Reading and Literature
In Preparatory A, we interrupt practice with Spanish sounds to avoid confusion since learning English becomes the top priority. The English phonetic system and sight words are introduced because our curriculum contemplates both approaches to teachingreading: decoding and sight word recognition. Students learn to read as they increase their vocabulary.
In elementary school, first grade through fifth grade, The Journeys (Houghton Mifflin Hartcourt) textbooksdefine the program. Each language arts session (one week’s work) consists of a story around which students learn vocabulary, phonics, writing, spelling, and grammar.
An hour long weekly period is assigned for a hands-on, creative vocabulary introduction lesson, one of the most important of the reading unit. The teacher focuses on the student’s ability for both literal and inferential comprehension and evaluates the student’s interpretation of picture and context cues, association to background knowledge, and utilization of structural analysis. Questions to check comprehension address higher levels of thinking (according to Bloom’s taxonomy) and the students must analyze, synthesize, evaluate by using inferences to provide an answer, and offer creative alternatives. Teachers are also alert as to how their students respond to literature in a variety of ways, including discussion, making connections, and showing appreciation.
Reading is also stimulated with a daily ten-minute period of DEAR time (Drop Everything and Read). All elementary school children, from Montessori to fifth grade, and their teachers, read during the first ten minutes of the day with classical music in the background.
Students are involved in an independent reading module based on a chapter book. This entails an essential question around which a series of activities are woven and related to the inherent idea of the question.
Air (Advanced Integrated Reading) is a small group pullout program for students who excel in reading. Students will read a literary piece of work and practice literary analysis, discussing characters, settings, and the importance of literature in everyday life.
In Montessori, students begin to write by placing letters from the movable alphabet of the sounds they can identify, next to each other, in sequence, to form words. As early as Preparatory A, students are encouraged to express themselves in writing using invented spelling: students using their phonics knowledge to form words. Writing about experiences, feelings, and fantasy is commonplace throughout the younger grades.
Gradually, their written expression becomes more complex. Teachers observe the degree of the students’ involvement in their writing. Are they actively writing? How elaborate are their ideas? Do they use a coherent story structure (setting, characters, sequence of ideas, beginning, middle, end, etc.) appropriate to their level? Creative writing is complemented by formal instruction in writing skills. The 6+1 Traits of Writing Approach (a model that provides vocabulary to teach and assess writing) is implemented at two levels: preparatory through second grade and third through fifth grade, with further extensions into middle school.
Blue Valley considers grammar an important subject not only from the language point of view, but also because it is a discipline that encourages analysis and logical thinking. Through elementary school, grammar objectives often run parallel in English and Spanish.
Spelling lessons in elementary introduce one rule and phonetic pattern per week. Students study ten to twenty words that follow the rule and the pattern and feed the weekly dictation.
We emphasize the difference between understanding the procedure (concepts) and computation. Since the early age of three and a half years, the children come in contact with mathematical concepts through concrete (hands-on) activities. Our curriculum is based on the McMillan/McGraw Hill Math program and focuses on teaching procedures and strategies for problem solving. It is complemented with weekly concrete activities such as weekly Math Manipulative hands-on lessons to introduce new concepts and daily math reviews to develop computation skills.
Students who excel in Math and understand concepts easily will attend Mind (Math Individual Development program), an enrichment small group pullout program where students will experience math concepts and problems that are not covered in the regular lessons. They stay with the class to listen to the explanation of the new concept and leave for Mind when their classmates start on the independent practice. They will find time to do this on their own later.
The ultimate objective is to cultivate the students’ natural awe and inquisitiveness while developing a scientific mind: a curious analytical approach to knowledge following a systematic method for analysis of information that we call the scientific method. Instruction in all units focuses on a central idea. We distribute life, earth, and physical science topics into semester units to allow a deeper acquaintance with the subject. Up to Fourth Grade A, the students learn the cognitive objectives through experiments with no textbook or summative evaluations (tests on facts) that might discourage their enthusiasm for science. After these years of inductive reasoning in life sciences (preparatory and first grades) and physical sciences (second, third, and first part of fourth grade) the students move into deductive reasoning with earth, environmental, and life science.
In Preparatory pre-reading and pre-writing activities, hearing and telling stories contribute to reading comprehension and introduce the fundamentals of written and oral expression in Spanish.
In first grade, students begin their formal learning of the Spanish language. In second and third grade, lessons are distributed into literature (reading appreciation and comprehension), spelling (very formal learning of the Spanish language rules starting in third grade), grammar, and composition. Beginning in fourth grade, students also do literary analysis focusing on setting, characters, and plot, bringing it up to higher levels of thinking. Students participate in a poetry workshop that culminates with the students reciting their own productions.
In elementary school, social studies lessons begin in third grade with basic map skills studied on the globe, the world map, a map of the American Continent, and the map of Costa Rica. Fourth through fifth grade social studies is taught in Spanish because the program focuses mostly on geography and history of Costa Rica, its conditions and problems. Cognitive objectives are carried out through investigation and discussion of chosen topics. Units are based on Understanding by Design approach, which stresses the importance of essential questions and enduring understandings.
The art program at Blue Valley seeks to build children’s confidence, familiarity, and skill in working with a wide variety of materials in many disciplines. The children work from life and from their imaginations, using the principles of design to make their artwork more visually compelling and meaningful. Usually, experience in a particular discipline is revisited multiple times within the school art experience, strengthening each student’s understanding and ability in that area.
The music program is characterized by active involvement in creating music through voice, body, movement, and practice on especially designed instruments. It recognizes the many doors through which a child can enter the musical world and provides opportunities for aural, visual, and kinesthetic learners to feel successful in music via a multi-dimensional approach. The nurturing of the whole musician who can hear, feel, understand, and physically express music contributes to the child’s ability to synthesize the intellect, senses, emotions, and physical body in ways that have important implications in their total educational experience. Once a year, a concert is presented involving singing and acting (details follow).
The aim of this program in elementary is to give the fourth and fifth grade students the opportunity to live the dramatic arts as a life experience that enables them to use their interpreting skills using their senses, emotions, bodies, and sense of humor in a safe environment, free of criticism and guided by a teacher. Once a year, students present a musical show that involves singing, dancing, and acting (details follow).
The goal of physical education is to equip the students with the knowledge, skills, values, and capacity to lead a life-long healthy life style. Students will develop individual sport skills, cardiovascular fitness, strength, and speed. In addition, they will gain knowledge on fitness, nutrition, and sport tactics. They will participate in a variety of traditional and non-traditional activities and develop social skills through an assortment of team sport activities. Students also have the opportunity to socialize with students from other levels, in a pleasant and more informal situation, venting the energy repressed during class time.
Our main goal is to motivate the students to a constant acquisition of technological knowledge through interesting courses with the best technology and qualified teachers. They receive an introduction to programming starting in preschool, using Micro Worlds (Logo) that encourages them to be analytical, critical, and creative. Students design, build, and animate ideas using the Logo language.
Students later learn essential applications and use them in interdisciplinary projects (word processing, spreadsheets, and multimedia presentations with music, videos, animation, graphics, pictures, and tables). They use Cmap Tools to create concept maps that are part of the regular curriculum.
From fourth to ninth grade students spend fifteen minutes daily on the Progrentis digital program that develops proper reading skills (speed and comprehension) in Spanish.