The Director's Cut
Emerald Connection, October 3rd, 2022
Steamboat Mountain School believes in Thriving through Contrast. At the Emerald Campus, one of our norms is Be Intentional. Both of these values intersect when I think about our ELA (English and Language Arts) program.
For those of you that are Educational News junkies, you may have heard about the Reading Wars. Researchers have gone back and forth over the years arguing the merits of a phonics-centered or a more holistic reading program. The good news is that the war is over. Strong data supports providing effective and appropriate phonics instruction to students to support their developing reading skills AND reading remains a complex task that encompasses far more than decoding; being able to successfully decode written English is a necessary, but not sufficient, factor in successful reading.
Our staff continues to strengthen our program. At the younger end of the spectrum, both Matt Clark, Kindergarten, and Emma Griffin, grades 1 and 2, attended summer workshops to bring new insights back to our staff. In the middle grades, Jen Freund is serving as a bridge to connect best practices from K-8. And in the Middle School, Willow Fitzgerald is challenging the students to continue to deepen their understanding of both effective reading and writing.
I was in Willow’s class last week when she helped her students prepare for reading a complex text from Salman Rushdie. She shared with them verses from Muslim texts and an explanation of the importance of water in the Middle East. As she bounced between texts with them, she continually returned to the question of why?
- Why does anyone choose to write, including them?
- Why do writers in different genres and mediums write differently?
Asking these metacognitive questions are critical for helping advanced readers make sense of what they are reading. While they may still have some decoding work to do and they continue to expand their reading vocabulary, effective reading in the older grades is very much about understanding context and making connections between big ideas. By connecting the class reading and the context in which it was written, both geographically and religiously, Willow is helping her students to become effective readers and writers.
We will continue to thrive through contrast over the course of this year. This contrast includes balancing the skills necessary to decode well (phonics and vocabulary development) with making connections and finding meaning in reading. We also contrast different genres of text to help students understand both their own and others’ reading and writing. In both cases, we are intentional about providing instruction that will help our students grow and engage.