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Academic Overview

English Language Arts

Instructional Resource

The San Mateo-Foster City School district adopted Benchmark Advance as our English Language Arts instructional resource. Benchmark Advance is closely aligned to the English Language Arts (ELA) and English Language Development (ELD) Framework for California Public Schools. In 2011, California joined 42 other states in adopting the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts. Benchmark Advance provides teachers with the instructional resources that they need to not only give students access to these standards, but to differentiate for multiple levels of readiness.

Instructional Routines for ELA

Mini-Lessons

Our ELA instruction includes whole group instruction, also called mini-lessons, where all students are learning a new skill or concept or going deeper on a standard that they may already have learned. These lessons last from 10-25 minutes, and students in primary grades are typically sitting on a rug close to the teacher.

Small Group Instruction / Guided Reading

Students often move into small groups, partners or independent practice of what they just learned. At this time, the teacher may be conferring with students about their reading or writing. More often, they are teaching a small group of students who are reading at about the same level based on reading assessments. We use the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System to determine students’ instructional and independent reading levels. This information helps teachers plan lessons and guide students towards books that are at their reading level.

Read Alouds

During the language arts block, teachers will read aloud to students using a text that is beyond the independent reading level of most students. This allows them to explore ideas and hear more fluent reading than they may be able to produce on their own -- this is not unlike what parents do when their children have not yet learned to read but love to hear stories and books!

Shared / Close Reading

Benchmark Advance units each come with a consumable set of stories and articles that are written at grade level. Teachers model for students how to interact with the text, using margin notes and highlighters to identify the key details, main ideas, and support students as they make notes about their own thoughts and ideas about the text. Students are asked to turn and talk to a partner and share these ideas. As students externalize their thinking about a text and interact with each other’s thinking, they learn to do what good readers do internally when reading independently.

Collaborative Conversations

Our teachers are trained to engage students in conversation about the text, asking questions that clarify student thinking, provide evidence from the text, and interact with the thinking of their classmates.

Independent Reading

Students are also encouraged to select books from the school or classroom library that interest them. Here, they should be choosing books that are near their independent reading level. While some students might want to read the entire series of Captain Underpants, we encourage a variety of genre and purposes for reading - just like we do as adults. Sometimes this means challenging students with new genres or topics and sometimes this means getting to know one author well.

Students in the intermediate grades may read a few class novels throughout the year in addition to what is described above. There is something powerful that comes from an entire class discussing the same book.

Note on Transitional Kindergarten and Kindergarten

In TK and Kindergarten, students are first learning that sounds correspond to letters, and that these letters form words -- and words are combined to form ideas, or sentences. At this stage in a student’s learning, we don’t worry if they are spelling correctly, using capital letters or punctuation. This comes throughout the year and into first grade. It is more important to their long-term development as readers and writers to encourage their flow of ideas.

English Language Development

The San Mateo-Foster City School district adopted Benchmark Advance as our English Language Arts and English Language Development instructional resource. Benchmark Advance is closely aligned to the English Language Arts (ELA) and English Language Development (ELD) Framework for California Public Schools. In 2011, California joined 42 other states in adopting the Common Cores State Standards for English Language Arts. Benchmark Advance provides teachers with the instructional resources that they need to not only give students access to these standards, but to differentiate for multiple levels of readiness.

English Language Proficiency Assessment

All students who speak a language other than English at home will take the English Language Proficiency Assessments for California -- the ELPAC. This assessment determines students’ level of English Language Proficiency in both Oral and Written Language. Children may be proficient in conversational English, but have not yet developed the academic language to be successful in school. This assessment allows teachers to know if a student is a Newcomer, Emerging Language Learner, Expanding Language Learner, or if the student needs support as a Bridging Language Learner. This may be different for oral language than written language, and the assessment results help us to support children in both areas of language development. Each student will learn English at their own pace and will eventually be Reclassified - meaning that they have acquired enough academic English to be successful in school without specific English instruction.

The CA ELA/ELD Framework recommends English learners be supported in two different ways

Designated English Language Development

Groups of students at the same language level receive specific language instruction that is necessary for success in school. Benchmark Advance, our ELA/ELD Instructional resource, provides instructional resources that explicitly teach the vocabulary and language skills necessary to participate in the English language arts class. Students learn how English works during this designated time. For most students, this occurs in the classroom during small group instruction time. For many of our newcomers, students are pulled out of their classroom for 30 minutes to work in with a designated ELD teacher.

Integrated English Language Development

English learners will receive additional language supports throughout the day so that they can access the learning in all content areas. Sometimes this is done through pictures or other visuals to help students understand the material. Teachers may also provide sentence frames to help students produce language, both orally and in writing. For example, if students are asked to contrast two characters from a story, the teacher might provide the following sentence frames:

___ is ____, but ____ is ____.

While _____ is ______, _____ is _____. 

Sentence frames like these help students to both organize their thinking and learn the language structures to convey more complex thought.