English Language Arts
The kindergarten (K) through grade eight English language arts program aims to help every student learn to use language effectively, both as a tool for communicating and an instrument for thinking, learning, and imagining. Instruction is designed to help students become strong readers and writers, speak and listen effectively, as well as write for a variety of purposes. Students will learn to study, retain, analyze, and use information from many sources. Student instruction focuses on reading: literature, informational text, and foundational skills (K-5 only); language; writing; speaking and listening; and handwriting (K-3 only).
Materials used for reading instruction in literature, informational text, and foundational skills for the Kindergarten through fifth grade students are based upon the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Journeys program and student magazine subscriptions and articles. In grades 6-8, teachers use literature circles, novel studies based upon themes and genres, student magazine subscriptions and articles, and informational text passages as integrated units of instruction.
Close reading, which is used across all classrooms in grades K-8, is an instructional strategy that involves an intensive analysis of a text in order to come to terms with what it says, how it says it, and what it means. Teacher teams in District #37 are studying the work of several experts in close reading including Dr. Nancy Frey, Dr. Douglas Fisher, and Dr. Sunday Cummins. A local author of the ELA CCSS, Dr. Timothy Shanahan’s model of close reading is creating a common language; this strategy increases student growth and achievement in reading.
Foundational skills (K-5 only) are directed toward fostering students’ understanding and working knowledge of concepts of print, the alphabetic principle, and reading fluency. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds-phonemes–in spoken words. These skills are emphasized in kindergarten and first grade through the daily use of Dr. Michael Heggerty’s Phonemic Awareness materials.
Important components of an effective, comprehensive reading program are designed to develop proficient readers with the capacity to comprehend texts across a range of types and disciplines. Instruction should be differentiated, and in grades K-5 a variety of supplemental texts are used for guided reading instruction. Guided reading occurs in a small group setting of four to six students who are working with the teacher to process increasingly challenging texts with understanding and fluency. The teacher selects and introduces instructional level texts to readers, supports them while reading the text, engages the readers in discussion, performing mini-lessons during and after the reading.
To build a foundation for literacy, students must gain control over many conventions of standard English grammar, usage, and mechanics as well as learn other ways to use language to convey meaning effectively. Language standards include instruction on the conventions of standard English, on knowledge of language
and expand their vocabulary in the course of studying content.
Spelling or word study activities are an integral part of the reading and content area curriculum providing students explicit instruction in orthographic skills such as examining word parts for common vowel patterns, identifying word families, identifying Latin or Greek roots, and identifying base words in order to utilize this information to problem-solve words encountered in text.
Vocabulary instruction in kindergarten through fifth grade is based upon the words introduced throughout the Journeys stories and the Words Their Way spelling program (K-1); these words form the basis for specific word study instruction. Whole and small group instruction is often encountered in daily lessons thus creating an opportunity for new learning and guided practice.
Grammar instruction is introduced through the Journeys program in grades K-5, and grades 6-8 integrates grammar instruction through writing.
Speaking and Listening
As District #37 prepares students for a global society, teaching the core content subjects is enhanced by incorporating critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity (4 C’s). Teachers integrate speaking and listening skills throughout English Language Arts and all content subjects, reporting on these important skills each trimester.
District #37’s students need to learn to use writing as a way of offering and supporting opinions, demonstrating understanding of the subjects they are studying, and conveying real and imagined experiences and events. They learn to appreciate that a key purpose of writing is to communicate clearly to an external, sometimes unfamiliar audience, and they begin to adapt the form and content of their writing to accomplish a particular task and purpose. They develop the capacity to build knowledge on a subject through research projects and to respond analytically to literary and informational sources. To meet these goals, students devote significant time and effort to writing, focusing on narrative, informative/explanatory, persuasive/argumentation, and research genres through close reading selections that connect reading to writing by producing numerous pieces over short and extended time frames throughout the year. There is a strong and growing across-the-curriculum emphasis on students writing arguments and informative/explanatory texts.
The Handwriting Without Tears kindergarten program incorporates hands-on activities and good handwriting habits to develop strong writers. The program engages students with music, movement, fine motor activities, and child-friendly language. They learn capital and lowercase letter and number formation and how to print using hands-on materials and developmentally appropriate activities. Fine motor work prepares students for pencil and paper success in the student workbook.
In first through third grades, students continue their handwriting practices through the Zaner Bloser Handwriting program. In grade 1, the focus is on the progression of print through simple and effective techniques for letter formation. Throughout grade 2, there is an emphasis on review and mastery to achieve print fluency. In grade 3, students are introduced to cursive handwriting with expectations for proficiency in letter formation.
Activities incorporating language arts skills, practice on different styles of lines, and differing writing prompts are an integrated component of the handwriting program.
The Illinois Learning Standards are correlated with the Common Core State Standards: Common Core State Standards. District 37's learning targets are aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards.
Below are the English language arts proficiency maps that contain the standards and the learning targets for each grade level.