The ultimate goal of our literature curriculum is to support our students on their journey to becoming lifelong readers through offering a wide range of high-quality literature experiences.
This is a highly customized class that meets in small groups of six students at a time. This format allows us to provide individualized literary practice and give students the freedom to read books that will challenge and entice them. By meeting students at their own literary level, we are able to create a foundation of skills in comprehension, verbal expression, vocabulary, and cultural awareness, while encouraging a lifelong love of reading and learning.
Class Activities: Reading
Volume of Reading: Our literature curriculum starts with asking students to read every day. Overall, we aim for most students to read nearly 25-40 books each year. The volume of reading, however, is just a starting point. Not all students are ready to meet our general goal, while others read much more. Our volume goal simply serves to set a high benchmark so that students are continually being challenged to gain vast experience with reading. In addition to individual reading, students will experience a variety of group reads, short stories, and poetry for in-depth class discussion.
Role of the Teacher: In many literature programs, a teacher imparts knowledge about the amazing qualities of a work of literature to a group of students. It is often possible for students to fully understand the lessons of the book, without actually reading or independently understanding the book. In essence, the book is being taught to the students. While we do just this type of teaching with a few books a year it is not the type of experience we generally aim for in the class.
In our program, the teacher does not point out every nuance of each book’s complexity. Instead, it is the teacher’s role to help students discover the higher-level literary elements that the student is ready to understand. The teacher continually engages in active discussion, journaling, and questioning with the student to help each student appreciate and learn from the literature. Over time, the student gains more and more skill in actively reading and uncovering the complexities of literature. Other times, it is simply the teacher’s role to recognize when he or she should step back and let a child enjoy a book, even while certain higher level concepts may not be understood.
The Joy of Reading: We emphasize the joy of reading and work to constantly help students discover inspiring and engaging books. If students are not excited about books, sharing recommendations with friends, and finding books they love, our work as literature teachers is not complete. We even encourage students to abandon books that are at a frustration level because pleasure in reading is so important.
Reading Lists: Each term, students choose and are assigned books from a book list that is linked to a specific motif, such as “integrity,” or “discovery.” The list will offer a variety of difficulty levels and genres. Grade levels are not assigned to books. Students (along with their teachers) create individualized reading goals and make book selections together:
· Teachers will often encourage a first book that is a quick or easy to read in order to set the stage for the motif and start class discussions around the motif.
· Teachers will aim to select one or two required group reads. These will offer significant challenge to the class and will be highly guided by the teacher.
· Teachers will help students select additional books at a variety of challenge levels. Choices are highly customized and may even come from other lists (such as our middle school list or our transitionaly list).
Emerging readers are defined as students who are still working on some of the basics of reading. In addition to the elementary reading list, these students may also choose from our Transitional Reading List, which consists of a wide variety of genres, levels, motifs, and themes geared more specifically to help student at this level to develop a love of reading. Students are still able to engage in class discussions about the term’s motif and literary terms through supplemental reading materials that are provided in class. At the beginning of each term, they will meet with a teacher in order to set individualized goals that focus on specific skills, such as fluency, decoding, and comprehension.
The role of the teacher is to assess and address an emerging reader’s fluency and decoding abilities, as well as help students find books that they can actively read and to provide a more scaffolded approach to class discussions. This includes explicitly teaching the complexities of a book and nuances of a story, while providing more frequent review of literary terms and motifs. These scaffolding steps are part of identifying and exploring the complexities of a book, with students ultimately learning to do so independently.
“Grade Levels” of Books: Overall, some of our book selections might seem “younger” than when they are taught at other schools. This is done with purpose. Slightly less challenging books afford a students the opportunity to independently practice higher-level literary analysis. We guide students to select books that are likely to be in a difficulty range where both enjoyment and discovery of deeper meanings, themes, and symbols is possible. In other words, the instructional level for independent analysis of a book is lower than the instructional level for a book that is taught, piece by piece to a group of students.
Reading Comprehension for Standardized Test Taking
The answering of multiple-choice questions in response to reading is not part of our daily literature curriculum. We also do not ask students to read and respond to the types of passages that are used on standardized tests in their literature class. Instead, this type of reading skill and test taking strategy building is scheduled as part of a different class period.
Class Activities: Group Activities
While each child is invited to progress on an individual journey of discovery from great literature, our class is designed to bring our students together in common learning as well. Each week, the teacher provides group lessons focused on a broader topic, which are then discussed more deeply during individual learning times. There are three different types of lessons that occur in these lectures: motif work, literary terms, and vocabulary.
Motif Work: A motif is an idea that appears multiple times throughout one or more works of literature. We organize each of our book lists around a motif. This allows us to have a common discussion topic among students reading different books and to invite students to higher level thinking about that motif. Motif discussions allow us to uncover timeless truths from literature, to talk deeply about values, to consider how different people act in similar circumstances, and tocompare and contrast literature in meaningful ways. We focus on five different motifs each school year, and cycle through these motifs on a three-year basis:
Insert "Year One, Year Two, Year Three" table here!!!
Group Reads: At the elementary level, students will occasionally participate in a group read, where multiple students will read the same book along with the teacher both independently and/or as a read-aloud. Group read discussions are used as a tool to help students learn and utilize a wide range of reading skills including summarizing, predicting, making connections, and drawing conclusions. Teachers also use these discussions as a tool for teaching annotating, book discussion, journal writing, and general student comprehension.
Vocabulary: Our elementary vocabulary program is based entirely on learning and analyzing the roots, stems, prefixes, and suffixes that are at the heart of our language. At this level, our vocabulary curriculum is based on Michael Clay Thompson’s Building Language and Caesar’s English books. Each week, students receive at least one word part to focus on along with words that are based upon that root. Students become familiar with these roots to better understand the meanings of words. If, for example, they come across a word they don’t know, they are encouraged to use their knowledge of word parts to decipher its meaning.
Literary Terms: Our curriculum places a heavy emphasis on literary terms. We believe that these terms are tools for explaining and relating to literature, not isolated facts to memorize. Teachers introduce and provide lessons on these terms during their group lectures. Then, students are also expected to utilize these terms in their book discussions and annotations, as they seek to explain, relate to, and find meaning in literature. By the time our students move on to middle school, they are expected to identify over 30 terms and be able to apply them independently to literature. We do not ask all students to memorize and use all of these each year, but we expect gradual progress towards mastering the terms on this list beginning in our elementary program and continuing into our middle school program. Each year, we focus on these terms in a regular cycle across five terms: characterization, plot, figurative language, narrative, and poetry.
Executive Functioning Skills
In order to help students become efficient and independent learners, we teach students to:
- Study vocabulary words independently and efficiently: Students are taught a method of studying called ‘cycling,’ which involves rotating through vocabulary words in order to memorize definitions. Over time, students become more and more independent with studying, even while words are becoming more complex and difficult to master.
- Manage their independent work time to effectively complete assignments: Each week, students are given a checklist to keep track of their assignments. Initially, students will be expected to prioritize and choose three assignments to complete for the day. As students become more proficient at managing their time and completing assignments, they will be required to list out their own assignments with deadlines. By doing this, students will learn to plan out longer periods of time.
- Set independent goals: Part of the focus at Vine is to help students gain ownership of their learning. In literature, each student meets with the teacher to discuss goals for the upcoming term related to reading, written responses, and personal growth. To begin with, this may be a more teacher-led discussion, but as the student is ready, the teacher will allow them to take more control of the discussion topics.
- Organize class material with a logical system: Students are required to keep their literature related documents organized within a binder system set up by the teacher. There are intermittent checks throughout each term to make sure the binder is organized and to help the student become more proficient and independent in that organization
Individual Activities & Assessment:
Books Read: Students are graded on their number of books read in relation to a goal set individually with their teacher. This goal is typically based on reading the equivalent of one book per week, but may be lower for some students, especially students who are newer to our program. Even emerging readers may occasionally be expected to access books from the elementary book list, in order to participate in class discussions and lectures. When a more challenging book is selected for an emerging reader, individual accommodations will be discussed and determined between the student, and teacher. The goal is seldom set higher, however. Once a student is reading at an excellent pace, we do not ask them to continue to read more, but rather to take on even more challenging texts and concepts.
Vocabulary: Vocabulary assessment is conducted regularly. Students are expected to use a technique called cycling in order to develop study skills and their memorization faculty. Students are given at least four assessments per term organized around root words, and one cumulative assessment at the end of the year. Students are graded on their assigned vocabulary activities and tests.
Journaling: Each week, students complete two to four journals, simple written responses to a prompt. A journal can range from a simple back and forth discussion between student and teacher to a structured assessment of student comprehension. Students are assessed on their journals using an individualized rubric that includes focuses in these areas:
- Length of the response and use of basic grammar conventions.
- Completeness of the answer, including use of specific examples and details.
- Demonstration of depth of thought and understanding of the work.
Annotations: When students annotate, they record their interactions with a literary work. Annotations begin with finding quotations from a book. Then, the student responds to those words in writing. Initially, students are asked to respond with personal reactions, questions, and predictions. Next, students are asked to make connections to motifs, to other works, or to their own lives. Students are gradually asked to respond to literature in more detail as well. This is tracked through a rubric, much like the rubric used for journaling activities.
Daily Reading: Although we do not assign homework at Vine Academy, students are expected to do some reading each night at home. We typically don’t assign students specific page assignments, but it is expected that students will spend about 25-50 minutes reading each day during literature time, other free time at school, or at home.