LITERACY

Renaissance curriculum comes from weaving together childhood interests and motivations with adult experience, and academic frameworks. Taking the best strategies used by readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and artists, we create a rich tapestry of experience to draw children into learning for life. Inquiry is at the heart of our engagement. Guidelines and expectations are used as floors rather than ceilings. Partnerships bring richness and quality as we create layered learning. Skills and content, process and product, exploration and guidance are intertwined and depend upon each other in order for optimal learning to occur. The magic of curriculum really happens when children’s eyes light up!

A Fugue… The interplay of Words and Images, Reading and Writing

Reading

What about reading and writing? It is an ENORMOUS question with an even bigger answer! We work with language most of the day in some form -- poetry, mathematics and engineering, the genres of science, and the arts… We explore all of our content area studies through multiple forms of literacy, entwining the fantastical and factual.
But more explicitly…

Ours is a community of avid and powerful readers! Reading opens doors to imagination and knowledge, taking us to places we otherwise would not encounter. Our children participate in the joyful process of reading daily in many different ways: shared guided reading, read-aloud sessions, individual reading, content area reading and research, and skill lessons. Children are drawn to experience the magic and meaning of the printed word through personal interpretation.

Emerging readers at the earliest stage of development learn that print contains meaning. They begin to make predictions about unknown words, using patterns, pictures, context, and syntax, along with phonetic clues. They self-correct when what is read doesn't make sense. Independent readers use multiple strategies simultaneously and confidently.
Competent readers retell stories and information with details, draw parallels among different tales and authors, compare and contrast literature, relate stories to their own experiences, forecast endings, empathize with characters, and hypothesize the effects of changing parts of a story. They are able to analyze several sources of information, synthesize relevance, and make reasoned judgments about competing ideas among texts. Assumptions, caught along the way, provoke questions and a thirst for "finding out" to extend the understanding of what is read.

During word study, children enter words into a notebook that becomes a collection of lists to support writing. We work with word recognition, phonics, word parts (affixes), origins, and sight words in literacy workshops, within the context of what each child is reading. We like to play with words. We count syllables, add endings, share synonyms, and think about the words in context for their meaning. We also talk about and write the words that seem to trip us up in our daily writing: where, were, there, their, they’re, won, one, was, saw, because... you know the words! They often confuse us as adults, and they are usually the little, ordinary ones. AND then there are the fantastical words we are collecting at the children’s suggestions: dragonfly shimmer, compassionate, autumn, favorite, international, buttercup brilliance... thick, luscious words from our literature! Gathered together in one place, our growing word caches create a resource for us to find correctly-spelled words for writing.

We enjoy daily read-aloud time in which we share great children’s literature, model thinking and expressive reading, incite a love for the language, and use text to highlight and play with literary elements and complex sentence structures. Our selections are intended to develop oral comprehension and a sense of story, compare text to other texts and life situations, and explore genre and authors. Fiction enlivens our imagination and provides inspiration for our own narratives. We contemplate titles, illustrations, and literary devices as we read to predict and identify plot line, mood, motivations, setting, and relationships. And we develop relationships with published authors when we can!

Non-fiction writing is used to support and propel our investigations, often hurling us into expository writing. We take time to read and respond to graphs and charts, maps, and diagrams -- another form of reading -- drawing conclusion and summarizing information in our own words.

Each child has assigned text and reads with a partner or as part of a literature circle. Of course, we read self-selected books for pleasure. The children enjoy readers’ theater when we use our brightest oral expression and dive deeply into the text for fluency practice.
We read together in content areas and develop our academic vocabulary in order to talk and write about our work. Children create individual resource books that contain reference materials gathered and displayed in their own "voices," with their own "signatures." Writing books hold precious notes, first drafts, and evidence of organizational strategies.
We meet with individuals and use personalized assessments to pinpoint progress and plan for the next stages of development. And, of course, family reading time is nightly homework!

Writing

Writing captures and conveys the human experience for audiences intimate and immediate as well as those yet unknown in our future. It is powerful! In the Renaissance community, reading and writing are integrally related. Literature sparks our imaginations and incites our power with words… and our own writing process allows us a glimpse into the struggle and strengths of published authors. Children and adults use writing to express ideas, information, and emotions. Learning to write is an exhilarating process as young authors realize that marks on paper carry meaning, representing words and ideas, and that others can decode meaning when a common code is used!

In the early stages of writing, ideas and stories are often captured in picture form, accompanied by oral explanation. Young children progress from representing words with squiggles and random letters to more accurately matching letters with sounds, often depicting words with correct beginning letters, later with final and medial consonants. Children experiment with inserting common vowels, followed by using more complex vowel patterns. With a few well-placed clues (accompanying picture, the mention of a context, the response to a prompting inquiry) and growing attention to sound-symbol relationships, a child's writing becomes more easily read by others. It is evidence the process is working!

In draft phases, younger children explore using simple strategies to organize ideas, from drawing, lists and maps, to basic timelines. With assistance, during revision and editing, they choose words and vary sentence structures to create interest. They use correct direction and spacing, upper and lower case letters, and work toward using more conventional spelling. They begin to see that punctuation is simply a code that helps the reader understand how the words should be read.

As confidence and skill evolve, children develop narrative, descriptive, imaginative, expository, and persuasive forms of writing, along with poetic forms. In draft phases, they test new and more complex forms of organization: lists or note cards, story boards, webbing, parallel structures, charts and graphs, poetry forms, plot or timelines, and comparison circles.

Children are encouraged to innovate and extend those models, to utilize structures and modes for varied purposes and audiences. The abilities of children to capture ideas in writing begin to more closely resemble adult conventions. Maturing writers use more complex vowel consonant patterns and attempt to reproduce words that are do not adhere to any rules! Through experimentation, modeling, and response, children begin to apply conventions that aid the reader in extracting the writer's intent with appropriate, and sometimes playful, capitalization, punctuation, and grammar.

During revision, they carefully choose words and sentence structures to create unique and interesting writing, often responding to the suggestions of others who serve as "critical friends" to enhance imagery, clarity, and rhythm. Children incorporate "voice" to represent point of view, and we encourage appreciation for the interesting turn of phrase, the intentional use literary elements, and the playfulness of sound that bring images to life in print. Exposure to shared literature, accompanied conversations, guided mini-explorations, and specific response to a child's writing reveal and embed those skills to make the transition from personal to published writing. Completed pieces are shared and celebrated in the publication phase.

Children develop both draft handwriting (quickly jotting information that is retrievable) and presentation handwriting (careful scribing for exhibition and communicating with others). Our emphasis is on printing, the form of writing required in adult life. We focus on handwriting as an art form with three functions: fluency (to quickly capture information and ideas), readability (to easily retrieve the meaning) and aesthetic uniformity (to attract and communicate to the audience). With guided practice and modeling, as speed increases and children move from drawing letters to "writing," since the writer no longer picks up the pencil from the paper with each stroke, "cursive" is the natural outcome.

Our children as readers…

Early readers

  • know that print holds meaning
  • understand the importance of symbols, spaces, and directionality
  • delight in books, stories, and story-telling!
  • recognize letters and corresponding sounds
  • read environmental print

Developing readers draw on a range of strategies simultaneously to decode words and interpret the meaning of new words. They use...

  • sound-symbol relationships (phonics)
  • word configuration (shape)
  • syntax, context, prediction, sound (rhyme), meaning, and picture clues (relationship)
  • morphology (word parts)
  • develop fluency and attempt expression to enliven reading

Competent readers...

  • use multiple clues to unlock print retell stories with many details
  • compare and contrast stories: plot lines, authors, themes, and characters
  • relate stories to personal experience
  • predict the story as it unfolds
  • use reading to inform 
  • choose to read a variety of genre

Effective readers are able to read several versions of information, analyze and synthesize relevant information, and make reasoned judgments about competing ideas and compelling information. These readers...

  • analyze story elements as a way of playing with ideas and enjoying the depth of an author's writing
  • consider the effects of any essential changes in the story’s elements
  • understand and appreciate the power of literary devices
  • use multiple texts to check ideas and information
  • draw meaning from a variety of graphic formats to support personal and academic reading

Powerful readers

  • reflect critically on and respond to text, making text to self, text to world, and text to text connections.
  • recognize own assumptions while reading and lift them for inquiry and research to reinterpret text with developed understanding
  • identify the purpose and power of specific language forms: figurative speech, jargon, technical language
  • compare different points of view
  • project the change that would occur if elements of a storyline were altered: setting (time, place, mood), characters, motives
  • compare author styles and influences on their writing, as well as an author's influence on our own writing
  • identify cultural/historical context and the underlying values and beliefs in a text
  • juggle several texts 
  • approach text with strategies befitting the text style and purpose of reading
  • analyze bias, propaganda, and stereotyping used in text and its possible purpose and influence on the reader
  • read aloud with expression, investigating tone and meaning
  • use and challenge multiple texts as sources for research 
  • engage readily in new genre and with new authors

Accomplished writers...

  • incorporate voice readily as a way of expressing personality, experience, and viewpoint
  • select and experiment independently with structures to organize ideas and information
  • select words and images to convey tone and theme
  • apply conventions in a manner that supports the message, including experimental treatments with the intention of conveying meaning