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A Message from the Head of Lower School: January 17

A Message from the Head of Lower School: January 17
  • Academics
Karen Leavitt, Head of Lower School

Dear Lower School Families, 

Students at every grade level are now entrenched in the act of reading and writing nonfiction as part of our Lucy Calkins Reading and Writing Curriculum. Lucy Calkins is the Founding Director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University in New York, and the author of the reading and writing Units of Study series, which have been an integral part of our literacy curriculum at BZ for many years. Lucy says, “When we help students become powerful readers of nonfiction, we help them become powerful learners.” And so, students in grades one through four are using mentor nonfiction books to explore text features and build strategies for reading to learn. When students understand a text’s key concepts, make sense of the book’s structure and organization, and identify important text features like table of contents, photos/graphs and captions, they are ready to engage in important learning. Our students in Lower School continue to have exposure to nonfiction reading material so they become increasingly familiar with this genre. 

A recent exciting development has been the shift into nonfiction or informational writing. Each grade level has a developmentally appropriate exposure to this challenging form of writing and outlined below, you will be able to understand how we are scaffolding this learning from grade to grade, ultimately preparing students for the elevated writing demands of middle school.

In 1st grade, students begin nonfiction writing by exploring How-To books, short tutorials in which students teach their readers how to do something (i.e. tie your shoes or give your dog a bath). Exploring their own areas of expertise and putting together the many steps of the writing process make this first grade writing a challenge. First graders will work toward writing their own All-About Books, expanded versions of the How-To books to include additional pages and text features.

How-To Do Gymnastics, Grade 1

How-To Do Gymnastics, grade one

In 2nd grade, students are immersed in writing All About books, complete chapter books about a subject on which they are experts. Each chapter presents a new focus and learning target, ranging from narrative paragraphs to labeled diagrams. A significant focus of 2nd grade is an introduction to the editing process. Second graders are expected to use topic and conclusion sentences, transition words, text features and have proper end punctuation and trick word spelling. These books are designed to teach the reader!

All About the Food Plate, grade two

Third Graders are also in the process of writing their nonfiction books. One exciting opportunity in 3rd grade involves the planning and preparing phase of writing. Creating a final product that is easy for the reader to navigate is an important learning goal. The introduction of graphic organizers scaffolds this planning process for 3rd-grade writers. Once their graphic organizers are complete and sequenced, students draft chapters based on their plans. They are able to explore chapter subtopics and subheadings for more detailed sections. 

Graphic organizers aid in the planning and sequencing process, grade three

And finally, in 4th grade, students are beginning their non-fiction work, connected to their study of immigration in Social Studies. The added layer in 4th grade revolves around integration and research. Students will research interest-based topics related to immigration, including but not limited to Ellis Island and Angel Island. Their non-fiction writing projects will be research-based chapter books with a focus on creating a thesis and supporting claims. 

Immigration research essays, grade four

We continue to celebrate both the writing process and our finished pieces of nonfiction writing, which we look forward to sharing with you in the near future.

Have a terrific weekend and Shabbat Shalom! 

Karen Leavitt
Head of Lower School



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