A primary literature class provides small group instruction in class sizes no greater than six so that students can develop in both their reading of the printed word and understanding what has been read. Our class is designed to establish a firm foundation in the basics of reading: phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary.
The ultimate goal of the primary program is that students will begin a journey to a lifelong love of reading through learning to decode and comprehend basic texts.
At the primary level, we expect huge variances in reading skills, based on both ages and on the individual rate at which each student develop. We classify students as either emerging or experienced readers.
- Emerging Readers: An emerging reader is a reader who is still learning the act of reading. Our main goal is to help these students reach the point where basic chapter books can be read independently by focusing on decoding skills:
- Decoding In order to read, students must be able to correlate letters in print with the sounds they make. They need to be able to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words. We believe that these phonics and phonemic awareness skills must be taught deliberately to emerging readers. Students in the primary program are introduced to letter sounds and word patterns using systematic, multi-sensory, phonics-based programs. Later, students are also taught word attack skills for the decoding of longer multi-syllabic words.
- Experienced Readers: The experienced reader is a child who has mastered the basics of decoding. With these readers, our focus shifts to fluency, specific comprehension skills, word attack for advanced words, and vocabulary. These focus has shifted to understanding and engaging with text.
- Fluency: Fluent reading refers to moving smoothly and accurately from word to word on a page. It includes the ability to not only decode words, but to do so at a smooth age-appropriate pace. It includes reading with feeling and emotion, working smoothly through multi-syllabic words, and recognizing the function of punctuation.
- Comprehension: Strong readers must be able to not only figure out each word, but to piece together the larger meaning in what they are reading. This includes locating facts, stating a main idea, sequencing events from a story, drawing conclusions, and interpreting vocabulary in context.
Group lessons are the time where the class is taught specific literary concepts or reading comprehension strategies. Typically, a chapter of a book is read aloud each day in class. The purpose of the read-aloud is multifaceted. First, research states that students should be read aloud to daily, as the act of reading aloud also allows students to have an appropriate model of reading with proper rate, expression, accuracy, and punctuation. The class read aloud is also a means of teaching the strategy of the term and highlighting examples of the literary terms as they appear. Additionally, previous strategies and terms are reviewed and incorporated.
Each term, students learn three to five new literary terms to help them develop a common language for discussing literature. These terms might focus on character types, determining the author’s purpose, the different genres of literature, (realistic fiction, historical fiction, science fiction/fantasy, biography, poetry, etc.), organization of text (table of contents, prologue, epilogue, glossary, index), and more.
Each term, the class also highlights one to two comprehension strategies that help students to better understand what they read and to become engaged with the text. These skills are making connections, predicting and inferring, visualizing, questioning, summarizing, and evaluating
Students are given ten new vocabulary words each week through the Vocabulit series. These selected words are then taught through excerpts of grade appropriate literature. Students work on completing activities with these words including defining the words, using them in sentences, finding synonyms and antonyms, basic analogies, and word puzzles. Students complete activities on a six day rotation. On the first day of the rotation, students are introduced to the new words through the reading of the excerpt. Students are then taught the definitions of the words. On the second through fifth day of the rotation, students are given class time to independently complete tasks related to the vocabulary. On the last day of the rotation, students are given an assessment. Every fifth unit consists of a review of the previous four units forty words and a large assessment at the end of this fifth unit.
Individual or Small Group Time with the Teacher
Students meet with the teacher individually or in small groups on a rotating schedule for individualized instruction. Activities for time with the teacher include reading aloud to practice fluency, reviewing the annotation sticky notes that were placed in the student's’ personal reading, delving deeper into the strategies learned in whole class instruction and how they apply to students’ individual reading, and supporting the student on completing a journal. Individualized skills such as decoding specific patterns, phonemic awareness, reading rate, expression, accuracy, and punctuation are also addressed at this time.
Reading and Response
During Reading and Response, students are directed by the teacher to either actively read their books and highlight notable pages with sticky notes or to respond to their books in writing. Students mark pages that relate to a comprehension strategy taught in class or an emotional response they have to the text. For example, students might mark a page where they have a prediction or when they feel surprised, or excited, or sad. As students read, they also complete written journal in complete sentences. Common general journal prompts could include:
- Do you like your book so far?
- What is the conflict in the story?
- Tell me something interesting that has happened?
- How would you describe the characters?
- What connections have you made so far?
- How was the conflict resolved?
- What do you predict will happen next?
- What would you change in the story?
Students in the primary program select books from our transitional book list. This list is not based on a specific motif or theme, but rather is an extensive list of quality chapter books that help students become enthusiastic about reading. Many come from well-loved children’s series. Selections are made with the student to find books that are a good match for the students’ current abilities, interests, and personalized goals. Students who are very advanced readers may also begin to work from the elementary literature curriculum and book lists.
Students are assessed frequently in literature using different assessment measures for different skills. Curriculum based measurements are used to assess students individual goals; these measures include letter name and letter sounds checklists, phonemic awareness screens, and running records to assess accuracy and rate. Student journals are also used as an assessment tool of comprehension.