Lower School

In the Lower School (Grades 1-5), teachers provide dynamic instruction within a caring environment in order to reestablish students’ confidence, rekindle their joy for learning, and nurture their growth as mindful individuals who are prepared to recognize possibilities, overcome obstacles, and generate solutions to the challenges of not only today but tomorrow. 

Lower School teachers help students begin to develop an understanding of who they are as learners while building a foundation of tools, strategies, knowledge, and personal characteristics that will enable them to take charge of their own learning and meet with success.

Curriculum Guidelines

Reading

Word Detectives – Grades 1-5
Benchmark’s Word Detectives program is a powerful approach to word identification and spelling that is grounded in research, endorsed nationally and internationally by leaders in education, supported by studies published in top literacy journals, and validated through consistently impressive student results across the program’s long history.
 
The Word Detectives 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. 

The central strategy used in the program is an analogy approach. Students are taught a set of “key words” (familiar words chosen to represent each common spelling pattern in the English language) that enables them to decode and spell. For example, they could use he, ten, and wish to decode or spell replenish. In addition, students are taught to apply letter-sound knowledge and context clues toward the goal of internalizing all of these strategies so that they can be applied strategically and, ultimately, automatically.

Students who have been introduced to either the Wilson or Orton-Gillingham programs have seamlessly transitioned to the Word Detectives program. While each program is distinct, they are compatible.
 
Primary Level - Grades 1-3
Students receive small group reading instruction and word identification instruction daily. Working with both print and digital sources, they are taught strategies for constructing meaning from text and strategies for processing text efficiently. Students are taught 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 are taught to generate questions and identify important information in both fiction and informational text.
 
In daily word identification lessons, students are taught multiple strategies for decoding words, including analogy, context, and matching sounds to letters. Through systematic, explicit instruction, they are guided to discover common patterns and consistencies in the English language and to use words they know to decode and spell unfamiliar words. Students apply decoding strategies in context as part of each day’s lesson. To develop sight vocabulary and reading fluency, students engage in repeated readings of text.
 
Intermediate Level – Grades 4-5
At the intermediate level, students work with a variety of text styles including fiction, informational texts, eBooks, and websites. They receive daily, small group reading instruction where they are taught strategies for constructing meaning from text and strategies for processing text efficiently. In addition to focusing on active reader strategies such as surveying, making predictions, and setting purposes for reading, students are taught to identify important information, take notes, and summarize content.
 
They are taught explicitly how to monitor their understanding, and they engage in stimulating discussions about real-life issues related to the literature they are reading. Students evaluate the strength of the evidence they have for the ideas they share. They use the Action Cycle framework to develop an understanding of why humans do what they do. As students discuss their reading, they explore human needs, the context, actions humans take, and the consequences of those actions.
 
Students also receive daily instruction in word identification with a focus on both decoding and spelling. Through systematic, explicit instruction, they are guided to discover common patterns and consistencies in the English language and to use that knowledge when decoding and spelling unfamiliar words. Students apply decoding and spelling strategies in context as part of each day’s lesson.

Writing

    
Primary Level - Grades 1-3
Students are taught to formulate their ideas and express them in writing. Through systematic, daily writing instruction, students 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. Instruction focuses on generating and organizing ideas and using clear and interesting language to communicate ideas effectively. Students produce both narrative and informational text. Published pieces of writing are shared with other classes in both print and digital formats and are displayed in the library for others to enjoy.

Intermediate Level – Grades 4-5
Students are taught 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. Through systematic, daily writing instruction, students develop an in depth understanding of the writing process from planning to publishing. Students produce both narrative and informational text, including research reports, in print and digital formats. They develop word processing skills and produce much of their written work on netbooks.

Mathematics

Primary Level - Grades 1-3
At the primary level, students focus on numbers, patterns, number relationships, and operations. Basic fact strategies for all operations are explicitly taught and practiced to facilitate retention and recall. Students have access to a variety of online tools that support acquisition of and facility with basic facts. Place value, an important component of early mathematics instruction, is applied to numbers to the millions through a series of online and teacher constructed activities. Using manipulatives, students investigate the concepts of fractions, which are introduced as part of the set of real numbers, and the geometry component introduces students to plane and solid figures, lines and angles. Projects in the form of investigations involve students in core areas of mathematics at the primary level. Students use iPads, computers, and the SMART Board to enjoy problem solving, number challenges, and computational practice. Estimation and proof are tools students use to produce results that reflect accurate mathematical thinking.

Intermediate Level – Grades 4-5
Students at the intermediate level extend their understanding of multiplication and division to multi-digit whole numbers, decimals and fractions. Strategies for basic fact acquisition and generalizing number patterns continue to be part of the curriculum and are practiced using Ipads, computers and traditional paper and pencil exercises. Multi-digit computation of the four operations is practiced using place value knowledge and the distributive property. Understanding of place value is applied to traditional and nontraditional problems while understanding of place value in conjunction with whole number operations is extended to decimals and fractions. Decimal and fraction concepts are explicitly taught using a variety of strategies. Data analysis and representation are more thoroughly investigated at this level. The geometry strand focuses on three-dimensional figures and analyzing their properties. At this level, students use technological tools such as Voice Thread to synthesize conceptual understanding, to solve problems and to share solutions.

Social Studies

Primary Level - Grades 1-3
At the primary level, students focus on essential understandings in social studies that help them understand why people do what they do. Using the Action Cycle framework, students investigate human needs, the context, actions humans take, and the consequences of those actions. Topics studied include Native Americans, exploration, colonization, and Pennsylvania history. Students explore big ideas: the  customs and beliefs of different groups of people change the way we live,  the physical features of a place affect the actions people take to meet their needs, or human actions have consequences. They use active reader strategies such as surveying, predicting, setting purposes for reading, generating questions, and retelling. Students look for patterns in events in American history as they identify and organize important information using the Action Cycle framework, concept maps, and note taking charts.

Intermediate Level - Grades 4-5
At the intermediate level, students are taught to use the Action Cycle framework to analyze human needs, the actions people take and the consequences of those actions. They use the framework to generate questions about why humans do what they do in different contexts throughout American history. Students are taught to use texts, videos, online sources, and primary documents to identify important information. They organize the information using essential understandings such as interactions between diverse groups of people bring about change, or the physical features of a place affect the actions people take to meet their needs. Social Studies topics include the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the development of US Foreign Policy, Westward Expansion, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Gold Rush, the Civil War, Immigration, World War I, and reform movements such as abolition, suffrage, labor, and civil rights. Students are also introduced to study strategies for learning and remembering information.

Science

    
Primary Level - Grades 1-3
At the primary level, students explore science through multiple hands-on and virtual experiences. Topics studied may include animal adaptations, the water cycle and weather formation, magnets and electricity, the growth of living things, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Students are taught that scientists ask questions, gather information by reading and by investigating, and make connections. They are taught to draw and label diagrams. Students use concept maps to organize information and make connections across information. They use big ideas, such as animals have special features and behaviors that help them survive, to focus their study and help them identify important information. Science instruction also reinforces active reader strategies such as setting purposes for reading, making predictions, and asking questions. 

Intermediate Level - Grades 4-5
At the intermediate level, students explore science through hands-on and virtual experiences. They also analyze illustrations, video, text, online sources, and specimens to help them learn about scientific principles such as adaptations, systems and cycles, and conservation. Students are taught the parts of a scientific diagram and how to write a detailed experiment summary. Units might include the study of sound, heat or light as a form of energy, water ecosystems, rot and recycling, the atmosphere or hydrosphere as systems with diverse parts and functions, or renewable energy. Students are also introduced to study strategies for learning and remembering information.

Health

Primary Level - Grades 1-3
At the primary level, children are taught about the healthy body, how it works, and what must be done to maintain peak performance. The content is covered over a three-year period beginning with the senses. The second year of the cycle investigates the nervous and digestive systems, and an introduction to consumer awareness and alcohol is presented. Information about the muscular, skeletal, and cardiopulmonary systems comprise the third year of the cycle. Additionally the importance of exercise, nutrition and first aid are taught. Students begin to develop strategies for acquiring and understanding health information such as posing questions, observing, role-playing, and problem solving.

Intermediate Level – Grades 4-5
At the intermediate level, students focus on making choices that promote good health and an excellent quality of life. The three-year health education cycle investigates choices that pre-teens make. The first year focuses in detail on the digestive system. The topics of food choices and nutrition are included to raise student awareness about anorexia, bulimia, and obesity. Personal safety, bike safety, play safety, peer pressure, and first aid are the topics presented in the second year of the cycle. Personal choices and self-image comprise the topics covered in the third year of the cycle. Students use concept maps to organize information for understanding.

Affective Curriculum

Primary Level - Grades 1-3
At the primary level the focus is on helping students begin to be aware of how their thoughts and feelings are connected to what is happening in the environment around them and how their thoughts and feelings can impact learning. Principles of mindfulness are introduced to help students practice ways to settle internal distractions while remaining more engaged in the learning task. Emphasis is placed on activities that provide students opportunities to interact and problem solve, allowing for openings for genuine respectful feedback.

Intermediate Level – Grades 4-5
At the intermediate level the emphasis shifts slightly to encompass more strategies for taking charge of one’s focus and engagement. Lessons focus on point of view and perspective, an important aspect of social problem solving. Cooperation, consensus building and leadership skills are highlighted. Emphasis is also placed on helping children to embrace all kinds of differences and to understand the dynamics of bullying and the crucial role that each of us can take to help create a safe learning environment.

Music

    
Primary Level - Grades 1-3
Students are introduced to music through the medium of American folk music and patriotic songs with trade books and SMART Board lessons. They receive instruction in performance skills, movement, playing simple instruments, using props, and being an active audience member. Students learn to recognize the dynamics of music:  slow-fast, loud-soft, high-low, and enjoy rhythm games using classical, folk, and modern music along with being introduced to voice and instruments. 

Intermediate Level – Grades 4-5
Students work on the process of improving performance skills in preparation for their role in the Celebration of Creativity. Students try their hand at writing lyrics to familiar folk tunes while studying some of them in relationship to their social studies content. Looking at music as a storytelling device promotes understanding of the American musical and prepares students to be audience members of the live performance of the Middle School musical presentation. At the end of the school year, each student is given the opportunity to perform a musical activity for the class.

Art

Primary Level - Grades 1-3
Diagnostic art activities with scissors, tracing paper, glue, and paint are completed to determine the individual skill level of each student at the beginning of the school year. The importance of using tools and art materials correctly and safely is emphasized as each new unit is introduced. At this level, the basics of printmaking, clay work, painting, fiber art, and drawing are introduced. Student projects are displayed in the A. Palmer West Performing Arts Center.

Intermediate Level - Grades 4-5
The activities presented at this level assume students have mastered the basic art skills necessary to complete each unit. Scaffolded support allows all students to participate in more sophisticated projects than those attempted at the primary level. Attention to process is again highlighted as the difficulty level of each unit increases. Student projects are displayed in the A. Palmer West Performing Arts Center.

Physical Education

Primary Level - Grades 1-3
The goals of the physical education program at the primary level are for students to develop the motor skills necessary to participate in athletic endeavors and to promote a healthy lifestyle.

Intermediate Level – Grades 4-5
The goals of the physical education program at the intermediate level are a continuation of those set for the primary level. In addition, students learn how to sharpen individual skills and how to use those skills in the context of a team situation.

Benchmark taught me that with focus and determination, I can achieve anything. 
Winston Beever, Benchmark '12, Church Farm School '15, Attending Skidmore College

CONTACT


Sally Laird
Assistant Head of School & Head of Lower School