Literacy at Red Cedar

Students at Red Cedar are readers and writers, members of a literary community. They each read between 20 and 80 or more books a year, talk about books in and out of class, plan what they will read next, and pass books from hand to hand. They create numerous pieces of writing in a range of genres that are shared in the school community and published in the Red Cedar Press.

Students become avid, skilled and discerning readers at Red Cedar within an energized school literary culture. For the most part, students choose their own books, reading one book after another. They have direct, daylong access to an extensive classroom-based library that we expand continuously. We specialize in children’s literature and stay current with new releases. We give frequent book talks to expose students to noteworthy books, and students give them as well. We get to know our students closely in our small school setting and we put thought into recommending books for each reader. We want our students to experience reading that feeds their curiosity and sparks new understanding.

In addition to choosing their own books, students also do a range of reading which they share with their group: some fiction and non-fiction books (two to three over the year), short stories, articles, essays and poetry. We ask students to read these closely and think about them carefully, and then we discuss them in depth. We are always looking for material that combines the highest literary qualities with information, ideas and character development that will speak strongly to a wide range of minds. The discussions that follow are usually invigorating and illuminating; students here have a history of investing strongly in them.

Students read for a half hour daily at school, and a minimum of a half hour daily at home (many students read beyond the half hour at home). We want reading to become a habit and a way of life.
When students finish a book, they are expected to choose and begin another. Students keep a list of books they want to read someday in their reading folder, adding books they become interested in from book talks and recommendations made by other students and teachers. Most students know exactly what book they want to read next when they finish their current book.

During independent reading time, a teacher confers individually with students, and tracks book choices and progress.

We want our students’ childhood and young adult years to be filled with compelling reading. We want them to pursue their curiosity and explore the richness and complexity of the world, experience wonder and awe, gain exposure to many models of living and possibilities for dealing with the important decisions in life. We want them to understand the usefulness, expansiveness and beauty of language. We believe that by spending a childhood so immersed in reading and stories, they will become passionate, habitual and lifelong readers.

We guide our young emergent readers into the world of reading through immersion in language and literature. We read aloud to them every day: picture storybooks, chapter books, legends, folktales and myths. We share poetry and chants. We act out stories, and we do repeated and dramatic ‘readers’ theater’ readings of stories. We sing every day and the students each have a songbook with the words to each song. We provide a large collection of beginning books with rich and predictable language and inviting images, leveled so that early readers have books right at the appropriate levels for them as they grow into reading. We give direct instruction in the reading process and explicit word study.

We recognize that young children come to reading at different ages and in different ways, and it’s important to respect and respond constructively to these differences. We work to provide an experience that is supportive, relaxed, stimulating and appropriately challenging, non-competitive and unpressured. We find that children then respond openly and joyfully to the reading and writing process.

For students who come to us as reluctant or apprehensive readers, we work to pull them into the current of our literary culture. These students are often surprised at the pleasure in reading they see around them. We put extra effort into helping them find books that interest them and are accessible to them at their level. We enlist parent support to be sure that time is carved out at home for reading. We have found that the most important element for anyone in becoming a skilled and avid reader is daily, extensive reading.

If a student appears to have a processing issue that persists over time despite the exposure, instruction and support that we provide, we meet with parents to strategize. We can request that the local school district do formal evaluations to assess the possibility of a learning disability. If extra support beyond what the school provides seems needed, we can help parents identify and set up special services, usually in the form of tutoring, outside of the school day.

Red Cedar students are writers as well. They write many pieces over the year, in a range of genres. We believe that with encouragement, inspiration, modeling, input, feedback, lots of reading, and time, students with all kinds of minds, abilities and interests can become writers: individuals who enjoy writing, who take their writing seriously, and who communicate clearly, gracefully and persuasively.

Each student participates in a writer’s workshop with his or her group on most days. In our writer’s workshops, we focus on a shared genre for a period of time. Within this, students each decide what they will work on. The genres we cover include poetry, personal narrative and memoir, fiction, persuasive and argument essays, information essays and reports, letters, instructions, book reviews, and journalism.

The workshop begins with a brief lesson on some aspect of writing. Models of good writing are shared and analyzed (from published literature and from writing within the group). Students then write quietly for thirty to forty minutes. During this time the teacher confers individually with students or meets with small groups. The workshop concludes with an opportunity for further input or time for students to share their work with each other.

Students all work initially on drafts of writing to develop their ideas. Within each genre study, students all choose one or two pieces to work into a finished piece, and then focus on the art of revising their work to bring it fully alive. Students edit their work for punctuation, grammar and spelling. We give input and feedback at each of these stages.

Students participate as well in regular word study sessions to focus on the development of spelling, phonics, vocabulary, punctuation and grammar skills.

Student writing is shared and celebrated at school community presentations of learning. We also publish their work in anthologies in ‘The Red Cedar Press.’