Literacy at Hayground

It is our responsibility to help every child acquire the ability to read fluently and write well. Equally important, it is our goal to help students become habitual readers and writers, who will use the written word to think and to communicate. How do we do this? Long before children are fluent readers, different strands of the process develop somewhat independently of one another: children begin to learn about narrative structure from the stories they hear and tell with parents, friends, and teachers. They learn about the sounds that underlie the written system in spoken language, word play, and songs. They become aware of print, and learn that symbols on a page are meaningful. Later they learn what the sounds of letters are, and they learn how to read words, sentences and paragraphs quickly. They learn to sound out words, and/or guess a word from the context.  At some point, these strands come together and a child can read and write meaningful text for a wide range of purposes (to give and understand directions, to create alternative worlds, to argue persuasively, to document work, to explain new discoveries, and so on).
Most children at Hayground will spend a good deal of time on activities that focus on one strand or another, as well as lots of time simply reading and writing. Below we describe the central goals of our approach and give a few examples of how we work towards those goals. As you will see, some of the goals (and the activities we use to achieve them) are more appropriate to one age group than another. Remember, the description below is illustrative- it by no means lists all the ways Hayground teachers help children learn to read and write. Each teacher uses activities that seem best suited to the particular children in her or his classroom.
Learn about sounds and how they work together to produce words
Rhyme, alliterate, break words up into phonemes, make up new words, detect patterns in word families, practice blending sounds, play word games, learn the sounds produced by all of the letters and combinations, and learn the more important rules governing the written English Language.
For some students this process goes quite smoothly; by engaging in a range of reading related activities they seem to easily acquire the basic components of reading by the time they are six.  Other students have difficulty with one or another aspect of reading and need more specific, focused help. This might require learning techniques to overcome a specific difficulty, or it might simply require more intensive practice in reading. Reading a lot and often is the single most important factor in gaining fluency, though for children who struggle, additional reading should happen under the guidance of a skilled reader.
Become fluent with print
Children dictate their stories to teachers or older students, write their own words, sentences, and stories phonetically, identify the sounds of letters in the alphabet, sound out words, follow along as stories with large print are read aloud, create and recognize labels on objects in their every day environment, and become familiar with the translation of written symbols to meaningful sounds and vice versa.
Become active members of the community of readers
Children read aloud to one another and to the teacher, discuss the books they are reading independently, with one another, and individually with their teacher, critically discuss one another’s writing, encounter and discuss a wide variety of writing and writing forms, discuss the writing of accomplished authors, form small reading groups and read aloud together, publish stories and essays for others to read, teach one another to read, take dictation for younger children, and see adults reading and using information and ideas from books all of the time.
Become close readers
Notice the details in illustrations, guess what will happen next in a story, discuss authors’ intentions, discuss and play with literary decisions- why do we use semi-colons, what makes a given sentence beautiful or ugly, how do we get rid of clutter in our writing, how would a given essay be different if the order of paragraphs were changed.
Become good writers
The most important way to become a good writer is to write a lot, all of the time, across a wide range of disciplines and topics.  The students read and discuss good writing from a wide variety of genres. They also discuss bad writing. Children and teachers critique children’s writing: sentences, choice of words, opening lines, closing lines, use of literary devices, and the flow and form of both essays and stories. We do a great deal of editing and revising.  The children read their work aloud to one another. They are asked to write for real world purposes- to teach others, to explain an exhibition, to publish in a local newspaper, to put their writing in the library, to communicate with people who live far away.