In kindergarten, children develop skills and phonemic awareness through songs, games, and daily exposure to language in its many forms. First graders develop their comprehension skills while engaged in guided reading lessons and literacy stations. Writing is integrated across all subject areas as the students build their skills within the context of what they are learning. With the introduction of the paragraph form in 2nd grade, children have a deeper way to express themselves. The essentials of opening sentence, supporting details, and closing sentence are given life in writing about personal experiences, animals, nature, and people. Building confident, thinking readers is the focus of the 2nd grade year. To this end, students are grouped based on instructional needs. In 3rd grade, students first experience the thrill of choice: Within the language arts café, students choose from a weekly menu of activities to work on different skills.
The first year of Upper School develops both the expository and descriptive writing skills that students will take with them throughout Upper School. Writing is also integrated throughout all subjects, so they apply what they learn in different contexts. Students come from 3rd grade with the ability to construct a paragraph. They will grow their skills in expository writing from the paragraph into the five-part essay. Books are selected for their relationship to both the history and SEL curricula. Novels are explored in small book clubs in 5th grade, with reading groups selecting their own books throughout the year and meeting four times each week for in-depth discussion. The goal of the writing curriculum in 5th grade is to broaden students' facility with different genres, perspectives, and audiences. Writing is integrated throughout 6th grade subject areas, with an eye toward creating writers who can express ideas and demonstrate knowledge clearly and engagingly. The 6th grade literature curriculum develops sophisticated readers who can analyze text and draw connections between ideas.
Identity and voice are at the heart of our Upper Division English program, as our students absorb and respond to the world through literature and language. All students keep a journal recording their responses to the week's reading and bring these journals with them to literature group to spark conversation. The 7th grade year in writing begins with refining the fundamentals—lead, setting, plot, narrative structure—and moves quickly into developing students' sophistication as writers. They are encouraged to find their own voice, and while both 7th and 8th grades write personal narratives, short stories, poetry, and essays, they also branch out into other means of expression.
Featured Project: 7th Grade Speeches
Students develop skills for public speaking by developing a speech based on a topic of high personal interest and relevance. Once students choose their own topics, they begin crafting, revising and honing both the content and the delivery of the speech. Students learn by watching (through video), discussing and analyzing a variety of effective speeches performed by other people their age. Students revise their speeches with multiple rounds of practice and peers feedback. The unit culminates with students performing their original speeches, without notes or visual aides, for an audience of their peers and Mark Day School adults, including current and former teachers and administrators. Students receive feedback from the audience as well as through a formal rubric. Students interested in performing speeches for a larger audience are invited to perform their speech at an all-school or divisional assembly.