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A new chapter in literacy teaching

Elementary School students reading

By Nick Yates, ISB Communications

Published on Friday, October 13, 2022

Calling all bookworms! International School of Beijing (ISB) students will enjoy a host of activities for their Book Week beginning on October 17. It comes as ISB has a special focus on its teaching of literacy in 2022-2023. 

Chapter one: Challenging and joyful learning

ISB’s new Strategic Plan formally identifies challenging and joyful learning as the school’s first priority. While this applies to all academic disciplines, it has been determined that there should be a major focus this year on strengthening and further improving the school’s literacy program, especially in Early Years to Grade 8.

 Because, as ISB Head of School Daniel Rubenstein has noted, “Literacy is a foundation that needs to be in place for every student to achieve their potential in core courses. And literacy transcends academic disciplines.”

A teacher reads to Elementary School students in a bandstand

At ISB, all teachers are literacy teachers. Whether their classes are in English or math, design or PE, geography or social studies, teachers here are working to also raise students’ literacy skills.

ISB is a research-based school, where the world-class faculty and staff consider best practice and the latest thinking on how to most effectively teach any subject. All teaching is very carefully planned, and ISB allocates time and resources so that its staff may undertake lots of training and professional development to get even better at what they do.  

A lot of this professional development involves the full-time instructional coaches that ISB has on staff. A coach in education is an expert in their field and the science of learning who works with teachers of that subject to consider new approaches and make lessons as effective as they possibly can be. ISB has instructional coaches dedicated to both the Elementary School and the Middle/High School and much of their work is in the area of literacy.

Chapter two: Juicy sentences

The ISB Elementary School’s (ES) work behind the scenes to further strengthen literacy teaching includes how to use the concept of “juicy sentences” to help students’ comprehension. This is a strategy developed by U.S. linguist Dr. Lily Wong Fillmore specifically to address the needs of English learners while engaging with complex texts. It is a tool that is useful for helping all students learn to deconstruct and reconstruct sentences from rich texts, and to understand how different language features contribute to meaning.

Wall displays promoting reading

Reading is visible at ISB!

“The energy level around reading is always high at ISB. This year, we are thrilled to do a deeper dive into how the science of reading can inform our practice to better support all students with their individual reading journeys,” said ES Principal Dustin Collins. 

Other ES work to make sure literacy teaching is top notch includes:

  • Use of text sets – collections of texts or media tightly focused on a particular topic. Topics may include a reader’s particular areas of interest, helping ensure their engagement. Research shows that text sets help students to grow their vocabulary almost four times more quickly than those who just read books at their own level!
  • Collaborating with experts Meredith and David Liben this school year. They have provided a workshop on the science of reading and are consulting on reading comprehension and content-specific vocabulary with the ES leadership team and ES staff responsible for leading internal professional development.
  • Over the summer, 29 ES employees completed “Shifting the Balance” training on applying the science of reading to a balanced literacy classroom.
  • Students see a lot of signs and posters promoting reading. Outside classrooms are signs announcing what books the teacher inside is reading in their personal time. And Elementary students will love a new ISB logo that features school mascot Long Long the dragon with his nose in a book!
  • ISB has a world-class ES Library. It’s been developed as a comfortable place where students can read a wide variety of books without distraction.

Chapter three – Word walls and tips for reading at home

ISB Parents who attended the coffee morning with the Elementary School leadership team on Tuesday learned more about this work and got a lot of tips on how to support reading at home. (Click here for a copy of the presentation.) These reading tips included:

  • Parents can be role models for their children by reading themselves.
  • Set aside reading times with your children.
  • Talk with your children about what you read with them.
  • Read aloud to and with your children.
  • Read books about topics your child is interested in, or about topics being studied in their classes.
  • Spot the interesting words.
  • Don’t be afraid to re-read books.

Book Week starting in a few days will be a great time for the ISB community to put these tips into action. Elementary students are encouraged to come to school in costume for the Book Character Costume Parade on Friday, October 21, and there will be a book fair all week featuring English and Chinese titles. The Elementary School Library will also host a book swap of books for all ages.

All ISB teachers will be involved in some capacity, as at all times of the year.

Elementary School students dressed as literary characters take part in a parade

Students take part in the Book Character Costume Parade last year

Developing language skills isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about PE classes, yet ISB’s PE teachers are definitely putting into practice the idea that every teacher is a literacy teacher.

“Promoting literacy and comprehension is something we’ve been doing for a long time in PE,” said Ishi Gidwani, Curriculum Area Leader for Elementary School PE at ISB.

For example, from Elementary to High School, ISB PE teachers use Word Walls. These are lists of vocabulary related to a particular sport or activity. English words are added to the list as they come up in class. The students are then encouraged to add translations of the English words to columns for Chinese and Korean. 

“It’s fairly specialist, niche vocabulary in a lot of cases,” said Ms. Gidwani, “but what it does is it encourages comprehension and discussion of language among the students. Even when working on their rugby teamwork or their technique on the climbing wall, students are also thinking about words. A German student or a Spanish student might chip in with what the word is in German or Spanish, and collectively they’re considering related bits of vocabulary and sentence structure and links between the languages.”

Challenging and joyful learning, including in literacy, is one of three main focus areas for ISB under its new Strategic Plan being implemented from 2022-2023. All ISB news articles this year will look at an aspect of ISB that’s an example of one of the three areas. To find out more, click here.

Thanks for reading… The End.

ISB is an extraordinary school, made so by a tradition of educational excellence spanning 40 years. Establishing, nurturing, and growing such an exceptional learning community has been and remains intentional; we work hard to build strong relationships so our learning is at its best.

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