Students at Red Cedar are readers and writers, members of a literary community. They read between 20 and 80 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 library that is expanding continuously. We work to find good matches between individual readers and books they will love. 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.
Students also read books, short stories, articles and poetry in common with their group, close reading that is characterized by in-depth thinking and group discussions. This reading is often integrated with science and social studies content.
Students read for a half hour daily at school, and a minimum of a half hour daily at home. During independent reading, a teacher confers individually with students, and tracks book choices and progress. Middle school students write a literary letter-essay in response to one of the books they’ve read every three weeks and a teacher responds to these letters, forming an ongoing written literary dialogue. Younger students write weekly reading response letters.
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 of choice in 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 emergent readers into the world of reading through poetry; beginning books with predictable language and inviting images, stories and information; singing (all students have songbooks); reader’s theater and dramatizing of stories; word study; and through membership in our community of readers. In addition to shared group reading experiences and supported individual reading, young readers spend some time daily reading alongside the older students, where they experience the gravitational pull of a roomful of quiet, contented, deeply engrossed readers.
We also work to pull students who come to us as reluctant or apprehensive readers into the current of our literary culture. These students are often surprised at the pleasure in reading they see around them. We work hard to get the right books into their hands—books that speak to their particular interests and which are accessible to them. We give extra support to individuals who struggle with processing or attention issues. 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.
Red Cedar students are writers as well. They write many pieces over the year, in a range of genres. We publish their work in anthologies within the school community. 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, memoir, fiction, persuasive and analytical essays, informative essays and reports, research papers, nature writing, letters, instructions, travel writing, book review, 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.
Anthologies of student writing are housed in the school library. Student writing, book reviews, and lists of books most loved by students in the various age groups at Red Cedar are featured on our literary blog at: redcedarliterary.wordpress.com