The District 153 school board agreed to a curriculum change that will double the time seventh graders spend on English/Language Arts instruction.
At the May 9 meeting, board members unanimously approved the proposal from Superintendent Scott McAlister. Currently, students enrolled in Spanish and French take their first language instruction in seventh grade and continue on for the second semester in eighth grade. The switch will make the foreign language classes available only in eighth grade.
McAlister said students won’t be losing anything. They will still receive a year’s worth of instruction in a foreign language and transition to high school having completed the first level of the language at James Hart School.
The new schedule will give seventh graders another 40-plus minutes of English/Language Arts.
“What do we gain by doing this, and this is where we’re really excited, one of the things our sixth grade students benefit from each year is a block of language arts and reading, essentially 80-85 minutes a day of a literacy course,” McAlister told board members. “Then in seventh grade it drops in half.
“We feel it’s really important that our students get the ability to think critically, to read, write, speak. And so, we are recommending a new language arts in lieu of that world language course…students in seventh grade will now have what they have as sixth graders –84 minutes of a literacy course which is half focused on fiction and half focused on non-fiction” with grammar components in both courses, McAlister said.
The two English/Language Arts classes—fiction and non-fiction—will not run consecutively, but both courses will fit into a seventh grader’s schedule.
The fiction focus is on grammar and spelling, short stories, creative writing, narrative essay and poetry and figurative language. Students analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact, determine themes and central ideas of a text, and analyze development over the course of the text.
The non-fiction course will use materials with an emphasis on writing, reading informational text, grammar, vocabulary and speaking. Students will study how to read and understand facts vs. opinion, cite evidence, research strategies, argumentation essay writing and persuasive speaking.
“We’re really trying to get our kids more prepared for the rigors of high school – speaking, reading and writing,” he added. “We feel it’s in our best interest to prepare our kids for high school.”
McAlister said staffing numbers will remain the same. The district was able to make staffing changes to cover the scheduling change.