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FUNdations--How we spell SUCCESS at TCS

How do you spell SUCCESS? Ask a TCS 2nd grade student…..literally.


Students at The Conservatory School are exploring and mastering the building blocks of language through our new curriculum called FUNDATIONS. Fundations makes learning to read fun while laying the groundwork for life-long literacy. Through Fundations, students will learn foundational skills such as phonics, reading fluency, handwriting and spelling. But that’s not all. Keep reading to see how The Conservatory School is taking traditional reading and writing lessons and giving students voice, choice and ownership in their literacy. Here is a peek into our Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade classrooms.


In Kindergarten….


The Learning: “What do we notice?” This is always the question in Ms. Rickard’s kindergarten class. It is here, that we meet Echo the owl for the first time, the fluffy friend that helps students start the FUNdations lesson by pointing to each of the letters and making the corresponding sounds (if your kids haven’t ask you for a pet owl at home yet, just wait!) Students were eager to participate by leading the lesson. But before Echo could take the stage, a hand shot up eager to share. “I think Joey noticed something.” In fact, Joey had noticed that when the lead learner placed the “Echo the owl” pointer lower on the board, it was easier for students to see and participate. That’s the kind of comment you get when students aren’t merely consumers of information but active participants in the learning. They have the opportunity to present, communicate, and critique as part of the FUNdations lesson, so whether a student is just learning letters, or they are already putting them together to make words, there is an entry point in the process of learning which fosters collaboration and relationship in the classroom.


Ms. Rickard is always looking for ways to engage students creative talents and voice in her classroom. For example, FUNdations provides traditional letter cards for learning sounds, but Ms. Rickard’s class created their own set--coloring pictures, forming letters out of loose parts, and working together to produce artwork for their classroom that represents their perspective and talents.


How to support at home: When Ms. Rickard asks “What do you notice?” Every hand in the room goes up. Students are constantly making observations and they love to share them. Ask them what they notice about the signs in the neighborhood or on the ride to school. Use your own loose parts at home or on the playground to form letters and make sounds (bottle caps, paper clips, leaves, shoelaces, shells) Make letter formation fun by tracing letters in sand or shaving cream. You can ask you teacher to provide “path of motion” cards that have specific instructions on how to form each letter properly to build good handwriting skills.


In 1st grade….


The Learning: We meet Echo the owl again in Ms. McIntyre’s 1st grade class as students gather at the carpet ready to repeat their letter sounds. The lesson starts as Echo encourages them to identify the letter and make the sound--”G,” “Game,” “g” The first grade lesson reinforces letter work the students may already know from kindergarten, but then builds upon it by adding in a writing component and hands-on activities. On the board is a colorful poster indicating letter placement. Students identify where a letter starts and ends--the sky line, plane line, grass line and worm line. For example, letter “h” starts at the sky line and goes down to the grass line. Letter “j” starts at the plane line and goes down to the worm line. Students have already learned the path of motion in writing the letter. By adding these descriptors it gives students a visual representation of where the letter lives on the page. The students in Ms. McIntyre’s class are so excited as she passes out their bag of materials for the lesson--workbook, white board, and another surprise to come! Students practice writing the letters on their whiteboards, helping each other with shape and placement.


“I really like your letter ‘j’!” Because the activity doesn’t happen with students isolated in desks, they work together complimenting and supporting, giving suggestions, and sharing feedback. A handwriting lesson becomes a cooperative effort where the success of every child matters to the group.


Next, students help pass out the favorite tool of the lesson--magnet boards! Each student receives a small magnet board with magnetic letters to play a matching game and build words. Now the team work really begins. What might have been a solo task in many classrooms, becomes an opportunity for children to play together, help one another, and learn together. Ms. McIntrye explains that FUNdations helps students move from forming simple letter combinations to complex words. It “bridges the conventions” between writer’s workshop (where children share their stories and ideas) and content (proper spelling and handwriting) The program teaches students to “decode words and break words apart” in order to help children learn how to spell, not just how to memorize a spelling list.



How to support at home: A whiteboard and dry erase markers are a great activity to have in the car or at home. You can make your own letter-making activity kit using contact paper, or gel-filled ziploc bags--there are numerous ideas online for hands-on, tactile tools to practice handwriting. Make your own magnetic letter board--another great item to have in the car. A small cookie sheet from the dollar store is all you need to start. Your kids will amaze you as they build words on their portable letter board.


In 2nd grade….


The Learning: In Ms. Shelton’s 2nd grade class, FUNdations has soared to new levels. Today, they are discussing the buddy pairs of CK, WH, CH, and QU and all exceptions to those letter rules like:


  • WH at the beginning of a word is silent.

  • When CK and QU are at the end of a word, they are always after a short vowel.


Ms. Shelton prompts the class--“Can someone explain what a closed syllable is?” Every hand is raised and eager to reply. They quickly move on to another set of tips for these “closed syllables”--words with a short vowel sound closed by a consonant. (Don’t feel bad if you don’t remember that from elementary school, I had to have a 7 year old explain it to me in Ms. Shelton’s class) Next up are 2 syllable words with closed syllables, and then the exceptions to those words that have a closed vowel (ex., WILD, BOLD, MIND) Students are tapping out multi-syllable words and using their workbooks to write down new words they can build and discover with the information they have learned today. The lesson is advanced and thorough and covers a lot of material--and every child is engaged and on task. The students work through the lesson with ease, sharing praise with one another for finding “great words” and helping each other along when there are questions. This is no surprise to reading specialist Mrs. Molzer. According to Mrs. Molzer, using FUNDations, “Our students will have the tools to read and spell 90% of the English language by 2nd grade.” For students, it’s all about the FUN. “My favorite part is when we do rhyming words!” says one student “you just might find a word that you need.” And these kids need words--lots of them--because they all have important stories to tell. One student commented, “When I get older and my kids need help, then I can teach them what I learned today. I can spread it all over the world.” Another classmate makes the connection,”Spelling is like math. In math you need to know your numbers first to do math. We are learning how to spell so then we can read and write.” Students are so excited by the lesson that when Ms. Shelton says “That’s all we are going to do today,” she is greeted with a loud “NOOOO!” As everyone jockeys to show her the words they built that day.

How to Support at Home: Give your student opportunities to read and write whenever possible. At this point, they are working in their workbooks in class, so a journal or composition notebook at home or in the car will help them practice the skills they have learned at school.



One of the letter combinations in Ms. Shelton’s class for the day was I-N-D. Before the lesson is over, one student leans over and says, “I know an I-N-D word…..INDEPENDENT! That’s a good word. That’s what I am.”


That is what ALL of our students will have the encouragement to be with the gift of reading. And THAT is how we spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S.


For more information about FUNdations, visit: www.wilsonlanguage.com/programs/fundations/