The Language Arts Department fulfills Rockwern’s mission statement by striving to maximize potential in students in the areas of reading, writing, research, and communication. The department recognizes that the skills taught in Language Arts are fundamental to learning in every discipline, and the department endeavors to help every child reach his or her fullest potential. From teaching the youngest students to recognize letters and listen to stories, to introducing the oldest students to classic literature and creative writing, the Language Arts Department continually challenges students to grow as readers, writers, researchers, and communicators.
Rockwern’s curriculum is designed to implement Common Core State Standards while utilizing a Responsive Classroom approach to teaching. The constituent survey reflects high satisfaction with the English/Language Arts program among current constituents, but significantly less satisfaction among alumni and trustees. These numbers suggest that problems may have existed but have been addressed, resulting in the current satisfaction of parents, teachers, students, and administration.
The goal of the Language Arts Department is to develop passionate, habitual, critical, fluent readers, and confident, competent writers. We believe that every student should feel secure in his or her ability to communicate orally as well as through the written word. Additionally, we believe that technology should be incorporated at all levels in age-appropriate ways which support student growth.
Rockwern’s K-3 Language Arts program uses Scott Foresman’s Reading Street©. This platform integrates reading, writing, science, and social studies, creating not only a cohesive learning environment, but a fun and motivating atmosphere for student learning. In kindergarten, students begin their week with a “Big Question” video which generates discussion around the concept being taught. Students are presented with a balanced phonics and whole-language approach to reading and writing. Guided reading groups, with leveled books, provide for differentiation and flexible grouping. In the classroom, centers and activities are designed to further expand upon each student’s learning, as well as promote responsibility, independence and time management. Students are given opportunities to practice skills in pairs, small groups, and individually.
Handwriting Without Tears® is introduced in kindergarten and reviewed in first grade. Writing begins at the primary level with letter formation, word formation, and inventive spelling, and progresses to sentences, paragraphs, and complete stories. Teachers utilize various manipulatives and materials for both the reading and handwriting program to effectively deliver and differentiate instruction that optimizes learning for all students.
Rockwern’s Language Arts curriculum in grades 4-8 transitions from a formal reading program to a Reading and Writing Workshop approach. In fourth grade, students primarily read texts as a whole class, experiencing a variety of genres through which the Common Core standards are taught in the areas of Literature, Informational Text, and Foundational Skills. Beginning in fifth grade, the emphasis shifts mostly away from novels read together as a whole class towards independent reading and literature circles. Accelerated Reader is used to keep track of students’ independent reading; however, students are never restricted to reading only books within that system, as the department strives to strengthen the students’ abilities to choose books based on their own interests.
As students grow, they apply strategic reading skills to increasingly difficult texts, both literary and informational. Fourth graders read such classics as The Trumpet of the Swan, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Fifth graders read Wonder, Maniac Magee, and Through My Eyes. In sixth grade, students read The Giver in conjunction with memoirs and a unit on the Holocaust in Judaic Studies, as they consider the necessity of knowing about and understanding history. Seventh and eighth graders progress to more challenging literature such as To Kill a Mockingbird and A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Macbeth. Students are taught to think about the text, within the text, and beyond the text. They practice making logical predictions, interesting connections, and inferences. They consider how readers adjust their thinking style as they read different genres, and in both discussion and writing, students use details to summarize and support their ideas about theme. As they progress through the grades, they also learn to think about the text in a critical way and analyze the writer’s style and structure. Research projects of varying lengths are assigned every year, usually connected to a class text.
Rockwern emphasizes vocabulary development as a fundamental reading skill. Beginning in fourth grade, students are exposed to Greek and Latin roots, and they learn to analyze words through their component parts. They also practice figuring out words from the context in addition to learning to use a variety of reference tools to find information about words they encounter in their reading.
Writing is a significant part of the Language Arts program. The students write often, practicing a variety of genres including responses to literature, pieces inspired by literature, personal narratives, poetry, opinion pieces, research reports, persuasive pieces, and expository essays. Students begin with clear and organized paragraphs and progress to multi-paragraph essays, stories, and articles. In every grade, they are required to take some pieces through the complete writing process, beginning with a variety of prewriting opportunities all the way through multiple revisions and editing. The six-trait method is used to teach writers how to improve in the areas of ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions. Grammar, mechanics, usage, and spelling are taught as conventions within the context of the writing program.
Research projects are incorporated into content areas as well as Language Arts. They vary in length and purpose, and as students’ progress, the requirements for multiple sources and media become more complex. In fifth and sixth grade, student writers also have the opportunity to write original stories and publish them through an online student publishing program. Many families choose to purchase an extra copy of these books to donate to Rockwern’s library, and current students always enjoy reading books written by their older siblings and their peers. Students also enjoy opportunities to “publish” their writing in their classrooms, in the hallways, in the Head of School’s weekly Shabbat Shalom message, and on the middle school Weebly website.
Speaking and listening are also key components of the Language Arts curriculum in grades 4-8. These communication skills tend to be taught organically; when students discuss any text or idea, they are expected to listen to each other and respond appropriately to other students’ comments. In addition, they are routinely expected to present their research or writing to the class, using age-appropriate public speaking skills. Some projects specifically target speaking skills, and these include poetry recitation in fourth grade, mythology research speeches in fifth and sixth grade, and research projects on Shakespearean England in seventh and eighth grade.
In an effort to enhance community and share enthusiasm for reading, Rockwern has included the All-School Read at every level for the past five years. Although the program is incorporated into other disciplines as well, it begins with Language Arts. All grades incorporate the All-School Read into their reading program in different, age-appropriate ways. The All-School Read program highlights the Rockwern faculty’s ability to adapt age-appropriate reading lessons to new texts every year, and it also encourages the creation of connections between disciplines and ages. Students solidify the skills they have learned through teaching them to others, and they perceive the interconnectedness of the curriculum through the projects that bring Language Arts together with Art, Judaic Studies, Music, Social Studies, and Science.