Reading is taught in a variety of ways, beginning with a phonic introduction using the multi-sensory Orton-Gillingham method for non-readers. Once 3-letter phonic words can be read, a basal system that incorporates both phonics and sight-reading is employed. At the same time, a whole language approach is utilized so that students may draw sequential pictures, dictate, write, and read their own stories depending on their abilities. Literature units from the Junior Great Books series as well as teacher-selected novels are included for students of all reading levels with a focus on inquiry and thinking critically about the selections read. A Power Reading period is also scheduled into each day. During this time, students silently read literature selected from an assigned category or period. As needed, students are evaluated and periodically advanced to the next sequential basal level.
Spelling is started with the alphabet, 2-letter words, and then 3-letter phonic words. Once these have been mastered, students begin a basal spelling series that focuses on grammar, vocabulary, and usage. Students who have advanced to another basal reading level are also evaluated for changed spelling needs. Invented spelling is encouraged in creative writing and journal writing assignments; in these subject areas, we believe that it is important not to create roadblocks to the creative and communication processes. However, correct spelling is required in all rewrites, reports, and other assignments. Students move on to Word Power after demonstrating a mastery of the basal series.
Writing focuses on the composition process – prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. The genres are established at the beginning of each year and include poetry (freestyle and formal), creative story writing, descriptive and persuasive essays, and a formal research paper. Additional curriculum materials for writing instruction, such as the Six Traits of Writing, are also used. Academic writing includes responses to literature and responses to writing prompts. Students also learn correspondence skills such as journaling, thank you letters, and invitations to friends, teachers, grandparents, and parents.
Handwriting is introduced with the D'nealian system. The student advances to cursive writing when s/he is interested and ready to be taught. Students whose ability to spell, compose, and read has developed in advance of his or her ability to write may initially be allowed to employ stencils or templates. Very short handwriting practice is assigned daily to maintain and improve this skill throughout the students' years at Steppingstone. If cursive is mastered, to introduce challenge, create new interest, and maintain fine motor skills, calligraphy replaces cursive in the Pre High School classroom. In addition, because Japanese is the foreign language being studied, these students also practice writing hiragana, katakana, and kanji.
Math is introduced in Kindergarten through second grade with manipulatives in a concrete manner using “Mathematics Their Way.” Once basic concepts have been internalized and students are ready for independent paper-pencil assignments, they proceed to a third grade basal textbook program. After the fifth grade level, students may proceed sequentially or may skip levels. A year of applications and survey of miscellaneous math topics may be assigned a student, and/or s/he may advance to Pre-Algebra, Algebra 1 and 2, Geometry, and Pre-Calculus. Algebra and Geometry may be one or two year courses of study depending on the abilities of the student. Students of all grades review math facts weekly until they are mastered.
Social Studies in the Early Elementary class has as its overarching themes: communities, states of the United States, historical figures, and Michigan history. Intermediate Elementary studies range from regions of the United States to Native Americans. In the Upper Elementary class, studies rotate from year to year between the history of the United States and United States government. The Pre High School class rotates through world geography, the history of the ancient world, and modern world history. One final component, the annual Social Studies Expo, allows students the opportunity to research a particular area of interest in detail, and is discussed below.
The Social Studies Expo is an integrated unit of study that involves literature research skills, human resource searches, formal report writing, artistic design, visual display skills, oral presentation skills, and long-term planning and time-management. Students select a topic of interest in history, geography, or civics. In November, students display their 1) completed written research report, 2) hands-on project, and 3) topic display board. They also give a 5 to 7-minute oral presentation to an audience of adults and peers. Expectations are differentiated according to ability. For instance, the research report for a non-writer might be a few dictated facts written on elementary rule paper by a parent and then traced by the student. The evening event encourages families to come in ethnic clothing and to share ethnic snacks.
Science is approached in a multi-disciplinary, exploratory, creative, and high-level manner. The first element of our curriculum utilizes material developed by the National Science Resources Center. This engaging program involves more than 20 inquiry-centered science modules. Each module is based on the principle that students become motivated when they have first-hand experiences and involves developing students’ abilities to make predictions, explore causal relationships, discover patterns, and generate explanations based on their observations. Two other elements of the science curriculum, Discovery Science and the annual Science Fair, are discussed separately.
Discovery Science is a program in which students visit a station and complete an experiment. Non-readers and/or non-writers visit the station with an older student mentor whose responsibility is to read instructions, help create hypotheses, conduct the experiment, and/or write results for the non-reader/writer, who also draws a picture of the experimental results. At a discussion session the following week, students review the experimental results that should have been demonstrated.
The Science Fair allows students the opportunity to use the scientific process to answer a question they have about the world. Students ask questions, generate a hypothesis, design an original experiment, collect data, and draw conclusions. On the evening of the event, students share their findings with a display board and lab report and give a 5-minute presentation to an audience of adults and peers.
The focus of the Computer Class is to provide students with the tools they will need in the future for critical thinking, problem solving, and programming. All students meet for approximately one hour each week for formal computer training. Once they have received the week’s lesson, they may use what they have learned on the computers in the various classrooms to practice. It is anticipated that students will want to use the class software at home. All software is available free of charge on the Internet. Computers are never used as substitute teachers.
Foreign Languages are established so that a student will study a different language for two or three years in each of his or her different classrooms. Now, Japanese is taught to Pre High School students, Mandarin Chinese is taught to Upper Elementary students, and Hindi is taught to Early Elementary students. Students learn vocabulary, written characters, and basic conversation as well as cultural components of the country in which the language is spoken. The purpose is to familiarize students with foreign languages so that they will feel comfortable selecting one to study in-depth in high school. In addition, because many aspects of the culture of the country in which the language was selected is learned during the study of the language, this program was created in order to help our students develop a global view of the world. This knowledge will often be important to the success of the student in his or her chosen career and profession as society becomes more international and globally oriented.
The Fine Arts Program encompasses performing arts and visual arts. The performing arts include both music and performance. Music and drama are integrated in a spring musical or thematic performance. At that time, students are also introduced to set design, speech projection, lighting, sound systems, costumes and makeup. The visual arts component is composed of hands-on, two and three-dimensional projects that explore different media use as well as the study of artists and art history.
Physical Education consists of physical skills, life-long sports, general fitness, group games, nutrition, and health in the fall and the spring. During the winter, January through March, all elementary students participate in a swimming instruction program. Throughout the year, field trips are also scheduled to expose students to recreational sports that have the potential to become life-long physical activities such as cross-country skiing, ice-skating, hiking, biking, bowling, and horseback riding.