas, arguments, and perspectives by using their knowledge of text structure, organization, and purpose. They apply this knowledge to achieve fluent oral and silent reading skills.
In order to facilitate teaching/learning reading, ELA and Writing at the middle school level, the following concepts will be an integral piece of the curriculum:
- Close Reading and Writing to Learn
- Working with Evidence
- Understanding Perspectives
- Research, Decision Making and Forming Positions
For each of these concepts, critical text will be introduced (novels, books, articles, position papers, informational text, literary text, narratives, etc.) for the students to read. Along with these texts, writing tasks will be assigned to include, but are not limited to; literary analysis, literary argument, research simulation, student position paper, argument essay, character confessional, advertisement analysis, etc.
Additionally in grades 6-8 we will utilize one of our teaching blocks to educate our students on the concept of plagiarism. This unit will include the 5 key rules to avoid plagiarism, activities to enforce these principles, as well as exercises to assist students in identifying plagiarized texts.
Wordly Wise 3000® will also be utilized in grades 6-8 to provide explicit vocabulary instruction. The words chosen for Wordly Wise 3000® were selected to expand grade level vocabulary and improve reading comprehension by ensuring students master words they will encounter in content-area reading, grade-level literature, and high-stakes tests, including the PSAT, SAT, and ACT.