At The Learning Community School, we teach language arts through a balanced literacy approach anchored in Columbia University’s Reading and Writing Workshop model. Our students are deeply immersed in a literacy-rich environment. They participate in reading and writing every day across all subject areas, starting in the K/1 classroom. As a result, our students identify themselves as readers and writers very early on. They become adept at examining the world with a writer’s attention to detail.
Balanced literacy also means that skills for reading, writing, speaking, and listening are explicitly taught. Reading Workshop in middle school, for example, focuses on teaching students specific strategies for close reading and annotating to prepare them for literature discussions and book talks with classmates.
In K/1, students learn to read with a phonetically based, multi-sensory method rooted in the Orton-Gillingham sequence. This method incorporates those skills throughout the grades in teaching word study, which includes phonics, spelling, vocabulary, grammar, and mechanics. Students have several opportunities to share their work throughout the year, including all-school authors’ parties, school celebrations, in-class discussions, and submitting pieces to local publications.
Reading and Writing Workshops remain the cornerstone of TLC’s rigorous, student-centered academic program and help our students grow into reflective, articulate, empathetic, and self-aware young people.
Our K/1 language arts program provides instruction in phonics, handwriting, reading, writing, and speaking/listening. For our kindergarten students, teachers emphasize building phonemic awareness, sound-symbol correlation, and proper letter formation in to create a strong foundation for reading. First graders learn decoding strategies for increasingly complex words, starting with simple ‘cvc’ patterns, and progressing to words with blends, digraphs, simple suffixes, vowel teams, and two closed-syllable words. Sight words, spelling rules, and basic grammar are explicitly taught.
Emerging writers label their drawings with letters and simple words while verbally narrating their stories, while more established writers create sentences with capitalization and ending punctuation and develop their stories with a beginning, middle, and end. Writing is presented as a process from topic generation through editing and revision. Phonics and spelling are taught using the Wilson Fundations curriculum, and students progress through the Orton-Gillingham sequence with multisensory lessons. Students practice guided reading and learn comprehension strategies in small-group lessons and during read-alouds.
The ultimate goal of K/1 is to build fluency skills in both reading and writing based on a solid foundation of phonemic awareness.
Sample units of study in K/1 Reading and Writing Workshop include:
The second and third grade language arts curriculum delves deeper into the Reading and Writing Workshop Units of Study, while strengthening the foundation of phonics, spelling, and decoding skills. Students work their way through the Orton-Gillingham sequence for reading and spelling with the Wilson Fundations and Words Their Way curricula. They practice both guided and independent reading and are read to throughout the school day. Teachers instruct students in comprehension strategies, as doing so strengthens their writing.
A portion of each day is spent in the Writing Workshop process, which begins and ends with share time. Individual workshop time includes editing, revising, and conferring with peers and teachers.
Direct instruction in grammar, punctuation, and paragraph structure is interwoven into mini-lessons and reinforced during word study. Students learn to write in cursive and make the transition to using cursive in their written work. Genre and author studies immerse students in fiction and non-fiction reading and serve as mentor texts for their writing.
Students at TLC are passionate about literacy in all its forms. Sample units of study for Reader’s and Writing Workshop include:
Our fourth and fifth grade language arts curriculum supports our students as they transition from the decoding and phonics work of learning to read, to reading to learn and find information.
Reading strategies are still actively taught in Reading Workshop as students learn to construct meaning and make connections in individual reading responses and in group work.
Research skills are taught to support work across the curriculum, and students are introduced to annotating as a technique to practice close reading and improve comprehension.
In these grades, word work takes the form of more complex grammar, mechanics, vocabulary, and morphology, including prefixes, root words, and suffixes. Word work is taught through direct instruction and is also intertwined and informed by the units of study in the Writing Workshop.
Students learn the skill of keyboarding to facilitate a gradual transition to writing on the computer in middle school. Writing Workshop has students writing every day and the class moves through the writing process of drafting, editing, revising, and publishing. Paragraph crafting is emphasized as students write across a variety of genres.
Units of study in Reading and Writing Workshop in 4/5 includes:
Our middle school Reading and Writing Workshop emphasizes critical thinking and builds meta-cognitive skills through a challenging and collaborative approach to language arts.
Students are immersed in mentor texts as they develop the style and craft of their writing in different genres. They create living documents of their learning by recording reading responses, notes on mini-lessons, grammar, and word study topics in their Writing Handbook and journals. Each student curates personalized editing and revision checklists from their writing conferences with teachers, which are utilized as students move pieces through the writing process. Throughout the year, students add to their portfolios so they witness the progression of their work as it moves through the writing process of drafting, editing, revision, and publishing.
They read across a variety of genres and write extensively about their reading, while learning new tools for making meaning; including various methods of annotating for different purposes. Student-led book studies are conducted each semester. Word Work is rooted in the Writing Workshop, but is also taught through direct instruction and includes more complex grammar and mechanics, vocabulary, spelling, and morphology of Latin and Greek roots.
Middle school students read, write, and engage in discussions everyday in language arts.
Units of study in Middle School Reading and Writing Workshop include:
I would like to appreciate Mitzi for her calm, sweet, peaceful, and patient way in the K/1 classroom. She is the best!
I feel so grateful for this school. My kids come home happy each day!
TLC is even more of a home this year than it used to be!
We appreciate Kiersten for helping settle the K/1 classroom into their new handwashing routine each morning; John, Dan, and Meggan for helping in the morning carline; and Daisy for her office/recycling/trash support!
-H and K