Throughout their time at Whittier, students are exposed to a wide variety of children’s literature and non-fiction writing. Reading comprehension and higher-level thinking are built into all subjects at each grade level. We are dedicated to ensuring that students master their reading and writing skills. A Literacy Specialist is available four days a week to provide targeted support to students who need an extra boost in reading and writing.
Whittier employs the Reader's and Writer's Workshop approach to literacy instruction. Much of this work has been developed and formalized through the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. A critical component of the Reader's and Writer's Workshop approach is providing students with the time they need to be successful readers and writers. Regular assessments are also important, allowing teachers to develop an understanding of student progress. As students become more proficient in the use of literacy and language, teachers are able to adjust their strategies to meet changing student needs.
The Reader's Workshop begins with student assessment to determine the appropriate level of text complexity for each child. Whittier uses the Fountas & Pinnell benchmark assessments to determine a student’s reading level. Students are provided ready access to level-appropriate books in their classroom, and are given time daily to read and practice reading and comprehension strategies independently.
Thanks to a generous gift from the PTA in early 2017, we have provided each classroom with its own F&P assessment kit, so teachers no longer need to share sets and coordinate testing. This makes it easier for teachers to assess their students whenever they want (at least three times a year), to track growth and adjust reading goals.
Instruction blends whole-group, small needs-based groups, and individual conferring to guide readers through the application of decoding skills and five basic comprehension strategies:
- determining what is important;
- drawing inferences;
- using prior knowledge;
- asking questions; and
- creating mental images.
The Reader's Workshop format gives students tools for selecting and comprehending literature and encourages them to explore different genres, authors, and texts. The program emphasizes the interaction between readers and text. Students learn to make connections with prior knowledge and previously-read texts, and ask clarifying questions when they recognize faulty comprehension.
In the Writer's Workshop, students are exposed to a variety of writing styles (e.g., narrative, expository, persuasive, creative, and fiction), and learn to incorporate the 6 traits of writing:
- word choice; and
Students are invited to live, work, and learn as writers; to observe their lives and the world around them as inspiration for their writing. Students receive direct instruction in mini-lessons—the teacher models a writing strategy and students follow up by practicing the strategy independently. They confer with their teacher and collaborate with other students to revise, edit, publish, and celebrate their work.