English Language Arts
It was Frederick Douglass who said, “Once you learn to read, you will forever be free,” and poet and playwright Victor Hugo who said, “To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” At Atlas, we know that proficient reading is essential -- literally impacting all aspects of development, learning, and daily life. We believe that in order to thrive in the 21st century, students must be fluent and critical readers, competent writers, compelling speakers, and careful listeners.
Foundational Reading Skills
Our Kindergarten through 2nd grade students receive structured phonics instruction founded on the science of reading. Our daily hour-long foundation skills block cultivates the brain-based connections needed to support phonological awareness, decoding, word recognition, and spelling --- all proven to provide the basis for proficient reading and writing in later years.
We use CKLA Skills as our curriculum for foundational skills. We chose this curriculum because of its sequential, multi-sensory approach. In kindergarten, students begin by developing the understanding that words are made up of individual sounds. These sounds can be manipulated to change words and also written down to record words. Students learn letter-sound correspondences, which begins their journey of learning to read and write. As they progress, children move from single consonant and vowel sounds to one-syllable words to multisyllabic words. As they move through the CKLA curriculum, children also develop reading fluency through repeated readings of decodable texts.
Our teachers monitor each child’s unique journey of learning to read and write through informal daily assessments, end of unit assessments and more formal benchmarking assessments three times per year. We believe that careful observation of a child’s reading and writing allows us to analyze errors and provide targeted reteaching and additional practice. Students are met where they are, and are supported or challenged with meaningful instruction. Students emerge from 2nd grade with a good handle on the most common spelling patterns and generalizations, a strong bank of sight words, and the ability to accurately read unfamiliar words using decoding strategies that include syllable division, affix knowledge, and context clues.
Content-Based Literacy: EL Education Modules
We use EL Education’s ELA Modules; module lessons are a daily one hour block that address the Missouri ELA Learning Standards for speaking and listening, reading literary and informational texts, and writing. Each grade level includes four modules, which span the full school year. The four modules allow students to build important knowledge based on a compelling scientific, literary, or social studies topic. Examples of module topics include: toys and play, weather, animal adaptations, local communities, literary classics, the American Revolution, and the impact of natural disasters. By studying only four topics per year, our students are able to become experts. They delve deeply into rich texts, build strong academic vocabularies, and create authentic written work related to their learning. These studies build children’s knowledge about the world around them, which fuels reading comprehension and critical thinking.
Lab: Hands-on, Exploratory Learning
One of our core beliefs at Atlas is that every child deserves to find joy in learning. Our teachers bring joy and discovery to our classrooms by providing students with exploratory, hands-on experiences that are relevant to their lives, communities, and our city. When we provide our students with opportunities to ask questions and grapple with real world problems, they develop important skills: collaboration, communication, citizenships, critical thinking, and creativity, to name a few!
Lab is a time for children to delve more deeply and independently into content they are studying during modules, foundational skills block, and math. During our 90 minute lab block, children listen to read alouds, participate in reading and math intervention and extension activities, and engage in hands-on stations. In the Explore station, students handle authentic objects and tools as they conduct experiments. While working in the Create Lab, students use a variety of materials to represent their learning through the visual arts. In the Engineer Lab, students use the design process to solve dilemmas or build models. The Imagine Lab is just as it sounds - a time for students to engage in make-believe, role-playing, and story-telling. During the Research Lab, students study pictures and photographs, watch videos, and read texts to build deeper knowledge of the current study topic.
Expeditions: Learning through Place-Based Education
Because of our emphasis on place-based learning, our students go on many trips during each of their units of study. We believe that trips are an essential research tool for young learners. Through these trips, our students learn to observe closely, record their findings, and ask questions. Teachers at Atlas carefully plan these expeditions so that they align to learning goals and help students delve more deeply into content. We love finding museums, centers, and organizations that enhance our studies. We also believe that students can learn a great deal from looking closely at “everyday” places. Kindergarteners might visit a toy store to think about how it is organized and how its signs help shoppers find their way around. First graders might go birding at a local park and record their observations of bird behavior. We also love finding experts for students to interview -- our families are often a great resource in this regard!
Projects and Shares: Making Our Learning Public
At Atlas, projects are a natural outgrowth of our learning. Our visual and performing arts teachers also work with students on projects related to their modules. After a bird watching field trip, for example, students might create a mural of birds native to St. Louis. Projects are also a time when we examine themes related to social justice and equity. During our kindergarten Toys and Play Module, students might learn about adaptive playgrounds and how these serve children with varied physical needs. Students can then use this learning to create a display educating others about the importance of these playgrounds. Finally, projects serve as a vehicle to teach students to take pride in creating beautiful work. At the end of each unit, students publicly share their learning artifacts with their community.