Our skills course focuses on developing core academic skills, with a focus on six goals: (1) deepening vocabulary; (2) developing non-fiction reading skills; (3) practicing non-fiction writing skills; (4) developing skills as contributors in academic discussion; (5) honing organization and study skills; and (6) reviewing math concepts through independent math study. The course connects to our secondary school placement work, with the skills above applied to interviewing, test-taking strategies, and crafting personal essays.
Our research-driven vocabulary program introduces five new vocabulary words per week, providing time to practice and assess understanding. Focus is on high-leverage vocabulary words chosen from academic word lists for 20 minutes per day:
- Students review new vocabulary words in context sentences that allow them to see how the word is being used in a sentence, including the word’s part of speech and to guess the definition of the word.
- We use quick definitions to explicitly teach the skill of reading a dictionary entry and then teach a succinct word meaning.
- We teach similarities and differences to ensure students understand the subtle differences between vocabulary words.
- Students focus on other forms to ensure students can recognize different forms of the world when they encounter them in their readings and begin to integrate them within their writing.
- We pair vocabulary with writing sentences, so students practice using these words in context within different grammatical structures.
- Students make and use notecards to study vocabulary. On the front of the notecard is the word and a small illustration, and the back offers a quick definition and a context sentence.
- A review quiz focuses on previous words studied to ensure long-term retention.
Study and Organizational Skills
Our skills course offers an opportunity for direct instruction around planning and preparing for assessments. During the course, we teach concrete study strategies. To help students build strong organizational habits we focus on several key strategies:
Every student uses a consistently labeled binder and a homework folder to organize papers to take home and papers to bring to school.
Each student receives a planner where they note homework and materials they need to take home.
Explicit instruction on computer organization includes developing folders and naming documents.
A weekly review is an opportunity to record upcoming and long-term assignments.
Teachers conduct an organization check each week to ensure papers are organized, planners are updated, and recent grades are recorded.
Non-fiction Reading and Writing
Students read a current events article from the New York Times Upfront Magazine or Junior Scholastic Magazine every other week. Over a two-day period, students read the article (either as a group or independently), take a brief assessment, discuss the article, and then write about the article. This process helps students to grasp key current events issues, while also developing critical skills in non- fiction reading and writing.
We use the Touchstones Discussion Project curriculum to guide academic discussions, and strengthen their speaking, listening, reading, writing, thinking, and collaboration skills. These discussions often feature excerpts from great thinkers, such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Jefferson, and Plato, though they may also explore an image, ethical question, or imagined scenario. We connect the discussions, which take place every other week, with non-fiction writing opportunities, asking that students also develop a written response to the topic.
In reading, students focus for one hour each week on independent reading, providing time to select and enjoy reading material at their level. Independent reading is tracked through the Accelerated Reader program, which assesses comprehension to ensure students are choosing texts at the appropriate level.