The Villa Maria Reading Curriculum is designed to accommodate both strengths and weaknesses in reading. In some cases it is necessary to remediate weaknesses in decoding, fluency, and comprehension. For other students reading may be a strength, and a higher level curriculum is provided. Strategies and materials are chosen accordingly.
Teachers use the Lindamood-Bell Phoneme Sequencing Program for students with decoding weakness. This is a multisensory program that directly develops phonemic awareness by integrating visual, auditory, and oral-motor feedback. Students not only learn phonics rules but are also enabled to apply these phonics rules to reading and spelling. Students use “mouth pictures” to associate consonant sounds and mirrors to observe their own mouth and tongue positions as they produce the sounds. They learn to organize vowel sounds in a half-circle layout that represents the changes in tongue placement for the different vowel sounds. They learn labels for the vowel sounds (Smile, Open, Round, and Sliders) that focus on the shape of the mouth as the vowel sounds are formed. Students then learn to track, spell, and read consonant and letter sounds in syllables and words, using first colored blocks and later letter tiles. They practice sight and spelling words with air-writing. Patterned books, the Merrill Reading Program, the Merrill Skilltext Series and supplementary phonics materials are also used.
Reading teachers may also use Preventing Academic Failure, an Orton-Gillingham curriculum for teaching reading, writing and spelling in the elementary classroom. This program presents a sequence of language skills that are practiced and reinforced until they are automatic. It is a structured, multisensory, word-analysis approach designed specifically for students with language weaknesses.
Fluency – rapid, automatic reading – is necessary for good comprehension. Research has shown that fluency can be taught by repeated oral reading with feedback and guidance. To improve fluency, students practice repeated oral readings of text. This increases both reading speed and accuracy which leads to improved comprehension. Students practice reading phrases, sentences and paragraphs with expression. Teachers use PAF Stepping Up in Reading as well as extracting phrases from class novels.
The Lindamood Bell Visualizing and Verbalizing Program is used to develop comprehension skills. This program develops both receptive and expressive language skills as well as visual imagery. Students begin by describing simple pictures, move on to sentence and paragraph imaging, and respond to higher order thinking questions.
Story grammar is used to help students understand and organize story elements. This program features a long braid decorated with symbols representing narrative essentials (character, characters’ feeling, initiating story event, the plan for problem solution, story actions, and resolution). Students use these strategies when reading class novels and doing required daily home reading. Supplemental comprehension materials include SRA, Barnell Loft Specific Skill Series, and McCall Crabbs Standard Test Lessons in Reading, Daybooks of Critical Reading, literature anthologies and class novels. Depending on grade and reading level, students are required to complete and respond to a certain amount of reading each night for homework.
The Villa Maria Reading Curriculum incorporates the learning objectives of the Connecticut English Language Arts Curriculum Framework. The Villa Maria program separates reading from grammar and writing into independent courses that together incorporate the goals and content standards of the state framework. Reading and language teachers work cooperatively to integrate learning in both areas. Kindergarten through grade 8 curriculum is organized separately from the grade 9 curriculum.
9th grade curriculum
The 9th grade curriculum is viewed as a distinct course but an extension of the lower grade level work. Major emphasis is on reading, thinking, writing, and study strategies to assist students to move toward greater proficiency in reading and to become independent learners. Students present varying reading ability, and the pacing and structure of activities in the curriculum reflect their differing levels. Some students need to develop basic reading skills, including decoding, word reading, comprehension, fluency in both oral and silent reading, and vocabulary development. Others may be reading on grade level and be able to interpret and evaluate more challenging texts. The instructional strategies target development of abilities to generate background knowledge; set purpose; be metacognitive and actively engaged in reading. Concepts are introduced and taught through modeling, guided practice and independent practice. All students receive individualized attention and immediate feedback. Materials and instruction are adjusted to meet the needs of individual students. All students are required to do independent reading daily.
Language is a student's most valuable tool, for without language, there would be no communication. The Villa Maria School language program seeks to develop the child's communication skills of listening, speaking and writing so the child will be able to use language effectively. It is a developmental, sequential, and structured program. Handwriting and word-processing, grammar, usage, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, sentence and paragraph structure, and the writing process are integrated throughout the grades.
Grammar and mechanics are directly taught. Learning about sentence structure and expanding sentences begins in kindergarten. The Voyages in English text and workbook is used. Daily proofreading practice utilizes either published Daily Oral Language books or teacher created materials related to curriculum themes. Students practice expanding sentences by adding details of who, what, when, where, and how.
Students use structured outlines to organize simple paragraphs and longer compositions. Teachers select elements of the Windward Basic Writing Program, Story Grammar and Thememaker for developing descriptive, narrative and expository writing skills. Writing is presented as a process. Students use visual organizers and profit from a structured, systematic approach to organizing their thoughts and ideas and expressing them in written form.
Students in grades 4 through 9 have writing labs with networked on-line computers available. All students practice keyboarding using Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, Type to Learn, or Typing Instructor. Students are also introduced to additional computer programs, such as Kidspiration, Excel and PowerPoint in a separate computer class that meets weekly in the computer lab.
Spelling instruction uses the multisensory strategies of the Lindamood Bell Seeing Stars Program, and is reinforced with additional materials, such as Spellwell and How to Spell.
A new handwriting program has been implemented under the guidance of our occupational therapist. In the primary grades students use Handwriting Without Tears. Students do not practice writing in basic workbooks until they have experienced creating letters in several other mediums. They use wood shapes to create letters, trace letters in shaving cream, carve letters in clay, and write and trace letters on individual chalkboards. Older students use the Loops and Other Groups Program for cursive writing.
Mathematics contributes to the development of the whole person by enriching one’s life and providing a practical tool for daily living. Students need knowledge of the basics of math to be successful in the pursuit of other academic and career subjects. The study of math helps students develop their ability to reason and think logically, as well as to discover creative ways of solving problems.
At Villa Maria students are taught the basic concepts of math in a step-by-step approach. When appropriate, manipulatives are used to promote concept understanding. Traditional topics are taught in the context of real-world situations. Students are required to do computations and manipulate mathematical symbols, but there is a strong emphasis on the application of knowledge and skills. Problem solving exercises and application activities are integrated throughout lessons. Instruction begins with an emphasis on the essential skills of: number sense, estimation, pattern recognition, mathematical modeling, and builds in the upper grades to understanding functional relationships, data analysis, statistics, and manipulation of algebraic expressions and equations. Students develop the ability to use visual thinking, to make and check conjectures, to reason, and to provide convincing arguments. Students in the upper grades also investigate occupational opportunities requiring math skills. They use the calculator and are introduced to the use of spreadsheets to examine, analyze and solve problems. Instruction using a variety of modalities is included.
The math program is designed to meet the four content standards outlined in the 2005 Connecticut Mathematics Framework.
Instruction is multisensory. Students work at the appropriate skill level, while teachers provide remediation necessary to bring achievement to grade level. Knowledge of basic facts is reinforced, and strategies for calculations, conceptual understanding, and problem solving are taught. Lindamood Bell On Cloud Nine Math uses manipulatives, imagery, and language to develop fundamental math concepts necessary for reasoning and problem solving with numbers.
Several factors are considered when selecting texts: difficulty of reading level, visual complexity of the pages, need for and amount of repetition and reteaching, math vocabulary, provision for connection between math and the real world, and problem solving strategies. In addition to Sadlier Math text and workbooks, supplementary books (Steck Vaughn Mastering Math, Globe Fearon Basic Math and Pre-Algebra, Curriculum Associates Math Mastery Series for practice with multiplication, division, fraction, decimals and percents) are used. The Math-a-Magician program is used in the lower grades to learn and reinforce math facts. The ninth grade algebra class uses AGS Algebra. Manipulatives include unifix cubes, numberlines, fraction shapes, decimal transparencies, Judy clocks, flashcards, teddy bear and other counters, abacuses, and many games, to name a few.
Villa Maria believes that science education should provide a learning experience through which scientific inquiry can develop along with the opportunity to become scientifically and technologically literate.
Students should understand major science concepts and theories, use scientific reasoning, and recognize the complex interactions between science, technology and society. They must acquire the background information necessary to grow scientifically, experience the joy of discovery through hands-on activities, develop and maintain the skills necessary to perform experiments, and acquire career oriented knowledge.
The Villa Maria science curriculum is based on the Connecticut Core Science Curriculum Framework. It incorporates the main conceptual themes and content standards that students are expected to learn in their elementary, middle and high school science classes.
Students develop an understanding of key science ideas as well as a fluency in scientific vocabulary. Fundamental concepts from the life, physical and earth sciences are woven together in order to promote the understanding required to be scientifically literate. Students also develop the ability to apply critical thinking skills to science-related issues. Hands-on activities make the scientific concepts accessible to students and help them understand how scientific knowledge is created and validated. They learn how to communicate scientific knowledge and make practical applications in the real world.
Students are taught to appreciate the world in which they live and the importance of preserving our natural resources. They are encouraged to recycle, use natural products and the significance of environmentalism.
The ninth grade biology course is designed to enable students to learn basic biological concepts and to provide students with successful lab experiences. Course content is modified according to the individual needs, interests, and abilities of the students. The course includes lab work, cooperative group work and project-oriented assignments. By studying biology, the science of living things, it is expected that students will learn not only about themselves and their environment, but also be prepared to make wise decisions that will affect life on our planet.