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Spotlight on Excellence: A Series of Reports on Academic Programs at San Francisco Day School

Welcome to the second edition of Spotlight On Excellence, a series of reports on academic programs at San Francisco Day School. Spotlight is distributed via email and as a newsletter during each school year. To opt out of either communication, please contact Michelle Phillips: This issue highlights the language arts program at SFDS. -- Dr. David Jackson, Head of School

English/Language Arts Update at SFDS The San Francisco Day School English and language arts program is designed to stimulate students to think critically and creatively about literature and language. Every day, classrooms are abuzz with language-rich activities. At the same time, a structured focus on reading, writing, English language conventions, speaking, and listening ensures mastery of basic skills at each grade level. From kindergarten through eighth grade, language arts teachers recognize the importance of developmental readiness in skills acquisition. Students leave SFDS empowered by strong reading and writing skills and a rich knowledge of literature. They are able to comprehend fiction and nonfiction, and seek literature for information, personal meaning, and inspiration.

Project READ in the Lower School Four years ago, SFDS implemented Project Read in all classrooms in grades K-3. Project Read is an approach that emphasizes the structure of language and teaches students how to decode (sound out) words based on consistent rules. Although Project Read focuses on basic reading skills, reading comprehension also benefits from this type of instruction. Providing children with the skills to reach words on the page easily and without stress frees their attention to engage in the meaning of the text. All SFDS faculty are trained in Project Read as part of ITL, or Institute for Teaching and Learning. However, our teachers do not restrict their reading program to Project Read alone. No single method of teaching literacy is best for each student, therefore teachers draw from several different teaching methods. The Project Read approach is complemented by the reading/writing workshop method and literature interpretation. Our teachers continue to assess their instructional methods, and the integration of Project Read has made a positive and distinctive impact on our students’ academic performance. One assessment is the standardized Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement (KTEA), a national test given mid-year in grade 2. This test assesses three components: reading comprehension, non-word decoding, and sight word recognition. All three areas saw a marked improvement from 2009-2012, as indicated below. Second Grade KTEA Reading Scores


Upper School Update In the upper school, SFDS students are presented with even more opportunities for self-expression through creative and analytical writing and reading. From Shakespeare to mock Congress to digital storytelling, there are several outlets for our students to practice their language arts skills. In addition, our upper school teachers have been dedicating considerable time and attention to collaborate with colleagues and experts to build on their practices and refine their curriculum. SONAR: SFDS Upper School Literary Magazine Each spring, every 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grader submits a piece of writing to be considered for publication in SONAR, the upper school literary magazine. Poems, stories, and short and long essays written in and out of school are acceptable submissions, and the upper school English teachers read through each piece with the end goal of selecting four exemplary writings from each grade to be published. Incense by Hailey, Class of 2013 The sweet smell of incense fades out of the air Spring comes once again I look up there, diving through the clouds three geese the shallow water reveals the broken heart of mine happiness dies inside of me sorrow fills me not one gust can blow it away I think as the spring flowers bloom with every glance I think as a droplet of water falls from my eye hope fills my heart soon the sun will shine

Shakespeare in the Classroom Through the SFDS professional development program (Institute for Teaching and Learning or ITL), several language arts teachers in the upper school have dedicated time in the summer to participate in the Shakespeare in the Classroom workshop. This workshop is held at the Ashland Institute (home of the well-known Shakespeare Festival), and provides tools and resources to facilitate a theatre-based—rather than academic—approach, intended to make the works of Shakespeare exciting and accessible for students. Teacher Lisa Busby states, “They teach you how to really appreciate Shakespeare - on your feet, not at a table.” Prior to performing Shakespeare’s plays, students read and analyze different works to establish a solid understanding. As an example, in sixth grade, students read A Midsummer Night’s Dream. To keep the work engaging to all students, teachers vary the scope of the writing assignment for each individual. One student may be assigned a shorter passage with a primary metaphor to unpack, while another student’s passage will present multiple themes, metaphors, and opportunities for close readings of language. As a result, every student may become well-versed in Shakespearean literature and the critical thinking it inspires, preparing them for challenging high school lit courses. During a student’s time with SFDS, they will have studied a range of Shakespearean works in-depth, including Macbeth and Romeo & Juliet, in addition to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Creating a Community of Readers and Writers at SFDS In lower school, children are encouraged to develop an appreciation for literature through reading a variety of picture books aloud, followed by class discussions. Kindergartners begin word study by learning the names, shapes, and sounds of the English alphabet and how letters and sounds can be put together and taken apart. In first grade and second grade, the teachers provide reading instruction in small groups, in one-on-one activities, and through whole class lessons using many different texts. They study vowel and consonant patterns (phonics rules) and strategies for decoding (sounding out) unfamiliar printed words. They are also introduced to the writing process: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and are encouraged to use phonetic spelling in their writing and to begin applying their growing knowledge of conventional spelling patterns.


First Grade: Hopes & Dreams “My hope and dream is to become a stronger reader.”

Reader’s Theater Reader’s Theater is an integrated approach for involving students in reading, writing, listening, and speaking activities. At SFDS, students participate in plays centering on themes like empathy and identity: The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes is one such example. This unit is an opportunity to have discussions about kindness, confidence, empathy, and both internal and external acceptance. At this age, it is far easier for students to discuss the behaviors of fictional characters than it is to speak about their own behaviors or choices. Reader’s Theater can also boost listening and speaking skills, enhance confidence, and transform reluctant readers into book lovers. In third and fourth grade, teachers emphasize comprehension as students move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Students focus increasingly on the appreciation of literature through discussion and reflection. Third graders continue to learn and practice more advanced vowel and consonant patterns and begin to study word origins (prefixes and suffixes). Fourth graders begin referencing current events and social studies reading to practice comprehension of nonfiction texts. Creative journals are just one way to record and interpret events.

What Language Arts Looks Like In LRP

Our Learning Resources Program (LRP) provides a varied instruction approach that meets every student at his or her “just right” level. With a learning resource teacher collaborating with head teachers in every grade, children are ensured learning instruction that is tailored to their individual needs. For language arts in particular, there are a number of programs that facilitate a love for reading and literature. Early Bird Group and Meg’s Morning Reading Club are morning sessions that provide dedicated space and time for children to practice reading fluency, interaction with texts and the opportunity to grow more self-confident about his/her reading and writing ability while surrounded by a community of engaged readers.


From Lower to Upper School Upper schoolers continue progressing toward more advanced comprehension and analytical thinking. Children read a wide selection of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic literature. They are taught to analyze the influence of literary devices on the texts in order to evaluate themes and characterization in literature. Students write responses in the form of paragraphs, journals, autobiographies, dramatic sketches, poetry, and research reports. In fifth and sixth grade, students practice and refine techniques of oration, including formal speech making, discussion, debate, and poetic recitation. The ever popular Greek Night is one example of student-led creative writing in sixth grade. Another is a creative workshop project where students think about the power of words by experimenting with letters and words found in media (see “The Economy” below).

Sixth Grade: Literature Reviews

Seventh and eighth grade bring forth even more creative genres, including the novel, the short story, the essay, and poetry. Analytical skills include: expressing the author’s purpose, identifying how events advance the plot and contribute to a theme, determining methods of characterization, and distinguishing between contrasting points of view. Instruction on a range of five-paragraph essay formats develops students’ command of analytical writing. Eighth grade students are introduced to seminar classes, allowing for intensive instruction and study of literature, writing, conventions, speaking, and listening.


Speeches, Debates & Oral Presentations Hammurabi Debates. Mock Congress. Mesopotamian Tea Party. Throughout their educational career at SFDS, students are presented with several opportunities to exercise all language functions: reading, speaking, debating, etc. These exercises keep children actively engaged while helping them learn how to create a convincing argument, how to articulate a clear point of view, and convey confidence in their position. Students learn how to interpret and appreciate viewpoints that may differ from their own; a critical skill for working collaboratively and effectively in today’s global society.

The Economy by Andrew, 6th grade The economy sends people into despair; Signs of this, everywhere I run my hand through my hair I slump down in my chair Sometimes I feel like they just don’t care.

What Language Arts Looks Like In LRP, cont’d.

In the classroom, activities such as literature circles give students concrete strategies to advance their writing skills. In one fifth grade literature circle, a resource teacher encountered a student who was having trouble answering her questions properly. She found it difficult to track her thinking with evidence from the text in order to demonstrate proper inference. The teacher set up a color-coding system to help her review her answers - she would use one color to mark evidence in her text and a second color to identify the corresponding inference. Using this system helped the student to see visually what she had not incorporated into her own thinking. This system actually helped everyone in her group, as students could see what it meant to design a really well thought-out answer to a question. These types of strategies nurture students in their own learning process and teach them to become self-advocates who are proactive in their studies.


What’s Happening in Our Library Media Center (LMC) To promote an active and intellectually curious student body, the library collaborates with classroom teachers to develop learning activities that are integrated into the curriculum. Each week, students in grades K-4 meet with Renée Otero to explore the following three areas: Research and Information Literacy: Develop an understanding of how information is organized, identify the best sources of information for a given need, locate those sources, evaluate the sources critically, and share that information with peers. Gender and Media Literacy (K-4): Learn how to analyze the messages that inform, entertain and sell to children every day. These critical thinking skills bear on all media and help students to develop the instinct to question what lies behind media messaging and to be aware of how these factors may influence content. Literature: Reading literature is one of the first ways children appreciate the variety and depth of perspectives outside one’s own experience. One’s understanding of culture, language, and thought expand tremendously through reading literature. At SFDS, students learn how to choose, evaluate, and select varieties of literature to inform, illuminate, and inspire themselves. Did you know? • Our library has nearly 21,000 volumes currently on hand • We have a professional section that is accessible to parents and teachers • We are more than books...LMC offers DVDs, audio books, periodicals, and other references • With the exception of a short break, the library is open year-round...even during the summer! • We offer a rich array of titles and authors - including multicultural books for all students • Our library depends on the support of parents, grandparents, and special friends to run smoothly with fully stocked shelves and resources for our school community. Volunteers are always appreciated and welcome!

SFDS Readers Share Their Favorites This new tradition began after librarian Ms. Otero visited Gateway High School and observed reading lists on several classroom doors. At SFDS, we often display photos of students and teachers reading in a variety of contexts: at home, with family, alone, or with a friend. We also have “Now Reading” cards that cite the title of book that is currently engrossing us outside of school. These personal declarations demonstrate that we are a community of readers and give us yet another way to connect with each other.


The Golden Guide Are you beholden to the Golden? The Golden Guide is the official San Francisco Day School Language Arts Handbook, introduced in 2004 by SFDS language arts teachers and the administration. The language arts teachers were looking for a K-8 grammar program, but could only find programs that were overly focused on writing exercises. The teachers decided to create a guide that would help build writing skills and serve as a useful tool and reference, instead of just a workbook. The Golden Guide provides a foundation for developing a baseline of skills that can be adapted as needed—even beyond middle school. The Golden Guide is divided into grade-level chapters that state exactly in what grade important skills are learned, practiced, and applied. The idea is to see the progression of skills among each student, throughout their academic careers at SFDS. The SFDS Golden Guide has also been embraced by other schools. Hillbrook School, a K-8 school in Los Gatos, purchased a full set of guides for their students, and Crossroads School in Santa Monica has also adapted our Guide to support their own language arts program. Our goal is to ensure our students graduate knowing how to follow their teachers’ definitions of “minimal decencies” in the wide world of written and verbal expression. In reality, there are a number of grammar rules that are frequently broken by English language writers and speakers regardless of age, profession, or education - and such examples of “minimal INdecencies” can be observed every day in the real world. Some SFDS teachers ask for students to submit the grammatical infractions they see outside of school. Below is one offender discovered in our neighborhood grocery - there was a sign that read “Express Lane: 10 Items or Less,” which is incorrect. The rule? Fewer refers to things that can be counted. Less refers to things that cannot be counted. Therefore, the sign should have read “10 items or fewer.” It has since been corrected!

Conclusion “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”

Our teachers have put a tremendous amount of time and attention to ensuring each child graduates from the Day School with an appreciation and love for literature and creative expression. Thanks to our teachers, our students acquire the skills of life-long learners, well equipped for the world beyond San Francisco Day School. They have command of the essential skills of reading, writing, speaking, and collaborating with peers. They have learned to value and appreciate their creative potential and trust their ability to communicate with others. Our teachers will continue to assess and improve their curriculum and programs to support our children. In doing so, we will be sure to keep you informed of our progress into the future. -6-