Reading instruction is a significant focus in the primary grades. Children are supported through a carefully sequenced program that includes phonics, authentic literature, early writing, and oral communication practice. Kindergarten, first, and second grade classes use the Fundations(™) program for reading and writing instruction. In every grade, teachers balance specific instruction with excellent books and stories. Small group instruction ensures that every child is learning at a “just-right” level. Many of the books we read are chosen because of their rich connections to topics and themes in other areas of the curriculum. From their earliest days in our classrooms, children explore a variety of genres, styles, and literary formats. As they develop proficiency and fluency in reading, the curriculum shifts toward comprehension, writing process, genre study, and analysis.
In Kindergarten, language arts experiences take place throughout the day and throughout the curriculum. Daily read-alouds in a warm and nurturing setting encourage everyone to share ideas and observations. Favorite authors, illustrators, and award-winning books are showcased frequently, encouraging the joy of reading, writing, and appreciating literature. Our balanced approach blends these holistic activities with foundational skills; children are introduced to letter recognition, letter writing, and letter-sound correspondence in a systematic way. Individual and small reading group activities support children's growing knowledge. In their writing, kindergartners employ dictation and phonetic spelling to encode their own ideas to reinforce their knowledge of sound-symbol relationships. The children are exposed to the editing process as they prepare their pieces for an authentic audience.
Oral and written language are the focus of instruction in first grade. A highlight of our program is visual literacy; using beautiful images from the Yale Center for British Art, students consider the ways that a picture can really “paint a thousand words.” Read-alouds are an important daily occurrence. Teachers make careful choices to help the children gain independence in reading “just-right” books. Reading instruction occurs in both individual and small group formats. In writing, children share interests and personal experiences, and explore a variety of genres, including personal narratives, short stories, poetry and informational writing. Young writers are encouraged to employ a broad vocabulary in their writing and to spell phonetically as they gradually learn conventional spelling rules.
In second grade, students gain independence in their reading. While continuing to reinforce decoding and phonics skills, classes focus on comprehension and meaning. Small reading groups balance skill instruction and oral expression. Continuing from first grade, the visual literacy program encourages observation and descriptive vocabulary. Read-alouds often include longer chapter books that are shared over many days. Children’s writing also extends for longer periods and includes more opportunities for revision and editing. In second grade, students use non-fiction books for research and prepare reports to share what they have learned. Teachers encourage children to expand their vocabulary using words they have learned from books and content-area lessons. Folktales and traditional literature offer a chance to explore literary elements and cultural themes.
Literature forms the basis for language arts in third grade. Many books connect topics across the curriculum. While learning about colonial New England, children hear stories about people of the times. When they study Australian culture, they listen to folk tales about “Dreamtime.” Read-alouds foster enjoyment of a variety of genres, aid in choosing books for independent reading, develop sensitivity to written expression, and generate topics for writing. Literacy instruction includes grammar, mechanics, fluency, word recognition and decoding, as well as comprehension. Novels and nonfiction are used for oral and silent reading. Children write about topics of their own choosing as well as assigned topics. They conference with their peers and teachers to edit their own work, to share their work with the class and to respond to the work of others.
Fourth graders build literacy skills and confidence all year. They read longer books related to the themes of their social studies content and explore the way chapter books are organized. As students immerse themselves in excellent literature, they analyze the structure of stories and the elements of books. Comprehension exercises focus on details, identifying and explaining main ideas, and language appreciation. Students keep reading journals. Daily involvement in the writing process, with both teacher and peer feedback, guides the students toward greater clarity, more specific detail and an increased awareness of spelling and grammar. One of the highlights of the year is a biography project, which involves focused research, careful writing and revision and a lively presentation.
Reading and writing are integrated throughout the fifth grade curriculum. A great deal of time is devoted to helping children experience written and spoken language with a sense of adventure, excitement, appreciation and comfort. Two books are always in motion: one is read aloud and leads to extensive discussions of detail, style and theme; the other is undertaken as a class book. Comprehension activities encourage purpose, interpretation and clarity. Students write every day with a focus on refinement of individual style. Emphasis is placed on rewriting entire stories to improve fluidity, dialogue, setting and character development, as well as the overall plot. Students experiment with literary genres including poetry, drama, fiction and persuasive writing. During the ancient cultures unit, they write myths that incorporate elements of that classic style into their work.
Computer coding is an interactive, hands-on pursuit at Foote. For a third grade STEM project, students design robots using LEGOs and program their movements using click-and-drag Scratch coding.