Our aim is to inspire and guide all children to be accomplished readers who love to read.
At Running River we aspire to develop in children a love of language that lasts a lifetime. In every classroom teachers read award winning books or tell stories to the children that engender deep discussions, laughter, tears, questions and awakening consciousness. A love of reading begins with a love of stories or information, and by nourishing curiosity and inquiry about all aspects of life, our students move forward on the path of becoming life long readers.
Besides reading and telling stories out loud, we believe that books need to be brought to life and become multi-dimensional. We do this in a variety of ways. We teach comprehension strategies starting in kindergarten all the way through middle school. Children learn to look deeper, to understand all the pieces of literature that make a story great. They learn to compare stories to their own lives, to other’s lives and to other stories they have heard. They ask questions, look for inferences, feel and listen behind the words, and find meaning in their reading.
We also use the arts to bring books to life. We use all mediums to illustrate stories. We have both used and made puppets and put on shows. We have made movies, performed skits, created dioramas and turned the entire playground into a reenactment. We have danced stories and put them to drumming. We have created full-length, original musicals performed by the entire school from stories they have read.
Running River utilizes the Boulder Valley School District standards and combines these with other individualized assessment tools and resources to help place children in appropriate reading groups in the younger grades. Concurrently they receive instruction in whole language, phonics, sight words and all other reading strategies. All children are also given daily reading time to read or look at books of their choice. We strongly believe that reading what they are interested in is one of the most important activities for life long readers.
In the lower grades, children have reading instruction in small groups and also on their own, according to their reading level. As they grow older, although they still read books on their own, they also engage in book clubs, including the classics, which promote discussions and class projects. In the upper grades, Shakespeare is read and performed each year. There are also special units, such as The Hero’s Journey, based on Joseph Campbell’s work, or a biography study.
Reading is integrated into theme and science studies. No matter what the age or reading level, we want children to discover that books bring even more information about their interests and what they are studying.
Upper grades studies of Classic and Contemporary Literature
We begin our examination of the text by exploring the historical and social context of the piece.
We read the books together-sometimes out loud, sometimes with a partner, sometimes alone in class and at home. Sometimes the parents are asked to read passages with the students and discuss or do some type of writing assignment.
We focus and discuss good reading strategies: predicting, questioning, clarifying, analyzing, and summarizing. While reading, we learn examples of literary terms, writing style and technique. We practice writing examples of our own which contain examples of that particular aspect of writing that we have studied. Eventually, the students are asked to find the examples in the text on their own. We come back to these over and over throughout the year.
We answer written discussion questions to recall, interpret, and analyze information.
Students put together a project for each piece of literature that we read. The students are given a list of ideas to choose from. The ideas are based on Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences. The list of ideas are designed to show the student’s strength in an aspect of their MI. In other words, “they get to pick something they are good at.” Students are also always given the option to create their own project idea if one doesn’t appeal to them, with teacher approval.
If time allows and the media is available, we view the film version or live production. We further study this aspect by writing comparing and contrasting pieces. We may also perform scenes and sometimes adapted versions of what we have read.
All children have a voice, a story, inner experiences to put to word. Every child has the potential to express themselves competently as a writer in many different forms.
Running River students are engaged in writing on a daily basis in all subject areas. This includes: creative writing; expository writing; literature responses in reading class; writing poetry; spelling; practicing handwriting; explaining math solutions; writing out science experiments; or writing letters to each other to be delivered through the class post office.
Children are full of stories – that’s why we begin teaching writing in kindergarten! The younger children start the year by dictating stories to teachers and then illustrating them. They make these individual stories into books to take home to read to their families.
In every classroom we have a very dynamic process called Writer’s Workshop. Here the children learn to fully express their rich inner imaginings and life experiences. Anything they have an urge to write about is worthwhile and fuels a lifelong love of writing.
At any time during our Writer’s Workshops one can walk into a classroom and see children at any stage of the writing process: starting a new story, writing, sharing with another student, conferencing with a teacher, illustrating, editing, copying a final draft, reading over what they have written, or doing what we call an “Author’s Chair”.
As children are learning to write (and to read) we start by using their personal writing to teach these skills. The way we have discovered that children best learn writing skills is by using them to improve their own writing, not by merely doing worksheets. In order to facilitate this, we use word walls, personalized spelling lists, mini-lessons to teach grammar and mechanics as well as give instruction in writing skills. We also tie reading comprehension strategies back to writing stories. We use “Author’s Chair” to encourage children to read their stories out loud to the class or to a few friends so they can learn to receive feedback and suggestions to improve their stories.
We go through this whole writing process so that each child can have a completed book they have written, edited, revised and illustrated at the end of the year. Then we publish their books and put on an all school book fair where students and parents can buy other children’s books, and all the children read passages from their own books.
We need poetry. We really do. Poetry promotes literacy, builds community, and fosters emotional resilience. All the children will have poetry read to them, and learn to read and write poetry – all different kinds of poetry, and poets throughout the ages, from all cultures. Yeats said this about poetry: “It is blood, imagination, intellect running together…It bids us to touch and taste and hear and see the world, and shrink from all that is of the brain only.”
Non-fiction writing begins with writing about topics children choose. They start by free form writing, then learn to organize their thoughts to make the best sense. We teach the writing of topic sentences and move to supporting sentences, building to the 5 and then 11-sentence paragraph. There has to be a purpose for children to enjoy expository writing and to improve it. This purpose is often to share information about their interests or experiences, but it can also be to write directions, instructions, explanations or state strong opinions.
After children learn to write good paragraphs, we begin in second grade with short reports in science, history or language arts. Children learn how to choose a topic and find information from various sources. They learn how to take notes and organize them. They learn to find important information and sort through less important details in order to make choices of what they will include in their writing.
In the upper primary and middle school, children learn to write a variety of essays. While this kind of paragraphing is being developed we also start writing longer reports using the same skills. The children write rough drafts, learn to self-edit and then edit with an adult, and then do second drafts and final copies.