Lisa DeRienzo, Elementary Language Arts and Reading, Coordinator
Love Foy, Secondary Language Arts and Reading, Coordinator
English Language Arts
Language is the most powerful, most readily available tool we have for representing the world to ourselves and ourselves to the world. Language is not only a means of communication; it is a primary instrument of thought, a defining feature of culture, and an unmistakable mark of personal identity. The English Language Arts curriculum in Half Hollow Hills expands upon the Common Core State Standards established by the CCSS Initiative and adopted by the New York State Department of Education. We strive to utilize the standards as the common ground in which teachers, administrators, and the community possess clear goals upon which to centralize their efforts on behalf of students. The standards clearly show the interdependence of the skills of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language.
The Half Hollow Hills English Language Arts philosophy proposes that:
- Literacy growth begins before children enter school, when children must be exposed to oral language and reading and writing experiences, upon which they continue to build.
- As active thinkers, students are responsible for and knowledgeable about their own learning.
- Reading, writing, listening and speaking are complex processes that students acquire as they engage in meaningful and authentic language use.
- Reading, writing, listening and speaking develop interactively and are mutually supportive.
- Regular and extensive reading and writing are essential in order for students to become proficient readers and writers.
- Broad content reading and learning increases knowledge about language and the world, which in turn extends comprehension and communication skills.
- Students should be able to use language clearly, strategically, critically and creatively.
- The Common Core Standards should be integrated across all curricular areas.
A balanced literacy approach begins in kindergarten where oral language and the use of language for personal and social development is emphasized, along with the critical understandings and skills necessary for emerging reading and writing. Children are immersed in a wide variety of literature, from rhymes and poems to songs and stories. Extended read aloud libraries are used to provide the foundation for reading comprehension. Kindergartners begin to communicate in writing by using approximate or inventive spellings. They use tools such as magnetic letters and boards to learn about conventional, correct spelling, through focused instruction at appropriate levels.
Strong partnerships between home and school are essential at this grade level, as well as in those that follow, for maximizing student success. Half Hollow Hills’ Kindergarten Fun Packs were created with this belief in mind. Four times a year, students bring home teacher-made, seasonal activity kits, designed to stimulate and guide home learning. These popular learning kits include books and manipulatives to reinforce and advance academic skills across the curriculum. Families report that they look forward to their turns to interact with their children, by exploring, communicating and problem-solving together.
Leveled book collections for guided reading instruction in kindergarten, grade one and grade two have been expanded to provide a wider range of levels and subjects. Students can be matched to books based on readiness and interest. In addition to leveled books, primary grade students read varied materials including poems, picture books, classroom signs, letters and simple informational books. Comprehension and fluency is developed through a variety of structures, including flexible guided reading groups, independent reading and read-aloud experiences.
Second and third grade students develop fluency and comprehension by reading books with more elaborate story structures and less supportive illustrations. Students apply expanding comprehension strategies to understand an increasing range of narrative, literary, functional and informational texts which are read aloud, independently, or with a partner. In third grade, students learn to ask questions for clarification or to further a discussion and build on the ides of others. Third grade writing is extensive and reading skills are complex; students take notes, compare ideas from two or more sources and write about what they learned.
Critical thinking through discussions about reading of high quality literature is addressed at every grade level. Teacher training and special literary collections for the Junior Great Books (JGB) program have been extended to all grade levels, kindergarten through grade five. In this program, students learn to read interpretively, ask original questions, listen to others, form opinions, and write in response to literature. Even our kindergartners participate through the JGB’s new read-aloud version, which bridges the gap between children's limited decoding skills and their capacity for complex, critical thinking.
Fourth and fifth grade students continue to read and write across the curriculum to broaden their vocabulary, language and knowledge. They learn to ask probing questions and to respond thoughtfully to comments and questions. They develop the skill of articulating a position and supporting it with reasons or justification. Writing is used to convey information from several sources, to narrate a procedure, to express individual thinking, to respond to literature, and to create fictional stories with interesting characters and situations.
In fifth grade, students listen and read actively and respond to literature in a variety of formats, from book talks to dramatic play. They become familiar with the characteristics of the works of many authors and illustrators, acquire knowledge of nonfiction and literary genres, and demonstrate understanding of literary elements and figurative language. They use critical thinking skills as they summarize, synthesize, compare, and evaluate information from multiple sources.
This spring a special interactive workshop Summer "R & R" - Relax and Read Aloud was presented for parents of elementary students. Our elementary reading teachers shared suggestions for how to engage children of all ages in family read aloud time and practical recommendations for selecting the best books for read aloud experiences at home.
We know that volume reading is a critical factor for expanding reading interests and developing reading proficiency. To encourage elementary students to continue to read throughout July and August, our popular Summer Readers program has been implemented for the sixth consecutive year. Students are reading and responding to four books from recommended book lists. Our new kindergarten entrants and their families have been invited to participate using read-aloud selections. Summer readings and projects will be celebrated in the fall when students will be recognized for their participation in the District program.
Elementary students participate in the New York State Testing Program. The NYS English Language Arts Assessment tests students’ reading comprehension and ability to use writing to communicate an understanding of a wide variety of challenging written and oral texts. Half Hollow Hills’ students meet and exceed State standards, with 93% of students achieving proficiency at the elementary level. In 2006, New York State expanded their testing program to include elementary students in grades three, four and five, as well as middle school students in grades six, seven and eight.
The secondary language arts curriculum is a true integration of reading, writing, listening, speaking, and language. Our curriculum maps follow the key points of the Common Core English Language Arts Standards:
The standards establish a “staircase” of increasing complexity in what students must be able to read. This is to ensure all students are ready for the demands of college-and career-level reading upon high school graduation. The standards also require the progressive development of reading comprehension. As students mature and advance through the grades, they gain more insight and knowledge from text. Within this framework, the standards operate as building blocks for success, but recognize that teachers, school districts, and states have autonomy in determining curriculum; therefore, they do not mandate specific titles. At the elementary level, the standards offer sample texts to help teachers prepare for the school year, and to help parents know what to expect at the beginning of the year. At the secondary level, they provide exemplary literary and informational titles for possible inclusion in ELA curriculum.
Students are expected to read an array of classic and contemporary literature, as well as challenging informational texts in a range of subjects. Students are expected to build knowledge, gain insights, explore possibilities, and broaden perspectives.
The standards mandate certain critical types of content for all students, including classic myths and stories from around the world, foundational U.S. documents, seminal works of American literature, and the writings of Shakespeare. The standards appropriately defer the many remaining decisions about what and how to teach to states, districts, and schools.
The ability to write logical arguments based on substantive claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence is a cornerstone of the writing standards, with opinion writing—a basic form of argument—extending down into the earliest grades.
Research -- short, focused projects and long term, in-depth research -- is emphasized throughout the standards, most prominently in the writing strand. Written analysis and presentation of findings are a critical aspect of research.
Annotated samples of student writing accompany the standards and help establish adequate performance levels in argumentation, narration, and exposition in all grade levels.
Speaking and Listening
The standards require that students gain, evaluate, and present increasingly complex information, ideas, and evidence through listening and speaking as well as through media.
An important focus of the speaking and listening standards is academic discussion in one-on-one, small-group, and whole-class settings. Formal presentations are one important way such talk occurs, but so is the more informal discussion that takes place as students collaborate to answer questions, build understanding, and solve problems.
The standards require that students expand their vocabulary through a mix of conversation, direct instruction, and reading. These instructional methods help students determine word meanings, appreciate the nuances of words, and steadily expand their repertoire of words and phrases.
The standards help prepare students for real life experiences in college and careers. The standards recognize that students must use formal English in their writing and speaking and make informed, skillful choices when expressing themselves through language.
Vocabulary and conventions are outlined in a separate strand, not because skills in these areas should be handled in isolation, but because their use extends across reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
Media and Technology
Just as media and technology are integrated in school and life in the twenty-first century, skills related to media use (both critical analysis and production of media) are integrated throughout the standards.
Half Hollow Hills Curriculum
Students learn and practice the skills of the Common Core by studying a variety of literary genres and learning to achieve mastery as readers and writers of these genres. Fiction choices such as short stories, novels, poetry and plays, and nonfiction choices such as essays, articles, biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs give students a broad lens from which to choose as they develop and learn to master the English language.
The Half Hollow Hills English Language Arts Department has a number of literacy initiatives designed to help students advance their skills:
The Always Reading Project, developed by middle school teachers, encourages students to select books of their own interest for the simple pleasure of reading. Book talks occur before and after school, and often during lunch periods, in which students sit together with their teachers to converse about their readings.
Independent reading libraries are now a part of the many resources available to students. These libraries, located in every ELA classroom, foster independence and self-directed study. Research shows that students who are exposed to classroom libraries have a better understanding of themselves as readers; they can identify genres that appeal to them and authors who write within a certain genre, and they can identify the idiosyncrasies that exist within the genres. As writers, they learn to mimic certain professional styles in their own writing, thereby growing their own writer’s craft and finding their own voice as writers.
Student choice is a highlight of our summer reading program. Students have autonomy in text choices for summer reading, provided their choices are within the thematic curriculum goals appropriate to their grade level.
High School Electives
Students have the opportunity for more in-depth study of literature and writing in honors courses, and many students elect to take Advanced Placement English Language and/or Advanced Placement English Literature in the 11th and 12th grades. In addition to the required yearly study of English, students can choose from a wide variety of elective course work: American Culture in the Age of Hollywood, Creative Writing, Debate, Film Criticism, The Hero’s Journey, Hip-Hop Literature and Culture, Journalism, Media Communications, Mythology, Public Speaking, Reading Strategies, S.A.T., Shakespeare, and Theater Arts and Production. We have also incorporated senior-specific courses such as College Writing, Poetry as Performance Art, Search for Identity, and Sports Literature.
Taking the 11th-grade AP Language and Composition and/or 12th-grade AP Literature and Composition course allows students to demonstrate a high level of English proficiency. These courses involve college-level rigor, whereby students can receive college credit from a number of universities by scoring well on the three-hour examination that culminates the course. Twenty-five percent of our total population take the 11AP, and 39 percent take the 12 AP course.
It is the belief of the English Language Arts Department that all students, regardless of their experiential background, capabilities, developmental and learning differences, interests or ambitions should have equal opportunities to achieve their potential.