An Explicit Focus On Thinking and Communicating Clearly
Spelling • Vocabulary • Grammar • Writing
Our language arts program focuses explicitly on teaching clarity and sophistication in thought and communications, whether oral or written. Learning to write and speak well enables your child to better appreciate and understand what others have written and to develop confidence in communicating his own ideas. As these skills are thus fundamental to all learning, they deserve to be taught systematically, in a dedicated language arts program, not mixed into a generic “English” class.
To that end, our language arts program starts in the Montessori years with a focus on learning to hand-write and read, and continues in elementary and junior high with dedicated courses in spelling, vocabulary, grammar and writing.
- Montessori – early hand-writing and reading. In contrast to most preschool and Kindergarten programs, which focus on “reading-readiness”, our Montessori program enables children to read fluently and to write in full sentences, before they enter elementary school. By working with a sequence of carefully structured materials, and repeating freely-chosen exercises at a time when they enjoy the repetition of sensorial activities such as tracing shapes or coloring, our 4- and 5-year olds learn to hold a pencil, to associate letters to sounds, to trace letters made of sandpaper, and to compose words with a “movable alphabet.” Typically, by about age 4 ½ to 5, our students progress to writing full words, and to reading shortly thereafter. By the time they leave our Montessori pre-school (at age 6 – 6 ½), our students have learned to read and write at a level of a typical 2nd grader.
- Spelling. In contrast to many schools which condone (or even encourage) “creative” spelling, we understand that habituating correct spelling is essential to free up the mind to more advanced tasks in writing – and to support reading comprehension. Once our preschoolers have developed a basic enthusiasm for writing and self-confidence in their own abilities, they are prepared for our systematic spelling program. This program begins formally in first grade, and continues at an individualized pace until each child has thoroughly mastered the two dozen core spelling rules that govern the English language. Throughout, we base our program on phonetic principles, and thus avoid random memorization. We enable our students to become proficient spellers efficiently, while saving more class time for other tasks.
- Vocabulary. Having a broad, deep vocabulary is critical to reading, thinking and communicating. We systematically build our students’ vocabulary – from Montessori, where vocabulary development is integrated throughout the curriculum, to our higher grades, where we teach vocabulary both within the specific subjects and as a separate course. In vocabulary class, our students learn what it means to really understand a concept: we do not stop at memorizing definitions and regurgitating them on multiple-choice tests. Instead, our students learn to identify the word’s Latin or Greek roots, to compare and contrast similar words, to compose their own sample sentences, and to write creative paragraphs using several new words in context. Thus, unlike many vocabulary programs, which only develop recognition vocabulary (words a student only understands when others use them), LePort’s program also develops generative vocabulary (words that are accessible to a student in their own natural attempts to communicate). To emphasize the practical value of a rich vocabulary, our students also keep a cross-curricular vocabulary binder: when they encounter new words, for instance in literature, they look them up, and use the skills they learn in vocab class to fully comprehend the words, and make them a permanent part of their active vocabulary.
- Grammar. Correct grammar is what enables us to express clear thoughts. There is a huge difference between saying “I like baseball better than she” or “I like baseball better than her.” We teach the fundamentals of grammar starting in Montessori preschool and elementary, where students first learn to identify “action words”, and later analyze sentences by representing different parts of speech with graphical symbols. Our sequential program continues in the upper grades, where students master the fundamentals of grammar (parts of speech, parts of the sentence, phrases, clauses and punctuation) and learn to apply them correctly, both orally and in writing. Learning grammar is made fun and easy with sentence diagramming, a highly effective method that appeals to students with different strengths: linguistic, mathematical or visual.
- Writing. Strong written communication skills are essential to all levels of education, from kindergarten to college – and to living a successful life beyond formal schooling. From the earliest stages, children need to learn the mechanics and the process of writing, and to practice applying it. Our goal is to foster increased understanding, logical thinking and the joy of self-expression through our writing program. Step by step, with lots of guided practice, we teach our young writers how to form an argument, organize ideas, gather evidence, and get straight to the point. As he progresses through our carefully structured writing program, each student hones his ability to identify, clarify, structure and prove his ideas. In doing so, he not merely learns how to write: he actually learns how to think. Training in writing helps a child internalize methods of organized thinking that will prove indispensably valuable throughout his life.In addition to instruction and practice in writing class, our writing program is applied throughout the curriculum in varied form, including reports in science, speeches in history, essays in literature and paragraph descriptions of problem solutions in mathematics.