Lower School learning emphasizes the building blocks for future academic success. Typical school-related expectations for this age group include a vocabulary growth spurt, accurate articulation, awareness of and the ability to manipulate the building blocks for reading, as well as concentration in group settings, the ability to delay gratification, and learning the elements of sharing and conflict resolution. Hill’s structured academic schedule provides lower school students with exposure to core content areas of math, science, history, along with a focus on language arts.
All Lower School students at Hill attend daily Orton-Gillingham reading instruction based on their language needs. With over 80% of our students struggling with language in some form and 25% of Lower School students with official dyslexia diagnoses, the O-G program strategically addresses the foundations of language learning, building reading skills from the ground up. Explicit instruction and practice of social thinking and communication skills as well as an introduction to fine arts and athletics round out the lower school program.
Hill School recognizes the importance of transition times for students to exercise their bodies as well as their minds and incorporates multiple recess periods a day for the youngest learners, in addition to daily PE class.
The habits formed in lower school are the basis of future learning. Many Hill students have struggled to reach academic benchmarks in their previous settings, and the lower school emphasis on remediation of skills is an important cornerstone of the program. The identification of missing skills, re-teaching these skills or pre-teaching new material toward grade-level expectations is central to future success.
Addressing academic deficits during the lower school years is developmentally the best time to make maximum impact and progress.
With a large proportion of Hill students diagnosed with dyslexia and/or ADHD, difficulties with some aspect of language – the arts of listening, speaking, reading and/or writing – are common. Addressing these struggles with language is the core of our Lower School academic program and much of our daily schedule is devoted to language arts instruction. Lower school faculty members have completed comprehensive training in the Orton Gillingham multi-sensory instructional approach for reading. This enables our teachers to target student decoding and comprehension skills and provide meaningful, progress-focused instruction.
In the lower school, a dedicated instructional period each day utilizes the Orton-Gillingham program with small groups of similar-ability students. Entry-level reading groups focus exclusively on decoding skills and phonological awareness to build foundational reading skills and fluency for later learning. More advanced groups integrate sentence, paragraph, and textual comprehension strategies in addition to continued work on fluency.
While Hill’s lower school classes are much smaller than a traditional class (typically 8-10 students in a regular class), the learning experience is still socially structured as students work in groups and collaborate with others during the day. Developmentally, lower school students expand their social repertoire dramatically as a focus on others and how to interact becomes more essential. Learning about reciprocity and the recognition of the two-way nature of relationships can be challenging tasks for students who struggle with social communication due to a diagnosis of ADHD or Asperger’s.
The small setting and close connections formed with lower school teachers facilitate the acquisition of these skills in a safe environment. Through explicit instruction and embedded modeling, faculty are able to work with students on meeting these expectations. The support of our full-time counselor providing guidance lessons and small group practice enhances social learning in the lower school.
While not an exhaustive list, the targets listed below provide some insight into the school-related expectations for lower school-aged children in grades 1 – 5. At Hill School, interventions that enable skill progression and eventual mastery at the lower school level is important, however, there may be some targets that are best achieved through accommodations to bypass an area of weakness.
Conforming to routines, demand for attention to detail, greater need to sustained concentration, need to enhance the filtration of distraction, call for persistence and task completion, stress on consistency
Learning basic time and series concepts, use of time vocabulary, exposure to and use of multistep instructions, serial order recognition recall (for spelling), stress on practical sequences (days of the week)
Shape and symbol discrimination, stress on visual-motor integration, appreciation of visual boundaries (lines on paper/spaces between words), spatial planning for writing, visual pattern recognition for reading
Call for deliberate paired associations, introduction of abstract, symbolic memory, frequent use of episodic memory, stress on single-item recall (math facts, sight words), need for procedural recall in math and spelling
Expectation of a vocabulary growth spurt, need for accurate articulation, demand for literate language use and comprehension, introduction of specialized vocabulary, growing need to appreciate syntax and word meaning, integration of language into writing, decipher word problems in math, formal awareness of language rules.
Stress on eye-hand coordination, initial awareness of gross motor abilities, requirement for controlled fine motor stabilization (pencil grip, scissor use), stress on motor memory for symbol formation, visual-motor integration (copying)
Need to emerge from parallel play, compliance with adult supervision of play, initial challenge of sharing and conflict resolution, beginning to differentiate peer and adult interaction rules, need to appreciate others’ perspectives, demand for reciprocity, expanded use of verbal pragmatics
Need for empirical discovery of concepts, initial encounters with abstract symbols, experience with trial and error, classification skills, using experience for reading comprehension, overriding sensory data with logic, brainstorming, rule learning and application
The use of technology with Lower School students has emerged as a critical fact for 21st century education. These are the students who have never known a world without mobile phones, apps, tablets, and wireless technology. To bridge the digital engagement of our youngest learners with the school experience, Hill School provides touch-screen, keyboard-enabled tablet computers for the use of lower school students during the school day.
Teachers can check out class sets of the Lenovo Yoga at any time during the school day for use with the whole class, for individuals working at their own pace, or small groups collaborating on a project. Common uses of technology in lower school include basics like keyboarding skills and an introduction to Word and Powerpoint as well as apps that support math and language skill acquisition. Lower School students are guided in responsible use of the research power of the Internet.