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Text: %22Phillips Brooks School Curriculum Guide: Literacy%22 over a photo of two students reading a book together.

Curriculum Guide: Literacy

The PBS Approach

Reading and Writing Project

Reading and Writing Project Logo

PBS uses the Reading and Writing Project out of Columbia University’s Teachers College for direction and inspiration in leading students to joyful engagement in literacy. The Project’s mission is to “help young people become avid and skilled readers, writers, and inquirers.” Students become storytellers using structures and strategies to create, write, and speak about a range of fictional and informational genres.

Key concepts are taught through our Reading and Writing Workshop approach in whole-class mini-lessons followed by a range of instruction approaches based on students’ needs. Teachers reinforce and assess student progress in several ways: through one-on-one conferencing to hone in on specific skills targeted for each child, through small group meetings where a teacher facilitates rich conversation and skill-building, or through independent research projects guided and scaffolded by the teacher.


Foundational skills are further developed through word study instruction using Wilson Language's Fundations program, a multi-sensory, structured language program that provides research-based materials and strategies essential to a comprehensive reading, spelling, and handwriting program.

Wilson Fundations makes learning to read fun while laying the groundwork for life-long literacy. Students receive a systematic program in critical foundational skills, emphasizing:

  • Phonemic awareness
  • Phonics and word study
  • High frequency word study
  • Reading fluency
  • Vocabulary
  • Comprehension strategies 
  • Handwriting
  • Spelling


Students also access our well-resourced library through regular visits with our librarian. Through stories and book talks, the library fosters an appreciation of traditional and current literature, as students are exposed to the best of fiction and nonfiction books. Library stories offer support to the classroom literacy curriculum and enhance each student’s cultural literacy. The library also sponsors a number of visits to campus by children’s authors each year, giving students the opportunity to ask questions and get to know the inspiration behind their work.

Components of Balanced Literacy

There is a mountain of evidence to support read aloud, comprehension, writing, rich oral language development, growth mindset, and a score of other components of good instruction. And yes, systematic phonics instruction is one of those components of good instruction. Lucy Calkins, “No One Gets to Own the Term ‘The Science of Reading’” 

Word Study

Word study is the systematic teaching of our alphabetic symbol system. This involves the areas of phonics (letter–sound relationships), morphemic analysis (using word part to denote meaning), and automaticity for sight words.

Word study involves both the decoding (reading) and encoding (phonics and spelling) of our symbol system so students can make meaning from an author’s message and convey meaning by creating their own messages.

Vocabulary development goes hand-in-hand with word study and is infused within all other components of balanced literacy. 

Interactive Read Aloud

Interactive read aloud is a time when the teacher reads a piece of quality writing aloud to the whole class and stops at planned points to ask questions that elicit student response. Students learn to think deeply about text, to listen to others, and to grow their own ideas.

Shared Reading

Shared reading is a type of focus lesson in which either enlarged print is utilized, or all students have the text to “share” the reading process with a group of students.

The teacher uses this time explicitly modeling reading strategies and skills that the students need to learn. The responsibility for reading is “shared” between the teacher and the students, although the teacher reads most of the text.

Strategy Groups

Strategy groups are also known as guided reading groups. The teacher meets with a small group that needs to work on a specific strategy or that shares a similar reading level.

Each student has a copy of the text and reads it quietly. The teacher uses this time to explicitly teach and to have students practice the strategy they need to learn.

Independent Reading and Writing

Independent reading is a time when students read text (either self-selected or teacher recommended) at their independent reading level to practice reading strategies and to develop fluency and automaticity.

The teacher confers with students one-on-one, prompts the use of the strategies, discusses various aspects of the text, and learns about each student as a reader. Students may respond to the text in meaningful ways through writing, discussing, or sketching.

Independent Reading Conference

An independent reading conference is a time when the teacher works one-on-one with a student to teach the student what they need to learn about reading. The teacher uses the conference to assess (research) what the student needs to learn, to decide what to teach the student, and then to teach the student.

Some people think of an independent reading conference as a “private lesson.” The teacher takes notes and sets goals for the student to monitor and celebrate progress.


We work to grow readers who are…

  • Resilient: Readers come to learn how books are entertaining, enjoyable, and an escape. However, they're sure to run into obstacles around decoding, comprehension, focus, or book choice. Resilient readers will have skills and strategies to persevere through these bumps in the road.
  • Active: Reading is not just about getting through each word, line, or page of a book. Our students learn to engage with texts on a deeper level. They consider how an author's writing connects with their own lives, other books they've read, or the world around them. Strategies such as visualization, discussions about author’s purpose, and analysis of a character's emotional state, for example, build strong engaged readers.
  • Curious: As students gain in their reading skills, a whole new world of possibilities opens up! Our students are primed from their earliest experiences with books to ask questions that spur research and reflection. “Why did that character make that choice?” “How could I learn more about this scientific process?” “What is life like in that part of the world?”

We work to grow writers who are…

  • Risk Takers: Putting words on a page takes courage and determination. Within our supportive writing communities, students explore a variety of genres and learn strategies for being comfortable to push through challenges leading to growth.
  • Reflective: Students learn that writing is a process that requires many iterations. Writers value time to read and reflect on their own writing to make improvements, and value feedback from peers and teachers to gain inspiration, write, and re-write.
  • Collaborative: The writing process is not the writer’s alone. Our young authors understand the value of collaborating and interacting with the resources around them. Students learn to utilize the adults, peers, and library around them for inspiration, feedback, and support through each step of the writing process.

Key Concepts and Emphasis

Evaluation Criteria