Becoming focused readers and thinkers
In first grade, students build on the knowledge and skills they’ve acquired in kindergarten. Their learning deepens and becomes more applicable across all subject matters. Through concrete modeling and collaborative learning experiences, the basic foundation of reading, writing, and mathematics are integrated into daily life in first grade.
At MVS, we believe creating a safe and healthy environment allows students to fully engage, take risks and get the most out of their learning and relationships. For the first six weeks, students are re-acquainted with the responsive classroom model that was used in the Early Childhood School and in kindergarten. Through this model, they build relationships, develop a caring classroom community, collectively set classroom expectations, and set the tone for a healthy social emotional learning environment.
On day one, our students are asked what they want to learn in first grade, because having ownership over their learning is crucial to academic investment. Literacy is hugely expanded upon in first grade and much of what our teachers engage in with the students is making literacy connections: verbal, written, reading and problem solving. Expanding their literacy skill set is how our first graders become more in-depth thinkers and close readers, able to better articulate their thoughts and digest information.
First grade culminates in an individual authorship project, an experience that prepares them for the more refined and integrated learning projects that come in second grade.
- Language Arts
- Social Studies
- World Languages
- Visual Arts
- Physical Education
Reading is an essential and major component of the first grade curriculum and is pervasive through a first grader’s day, with daily opportunities to read independently, in a small group, and as a class. The goal in first grade is for our students to have a strong book sense, which occurs with our two-pronged approach—combining a strong sight vocabulary and decoding skills.
And then there’s the vehicle for applying their developing skills: literature! With literature that excites them, students are able to engage in learning at home and at school. Every night, students take a book home—one that they can read comfortably and independently—and are expected to read for at least 20 minutes.
First graders write every day. Direct instruction supports the students as they move from invented, phonetic-based spelling to traditional spelling. Every student keeps a journal, where they record their high-frequency words and practice word building. Spelling isn’t a “trick” in first grade—we don’t want our students to memorize tough words for the sake of memorization; rather, we encourage them to master words that come naturally through frequent usage. This is what authentic learning looks like at MVS.
Students build on sentences they’ve learned to write in first grade and now become familiar with the editing process, which most frequently occurs one-on-one with the teacher and, occasionally, with groups, where students are instructed how to give positive, corrective feedback.
Stories are incorporated in the writing process, as we want our young learners to understand that reading is a lifelong skill for enjoyment, for gathering information, and for helping the creative writing process. Through read-aloud story time, we look at story elements: plot, character, setting, conflict and resolution. We expose them to different genres and focus, specifically, on fables, which resonate strongly with first graders. Children learn pourquoi tales, trickster tales, and fairy tales. Teachers spend a good amount of time delving into the elements of each genre as preparation for the first grade culminating project: the authorship of their original fantasy book. Students and families embrace the end result with the students reading their books aloud to an audience. Much like an official author presentation, the first grade author discusses their writing process and how they were inspired.
The writing process (revise, edit, publish) is put into practice when students begin their fantasy book. This project is the result of daily work, where they use their acquired skills, imagination, confidence and stamina to create a fully illustrated, unique and complete story.
It’s important for our students to have a strong understanding of numbers, so we spend first grade exploring number relationships. Measurement, capacity, graphing, complex adding and subtracting, and quantity are all math concepts students practice in first grade. We move from concrete math to pictorial math to abstract, which uses algebraic equations—critical thinking and problem solving with missing integers. Students learn fact families, number bonds, and twoness to gain a visceral understanding of numbers.
By the time students leave first grade, they know how to tell time to the quarter and half hour, are familiar with two dimensional shapes and geometry and are prepared for multiplication and division in second grade. Students are taught how to think in groups of ten, which helps their mental math abilities and builds a solid foundation for place values.
At its core, Singapore Math methods of problem-solving and skill development support student achievement in first grade.
Earth science, life science and physical science are the focuses of science in first grade. At MVS, in grades K-2, we have a dedicated science leader that supports science learning in grade classrooms. She collaborates with teachers to integrate classroom learning into science activities, lessons and research projects.
Through the outdoor science program and Immersion Method learning, first graders gain an increased awareness of their physical environment and grow into good stewards of their natural resources. Students gain a deeper understanding of environmental concepts through engaging, hands-on experiences in the Outdoor Exploration Center, which includes a bird blind, trails, tooth garden, and pavilion.
Students explore the science of ecosystems and the relationships between people and their environment and are encouraged to think about their values and behaviors and how they can impact the world around them.
Field trips support students’ social studies curriculum in first grade and are an avenue for our young learners to gain awareness of their environment and their larger world so that they can become compassionate, global citizens. But before the field trips, our teachers spend the first part of the year with students helping them build a stronger sense of self. From there, the children explore their immediate family, extended family, and then their ancestry.
During November, leading up to Thanksgiving, First grade dives into an ancestry study. They talk about lands of origin, immigration, and different cultures. They compare and contrast different cultures through the exploration of food, songs and literature.
Once students return from winter break, discussion revolves around the civics of voting, which is strongly inter-related with mathematics studies, and the civil rights history.Throughout the year, the Weekly Reader is used to support students’ learning.
The study of world language begins in early childhood school with Spanish and Mandarin and grows even more in kindergarten. Once students are in first grade, they’re familiar with learning different languages and are eager to continue their studies one to two days a week (depending on the color schedule) with a semester study of both languages.
MVS’ world language program focuses on the cultural appreciation and the development of listening and speaking skills. In first grade, students expand their vocabulary through a variety of methods, including singing, hands-on activities, games and TPR (Total Physical Response) teaching strategies. By studying the customs, geography, art, music, and holidays of the native countries, students develop an understanding of and appreciation for culture and a new perspective of the world.
The art studio is a place to invent, imagine, and problem solve.
First grade students are in the studio twice in one color block week. They explore different materials and techniques working individually and collaboratively, they work with a variety of materials, and they learn different ways to conceptualize their ideas. Students learn how to properly and safely use new tools, and effectively express their ideas from memory, observation and imagination. Inspired by art history, books and classroom discussion, students create works that are rooted in meaning and story.
Projects arise from student interest, classroom curricula and current events. New techniques are introduced and revisited throughout the lower school studio art experience.
We believe three musical traits are crucial to a student’s development during grades K through third. Based on Dr. John Feierabend’s research, we want students to become beatful (clap appropriately on beat), artful (move to music and appreciate a performance), and tuneful (be able to match pitch and sing familiar songs). In order to accomplish this, our lower school music program uses the Orff approach in the music classroom. The Orff approach uses speech as the basis of rhythm and uses movement and activities to engage students in the learning process. Students sing using solfege syllables (i.e. do, re, mi) to learn and reinforce pitch relationships. Pitched and non-pitched percussion instruments are used to build independent musicianship and ensemble skills. Beginning songs are created by students through short phrases of music through improvisation. By utilizing this approach in the music classroom, students are actively engaged while using creativity, communication, critical thinking, collaboration, confidence, courage, and building relationships within their learning community.
After completing Kindergarten, first grade students have been exposed to many singing games and activities and are comfortable with their singing voice. Just as students learn spoken language first, in the same way, students create sounds and experience music before reading notated music. They focus on creating patterns to the beat, reading rhythms (quarter notes, eighth notes, half notes), singing in tune while using solfege syllables and body signs, circle dances, folk dances, creative movement and learning songs using both non-pitched percussion (rhythm sticks, hand drums, etc.) and barred instruments (xylophones, glockenspiels and metallophones). First grade performs in a Winter Concert that takes place in December.