In the hallways, on the playgrounds, and in the classrooms at Saint Andrew’s Lower School, one can see smiling faces and hear happy voices - evidence of a school that nurtures and inspires a love of learning. What’s more - at Saint Andrew’s Lower School - not only is there a strong love for learning but also a deep and abiding commitment and passion for reading and writing.
Literacy learning is more than just a subject at Saint Andrew’s Lower School. Like a tapestry with thousands of strings, the essence of literacy learning at Saint Andrew’s Lower School is woven into every lesson, every conversation, and every smile.
This unparalleled excellence exists because Saint Andrew’s Lower School literacy program has four key elements: the school’s commitment to a type of language arts instruction called “balanced literacy”, the partnership SA establishes between home and school, the dedication of strong, well-trained co-teachers in every classroom, and the support and guidance of knowledgeable administrators.
Through this one-of-a-kind program, Saint Andrew’s demonstrates its belief that best literacy learning should not happen in isolation where one textbook, one method, or one resource is used to deliver Language Arts curriculum. Rather, the best literacy instruction is integrated, collaborative, multidimensional, and student-centered.
Literacy at Saint Andrew’s Lower School is about so much more.
The best way to understand the complex tapestry of Saint Andrew’s Literacy Program is to pull on a few of its strings.
In Pre-K and Kindergarten, students use senses to learn letter sounds. From arm tapping to tracing letters in the sand - fun kinesthetic movements provide tactile feedback that imparts foundational pre-reading skills.
In grades 1 through 3 classrooms, teachers sit shoulder-to-shoulder next to students. As teachers read students’ journal entries, they make individualized suggestions for the next stage of writing. The delivery of this kind of instruction isn’t happening through a worksheet or lecture. It’s occurring because of the intimate connection teachers create with students through one-to-one conferencing.
In grades 4 and 5 classrooms, students sit silently in comfortable chairs and read novels. They pause to jot ideas on sticky notes. Teachers have taught students that great readers stop to consider what they are reading, and when they do, they capture their best ideas in short notes. These students and so many others are learning the building blocks of what it means to be active readers. Later on as these students prepare to meet the challenges of Middle School, Upper School, AP and IB coursework, and college - they will be prepared to read to learn and take effective notes - and thus be poised for tremendous academic success.
This kind of exceptional instruction is not occurring in every school in Boca Raton. In fact, the pattern and design of the four key elements of the literacy program at SA are interwoven in ways that make it as unique as it is remarkable.
A major aspect of what makes the Lower School program so exceptional is the balanced literacy model it employs. This approach is designed to meet the diverse reading and writing needs of all students using a unique unification of three exceptional world-renowned methodologies: The Teachers College Writing and Reading Project (TCWRP), The Orton-Gillingham Approach, and Fountas and Pinnell’s Literacy Continuum.
And it all starts in Pre-K.
Pre-K classrooms are filled with print, language and literacy play, storybook reading, and writing. This allows the students to experience the joy and power associated with reading and writing while mastering basic concepts about print.
Pre-K teachers not only instruct students in the foundations of reading and writing but also develop a close partnership with parents - a partnership that lasts throughout their years at the Lower School and beyond. Pre-K teachers convey to parents how important it is to get their children involved in everyday tasks that involve reading and writing at home. It is through fun home grown activities and through a partnership between home and school that children are enabled to have the best opportunities to develop strong literacy skills.
“Making lists for the grocery store, finding ingredients for a recipe, even sorting clothes from a closet - all of these authentic activities can help a child in their literacy development,” said Eve Robbins, Pre-K teacher.
Teachers in grades 1 and 3 agree that parents are important partners stitched into the tapestry of literacy learning at Saint Andrew’s Lower School. “Parents play a key role just by encouraging a love for reading and the love for writing beyond the classroom at home,” said Lauren Thoms, grade 1 teacher. Grade 3 teacher Michelle Watts believes that modeling is the best way for parents to play a part in their child’s literacy development. “Kids are always watching what parents are doing. They will value reading and writing when they see that their parents love and value it.”
In addition to a strong parent-teacher partnership, the primary program guiding literacy learning at SA is the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) established and researched out of Columbia University. For over thirty years, the TCRWP organization has developed state-of-the-art tools and methods for teaching reading and writing, and for using performance assessments and learning progressions to accelerate progress. Their methods are time tested, and proven to promote high performance and top achievement.
Teachers in the Lower School are well trained in TCRWP methods because of the school’s commitment to professional development as well as the strong support of administrators like Head of Lower School Angela Kopels and Lower School Literacy Coach Lindsay Davis.
“As we rolled out the Units of Study over the past few years, we conducted institutes with consultants from the TCRWP. We regularly send teachers to Columbia University to attend multi-day Institutes and learn about the latest research,” said Mrs. Kopels.
With their training and mentorship of administration as a guide, teachers deliver literacy instruction through the careful planning of 4-6 reading and writing units per year. Teachers impart skills and strategies to help students become avid and skilled readers, writers, and inquirers across different genres and content areas. The Units of Study utilize a workshop model that includes a short mini-lesson, active engagement, student practice, small group instruction, and 1:1 teacher conferences.
In the early years of literacy formation at SA, once students begin attending to print, decoding words, and recognizing some sight words, the school employs the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System (BAS) running records to analyze a student’s oral reading behaviors. This assessment continues through grade 5 and examines the accuracy, fluency, and comprehension level with which a student interacts with texts of increasing complexity. “We use the data we gather from the BAS to determine the types of texts that students can successfully read independently and with instructional support,” offered Ms. Davis.
New in 2019 in Pre-K through grade 2 the school has implemented the Institute for Multisensory Education’s Orton-Gillingham program. This methodology is meant to address the phonics needs of Lower School students. The Orton-Gillingham methodology is a comprehensive and evidence-based program in which teachers use explicit instruction that helps students develop an understanding of the relationship between letters and sounds. It allows children to break down how and why letters and words sound the way they do.
“The Lower School is proud to have been able to send one teacher from each of the Pre-K, Kindergarten, Grade 1, and Grade 2 classrooms to the weeklong Comprehensive IMSE Orton-Gillingham training in April of 2018,” offered Ms. Davis. “And we are excited to announce that we will be sending the remaining teachers to the training in November 2019,” she added.
It’s not just a partnership with parents, methods, and teaching that set SA’s literacy program above the rest. It’s also Saint Andrew’s co-teacher model and small class sizes that allow the school to differentiate instruction in engaging and diverse ways. Because there are two teachers in each class, one teacher may be able to model the behaviors of readers and writers in one small group, while the other teacher can meet the needs of other students in a totally different way. “You’ll often see one teacher pulling small groups for strategy instruction based on students’ needs on one side of a classroom, while the other teacher is conferencing with students one-on-one in order to celebrate successes and identify goals for growth on the other side,” mused Ms. Davis. “The co-teaching model is such a valuable asset in making the delivery of our workshop instruction truly exceptional.”
Choice is also a hallmark of the literacy program at the Lower School. Students often have a great deal of choice about what they read. “When students choose what they read, as teachers, we help to foster a love of reading,” said grade 4 teacher Danielle Lipman. Student can also choose which stories to write during a narrative unit, or which topics to explore during a research writing unit. “We find that students have many things that motivate them to read and write, but choice and interest are always very important motivators,” said Danielle Lipman, grade 4 Teacher.
When it comes to literacy, Saint Andrew’s Lower School demonstrates a depth of knowledge, expertise, and dedication that is as beautiful, as complex, and as intricate as a tapestry.
Though it is said that destiny is like a wonderful wide tapestry in which every thread is guided by an unspeakable tender hand - in the case of Literacy at Saint Andrew’s School - each thread of learning is held gently and guided deliberately.
Every moment a child spends reading and writing at Saint Andrew’s Lower School carries them one more stitch forward towards developing reading and writing skills that will last a lifetime.