Penn Charter uses a balanced literacy approach to reading and writing. Developed by the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, this approach is based on the understanding that as children learn to read and write, their efforts are reinforced throughout the day in a variety of ways. Each form of reading and writing is designed to prepare learners to do increasingly more sophisticated kinds of work. The components of a balanced literacy approach include: independent reading workshop, read-alouds, shared reading, writing workshop, interactive writing and small-group writing instruction.
Embedded in the reading and writing program is the study of the conventions of writing, learning necessary library skills, and learning technology tools to enhance emerging literacy skills. Writing is a means of expression, but also a craft that improves with practice. Having developed fluency and confidence through a variety of writing practices, learning about grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax and style enable children to go on to become effective and powerful writers. Becoming familiar with the use of our library helps foster an interest in books and reading for pleasure. Research skills are also enhanced through the support of the library and, when combined with technology skills, help students create effective presentations for their research.
The ability to read and write well is the foundation for all education and a rich source for learning about life. Young readers’ and writers’ enthusiasm for literature contributes to the development of their critical thinking, awareness of cultural diversity, and an appreciation of one’s self in relation to others. At each grade level, students are immersed in a print-rich environment and engaged in activities that develop language arts skills.
In pre-K and kindergarten, interactive activities capitalize on children’s natural curiosity and sense of playfulness, providing extensive exposure to the alphabet and promoting phonological awareness. Children are read to every day and are exposed to a wide range of materials, including picture books, storybooks, poetry and expository text. Students draw, write, dictate their stories and have multiple opportunities to record their observations. First graders extend their knowledge of language arts in significant ways as they learn skills that enable them to read and write independently. Learning activities include journal writing, observation recording, publishing, maintaining a reading log, making story boards and engaging in shared, guided and independent reading and writing. Second graders participate in group book discussions and writing projects that develop comprehension and thinking skills. They maintain reading logs of books read independently and word logs for spelling and vocabulary development. They write original stories that include plot, setting, characters, conflict and solutions. Third graders participate in guided-reading book discussions and reading conferences with teachers and friends about self-selected readings. They complete story maps for readings, write literature responses, informational essays, original stories, research-based first person diaries, poems on particular themes, and factual reports based on multiple sources. Fourth graders become more independent readers and writers. Their exploration of literature continues and expands; they learn not only about a variety of literature but also what they can learn from literature. Fourth graders use the keyboard or their best cursive writing, plus conventional spelling, to write essays, stories, reports and posters and to compile this body of work into a personal writing portfolio. During daily writing workshops, fifth graders write in various genres — poems, plays, stories, memoirs, essays, letters and researched reports. They regularly draft, revise, edit and publish their pieces of writing for classroom anthologies and other publications. Students read complex narrative and expository texts at or above grade level. They learn reading strategies such as making predictions, thinking about story elements, retelling, visualizing, inferring and making connections.