The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA
Fay Magazine: Summer 2021

Primary School Update: Book Smart - Laying the Foundation for Strong Reading Skills in Primary School

Daintry Duffy Zaterka '88
A thoughtfully structured program, one-on-one time with teachers and literacy experts, and plenty of read-aloud time all help to foster strong skills and a love of reading.
Reading time is sacred in Primary School, and everything stops when it’s time to sit and listen to the class read-aloud. This spring, second graders met true friends Charlotte and Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web, encountered giants in Roald Dahl’s The BFG, and went on a rollicking adventure to rescue a squirrel in Cynthia Rylant’s Gooseberry Park. Head of Primary School Katie Knuppel frequently shares books with the community during Morning Meeting, and students take pride in the independent reading books that they have chosen for themselves. “One of the special things about Fay,” says Primary School Reading Specialist Leslie Overbye, “is how we emphasize the enjoyment of reading as well as learning how to read.”
Reading anxiety can be common in the early elementary grades. Some parents wonder if their child is meeting benchmarks, and some kids do, too. Kindergarten teacher Lee Bogaert remembers one student at the beginning of the year exclaiming in a panic, “I’m the only one in my family that doesn’t know how to read!” Primary School teachers address those concerns by emphasizing that reading is an individual journey. Reading groups are frequently reshuffled, leveled book bins are labeled by color and animal to discourage comparison, and every student works on specific skills in a program that meets them where they are. “Reading is as much a developmental milestone as an academic one,” says Lee. “The literacy pieces fall into place at different times for every child.”
The continuity of the Primary School program helps to ensure steady progress. Students are formally assessed multiple times per year on literacy, reading, and comprehension skills. Small
class sizes make it easier for teachers to know how each student is progressing and what they need to work on. In every classroom, word walls encourage the natural acquisition of new vocabulary. In every grade, students work in small reading groups two to three times a week to focus on specific skills, such as fluency, using picture cues, decoding words, expression, or a particular reading comprehension strategy. “Students read with a teacher almost every day,” says Leslie Overbye, “whether it’s a one-on-one check-in or as part of their small reading group.”
Leslie Overbye and Speech and Language Specialist Jill Cordon are based in the Primary School building, where they work with students who need additional support. “Leslie and Jill are incredible resources,” says Kindergarten teacher Anne Canada. “They are in the classroom frequently so they get to know the students well, and their expert perspectives are so beneficial.” The flexibility of the Primary School schedule is also helpful in supporting students. “We’re able to prioritize the students’ needs,” says Lee. “I can use an early morning time, choice time, or quiet time for one-on-one work with a student who needs extra reinforcement or enrichment.”
Read-alouds are part of the culture of Primary School, and at every grade level, these experiences help students build critical reading comprehension skills. In Kindergarten, classes read picture books and talk about the main characters, setting, sequencing, inferencing, and prediction strategies. Teachers will often introduce a book series in their read-alouds, such Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie books. “Getting students hooked into a series is a great way to help students become independent readers because now they want to read every single book in the series!” says first grade teacher Jill Gibbons. In second grade, chapter book read-alouds that are above the students’ independent reading levels stretch comprehension skills and build new vocabulary in context.
Students also enjoy independent reading, selecting from their personal bookbags that always contain three to five options. The teachers emphasize reading slowly to absorb essential elements like character, setting, and action, and the children practice making predictions. First graders can often be found lying on the floor reading quietly into “fluency phones” that allow the children to hear themselves read and improve their expression. When they are ready to swap for new books, they first read with a teacher and discuss the book to ensure fluency and comprehension. First graders write about their books on a reading response sheet, while second graders write in their reading response journals.
As students progress through Primary School, their reading independence and stamina grow. By the end of second grade, students are reading twenty minutes on their own every night.
By then, they are ready for the transition to Lower School, where teachers continue to nurture a love of reading through class novels, continued independent reading, a deeper dive into comprehension skills, and the One School, One Book tradition.

Read more about the Primary School curriculum.

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