English Language Arts
EL Education curriculum is a comprehensive, research-informed, core language arts program. EL Education supports students to build skills and content knowledge, become more confident and collaborative learners, and meet Missouri Learning Standards. Atlas utilizes EL Education curriculum for English Language Arts classes. Students will participate in Content Based Literacy as well as a Reading Foundations Skills Block on a daily basis.
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. Reading is the key that not only unlocks doors, but starts our students on their path to thrive in middle school, high school, and beyond.
In addition to content-based literacy instruction, our Kindergarten through 2nd grade students receive structured phonics instruction founded on the science of reading. Teachers provide researched-based and scientifically-documented programming through daily Reading Foundations Skills Blocks. These hour-long blocks cultivate the brain-based connections needed to support phonological awareness, decoding and word recognition --- all proven to provide the basis for proficient reading in later years.
Using engaging techniques and strategies designed with young learners in mind, students build an awareness of the segmental nature of the English spoken language, and come to understand that words are made up of individual sounds. They may do this through song, poetry, movement and dance, and storytelling, among others. They begin to map these sounds to corresponding letters through art, chanting, sensory play, drama and puppetry. As they playfully grow in their understanding of these letter-sound correspondences, called the alphabetic principle, they are primed for starting their amazing journey of ‘learning to read.’
Each student’s trajectory toward proficiency will be unique to the child. Using a phase-development framework based on the work of educational psychologist and reading researcher Dr. Linnea Ehri, students are closely monitored in their understanding and application of the alphabetic principle as they move from single consonants and vowels in Kindergarten to multisyllabic words in 2nd grade. This framework permits flexible grouping and targeted, personalized instruction regardless of age and grade, and ensures no child is overlooked, glossed over, or considered ‘good enough.’ Instead, students are met where they are, and are supported or challenged with meaningful instruction and appropriate activities.
Students emerge from 2nd grade with a good handle on the most common spelling patterns and generalizations, an incredible bank of sight words, and the ability to accurately read novel and unfamiliar words using legitimate decoding strategies that include syllable division, affix knowledge, and context clues. Their journey thus far has been joyful, playful, and purposeful as opposed to cumbersome and drill-oriented. They are equipped with the skills necessary to continue to grow their own content knowledge and vocabulary through richly deep experiences with a vast array of literature. As wordsmith Rachel Anders is quoted, “The journey of a lifetime begins with the turning of a page.” And so, our students’ ‘learning to read’ journey comes to a successful conclusion, and the journey of a lifetime begins.
Lab - Learning through Place-Based Education
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. Not only do we believe that this approach makes learning more engaging, but we also believe that it helps students to build the mindsets necessary to prepare them for the careers and challenges of tomorrow. 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!
Over the course of each school year, our students engage in content-based units of study from the Expeditionary Learning Curriculum. These units integrate literacy, social studies, science, and math; they focus on rich themes that students can study deeply. We believe that longer, in-depth units allow children to truly become experts on a given topic. Examples of topics that Atlas explorers investigate include toys and play, weather, birds, tools and work, and pollinators. While children read about these topics during our content-based literacy block each morning, we also have scheduled 90 minutes each day for lab, expeditions, and related projects. This 90 minute exploratory block is cherished by teachers and students alike.
Lab: During lab, children engage in five hands-on stations. In the Explore Lab, 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. Through all of these stations, students build important skills for young learners: planning, organization, conflict resolution, oral language, and perseverance.
This video can help give a general snapshot of what Lab could look like in action.
Expeditions: 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 -- and we find that our families are often a great resource in this regard!
Projects and Classroom Museums: At Atlas, projects are a natural outgrowth of the learning that our students do during lab and expeditions. Our visual and performing arts teachers also work with students on projects related to their units of study. After a bird watching field trip, for example, students might create a mural of birds native to St. Louis. This mural might then serve as a backdrop as students act out a play they wrote in Imagine Lab. Projects are also a time when we examine themes related to social justice and equity. As students learn about toys and play, they 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 turn their classrooms into museums to publicly share their learning artifacts with their families and their community.