Overview: Grades 1-4
In Grades 1–4 learning is naturally scaffolded to match the developmental level of the needs of the students. Children continue to learn by doing, practicing previously learned skills and acquiring new ones. Teachers encourage the development of learning dispositions such working independently, participating actively in class, and demonstrating self-motivation. They endeavor to stimulate every child’s interest, curiosity and creativity, to challenge each student to fulfill their potential, and to promote a true love of learning.
Individual and group work in all core subjects is used to enhance students’ problem-solving, critical-thinking and logic skills. ASL students come from many different schools and learning environments, and their learning needs are assessed regularly to ensure their success. Collaboration and responsibility are emphasized throughout the Lower School.
The lower school language arts program uses a balanced approach to literacy and is guided by the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (CCSS). Teachers encourage children to become enthusiastic about reading and writing. As students proceed through the Lower School, their understanding of literature and nonfiction is developed and enhanced through their own experiences. All of the uses of language—listening, speaking, reading, writing—are interrelated and mutually supportive. Consequently, classroom instruction involves children in large and small groups, and in individual activities that emphasize the integration of all language processes.
At ASL, we aim for our students to develop ability to read fluently and independently and to apply the skills they are taught in reading for pleasure as well as for information. The strategies we teach encourage students to think about their reading and to become strategic readers who look for understanding in what they read and hear.
Phonological awareness and phonics instruction are integral parts of the reading program in the early grades. Phonics are taught with consistency and fidelity through the Wilson Fundations program. Children learn to apply these skills in their reading and writing.
Student responses to texts are a central part of the reading program, whether in writing, by drawing, or in a discussion with teachers and other students. The various elements of fiction and nonfiction texts such as setting, characterization, plot, problem and solution, and nonfiction text features are introduced as the students progress through the grades. Students learn to interpret information using strategies, such as paraphrasing and retelling.
In all grades, teachers read aloud to students and encourage them to read independently. Each grade level has an extensive range of books available in the classroom, including poetry, realistic fiction, fantasy, series books, theme-related books and more sophisticated choices as the students progress through the Lower School. In addition, the Lower School Library is used extensively; students of all ages are encouraged to borrow a variety of materials that interest them.
The development of writing skills is an integral part of the lower school curriculum at all levels. We use the Writer's Workshop approach to help students develop fluency and build confidence in writing. Students in every grade level are exposed to the genres of narrative, informational, and opinion/argument. Beginning with a mini-lesson using examples from the genre being studied, the teacher models a writing skill or strategy, and then involves the children in practicing the skill before the children write their own pieces. Students are taken through drafting, revising, editing and often producing a final copy. They have many opportunities during each day to write in a variety of genres and across all subject areas. Teachers confer with individuals and small groups, helping with the revision and editing process, listening to and evaluating pieces students have written, and providing feedback. Skills such as spelling, usage and grammar are then taught in the context of students’ writing.
In Grade 1, children are encouraged to make the connection between sounds and letters in words, and they begin to make a gradual transition from invented to standard spellings through the study of high frequency words and common spelling patterns. In Grades 2–4, children are held accountable for correctly spelling more difficult high frequency words, while learning to apply spelling generalizations and patterns.
The ASL lower school mathematics program is the combination of a set of math learning standards and the instruction used to guide students toward meeting those standards. The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS) are designed from research and benchmarks from a number of different math curricula, including those from Australia, Japan, Singapore and the US. The CCSS were adopted by ASL and have been in use since the 2012-13 school year. Each grade level has a yearly sequence of units of study that provide a road map for each student’s math learning. The CCSS provide not only the vertical curricular coherence, mathematical rigor, and instructional focus necessary to build a strong foundation, but also a push for students to be regularly engaged in math practices that will equip them for smooth transitions to the next grade.
Throughout the Lower School, teachers use a variety of resources, as well as using everyday math situations to provide rich contexts for applying concepts and problem-solving strategies. Our program uses a balanced approach to learning by using hands-on experiences with mathematical manipulatives to link to the learning of procedures, concepts and symbolic knowledge needed to become flexible and effective problem-solvers. Teachers use interactive lessons and group discussion to launch and maintain the focus on the grade-level math standards. Games, exercises and other independent work on math problems are used to provide skill and problem-solving practice and discovery opportunities with new skills and concepts.
The following are the Standards for Mathematical Practice that are a crucial part of the students’ learning experiences in school:
- Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
- Reason abstractly and quantitatively
- Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
- Model with mathematics
- Use appropriate tools strategically
- Attend to precision
- Look for and make use of structure
- Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
Solving rich problems is at the heart of any math program that prepares students for the future. Problems are sometimes presented as situations that are open ended with multiple answers that make sense, and sometimes as a situation that will have just one answer but many pathways to the solution. Rich problems challenge students to make decisions about how to proceed or what mathematical knowledge or connection to apply. Each year, students add to their repertoire of strategies for tackling and solving problems with different kinds of numbers and more complexity. Communication of mathematical reasoning is critical; students are expected to present their solutions and thinking, either orally or in writing, to their classmates and/or the teacher. In this way, students’ understanding is articulated and shared so that everyone’s thinking is developed.
Teachers use a variety of strategies to check student learning; observations and questions in the moment as well as formative and summative assessments. The math program includes the clearly defined Common Core State Standards for Mathematics organized into the mathematical domains listed: number concepts, number operations, pre-algebraic thinking, measurement, data-handling, geometry. The instructional focus includes regular and frequent student use of the Standards for Mathematical Practice and a balanced approach to the use of guided discovery, direct teaching, and practice to maximize the understanding and efficient recall of math facts, arithmetic procedures, and concepts toward becoming more effective problem solvers each year.
The lower school science program is based upon three fundamental principles:
- Helping children experience the joy of science by encouraging their natural curiosity;
- Exercising critical thinking strategies key to effective concept building;
- Engaging students in experiential activities across a broad base of content areas embedded within life, physical, earth and space sciences.
- The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) guide the science curriculum. We want our students to be engaged in scientifically oriented questions, to give priority to evidence in responding to questions, to formulate explanations from evidence, to connect explanations to scientific knowledge, and to communicate and justify explanations. Both classroom teachers and the lower school science specialist guide students to ask appropriate questions, design investigations and communicate their understanding.
A dedicated science lab allows students to explore phenomena with a variety of scientific tools. The Lower School also makes use of London’s natural resources and museums to enhance scientific studies in all grades.
The science specialist works regularly with students in Grades 3–4 throughout the year, and with K1–Grade 2 on specific units at various times.
The lower school social studies curriculum is guided by the Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards and is designed to help children ask fundamental questions about the world in which they live. The recurring concepts of identity, diversity, justice and action unite the subject studied at all levels. Activities and discussions help students understand where they live, how societies develop and the relationship between physical environment and human activity. The ASL community is made up of many cultures and varied experiences, and we use this shared knowledge to enrich our social studies lessons. Field trips are an integral part of the curriculum and we are able to take advantage of the wealth of cultures, traditions and history found in the United Kingdom.