Benchmark School has been renowned as a “reading school” from our earliest days, and with good cause. Benchmark’s instructional methods have unlocked the gift of reading and writing with confidence and fluency for thousands of graduates. While our holistic Benchmark Approach provides students with the skills to learn in many subject areas, our literacy roots are deep and vibrant.
The essential elements of literacy are reading, writing, fluency, vocabulary, and phonics. We believe that literacy is the foundation of learning.
Students engage in a rich variety of literacy experiences, including decoding/word identification, process writing, small group reading strategy comprehension instruction, book discussions, and more.
Phonics at Benchmark is taught through our unique Word Identification program, also known as Word Detectives in our younger grades. It is a powerful approach to word identification, vocabulary development and spelling that is grounded in research, endorsed nationally and internationally by leaders in education, supported by studies published in professional journals, and validated through consistently impressive student results across the program’s long history.
The Word Identification program systematically presents instruction that guides students to make discoveries about how the English language works. Once students identify a pattern in our language, the pattern and corresponding strategies are reinforced systematically, explicitly, and intensively, with an emphasis on applying students’ evolving understandings while reading and writing connected texts.
Ongoing assessment within the program enables teachers to provide differentiated instruction tailored to students’ particular needs.
Whether addressing phonemic awareness with emerging readers or morphology with older students, the program is interactive, multisensory, and fun.
Students have reading instruction daily. Working with both print and digital sources, they learn strategies for processing text efficiently and constructing meaning from text.
Beginning readers learn to monitor their reading for sense by connecting the text to the pictures, to their background knowledge, and to earlier parts of the text. They become active readers by surveying text, making predictions, and setting purposes for reading. Students learn to generate questions and identify important information in both fiction and informational text.
As students progress as readers, teachers introduce a variety of text styles including fiction, informational texts, audio texts, chapter books, and more. As texts become longer and more complex, students revisit what it means to take an active stance toward their reading and monitor their understanding. They also learn to identify key events, take notes, and summarize content.
At more advanced levels, students learn strategies to read grade-level texts and engage in increasingly complex reading and writing assignments. Students read a variety of novels and are directly taught to make sense of the reading at a deeper, more critical level.
Through systematic, daily writing instruction, students develop an in-depth understanding of the writing process from planning to publishing. They develop a plan for a piece of writing, monitor their writing for sense and elaboration, and request feedback from others and apply it to their writing. Students produce both narrative and informational text.
Beginning writers learn to formulate their ideas and express them in writing. Instruction focuses on generating and organizing ideas and using clear and interesting language to communicate ideas effectively.
As students become more skilled writers, they learn to write with focus and elaboration, to present their ideas in an organized manner; to choose clear, interesting words; to write smooth, connected text; and to use accurate mechanics.
For students to be successful with vocabulary, they must have experience with the words, not just the word’s definition. Vocabulary instruction is explicit and immersive, and we relate it to the students’ own experience with the word in a variety of contexts.
Our goal is to make students’ vocabulary grow in a generative way; we introduce small groups of words, analyze them closely, and use those words to generate other related words.
In Middle School, we deepen the vocabulary immersion by exploring Latin and Greek roots as well as prefixes and suffixes to build word knowledge.
Students gain practice reading with fluency in many ways. To strengthen fluency, teachers offer feedback on students’ rate of speed, punctuation use, and knowing when to pause. Fluency practice helps with sight vocabulary, effective reading, and comprehension.
Benchmark's OWn Program
Unlike some other schools, Benchmark does not use a published phonics/decoding program (such as the Orton-Gillingham approach and the Wilson system). Why? Because we have yet to encounter a program that does everything we need it to, and so we’ve built our own.
Benchmark School’s exclusive phonics/decoding program, called Word ID, is the creation of our founder, Dr. Irene Gaskins.
This comprehensive and world-renowned phonics/decoding program is unique to Benchmark School.
Students who have been introduced to either the Wilson or Orton-Gillingham programs have seamlessly transitioned to our own Word Identification program. While each program is distinct, they are compatible.
Operating at levels appropriate for each child, and continually refined year after year, Word ID helps students investigate rhyming, spelling patterns, key words (that “unlock” other words), and a host of other word-reading strategies.
The language arts skills that students learn at Benchmark—breaking things down, having a whole-book experience, writing, and evaluating writing—apply to all subjects.
These reading and writing skills, once gained, create powerfully adaptive students.
Benchmark has perfected its instructional model and yet continues to refine it and extend it. All struggling learners should be taught so well and so intensively.
Dick Allington, Ph.D.
Professor of Literacy Studies, University of Tennessee; Member, International Reading Association's Hall of Fame