Lower School Curriculum

In Lower Elementary, reading and writing instruction focuses on building foundational skills for lifelong readers who have a deep love of reading and writing. Along with broad exposure to literature across genres, we use a systematic approach to develop skills in decoding and phonics, word study, fluency, spelling, and writing. We are guided by Teachers College (TC) Reading and Writing Institute’s model for developing crucial skills and habits of readers and writers, Wilson-based tools for focused phonics and word-study, and Words Their Way for additional spelling and word study. TC is based on the core belief that if language arts instruction is working as it should, “students become powerful readers and writers who read and write for real reasons - to advocate for themselves and others, to deepen their own and others’ knowledge, to illuminate the lives they live and the world they are a part of.” Practically, this means giving children of grades K-3 ample time to engage with a broad range of texts, learn how to discuss their reading with others in sophisticated ways, and expressing their thoughts coherently through speaking and writing. Wilson Systems use a systematic approach to develop foundational phonics and decoding tools necessary to be effective readers and writers. We combine Wilson-based learning with Words Their Way, an inquiry-based model for word study, which allows children to notice that English words are built on recognizable patterns that when studied, are a powerful tool to read and write words at increasingly complex levels.

Luria’s Lower Elementary math curriculum is focused on developing deep number sense and skills to solve problems efficiently and flexibly and apply them to real-life situations. Our scope and sequence is guided by Engage NY/Eureka Math which is a Common-Core aligned framework and founded on proven strategies from Singapore Math such as concrete-pictorial-abstract learning sequence and model drawing strategies. Lessons teach a new concept and give children ample time to practice it both individually and with partners or small groups. Content is taught in modules that cover the four basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) as well as basic understanding of geometry, measurement, and data.

Children develop deep understanding of the base-ten system, and fluency with combinations of ten, so that they can add, subtract, multiply, and divide mentally before they learn an algorithm to solve problems on paper or on a device. In this way, children can apply their knowledge of numbers efficiently with multiple strategies available to them to use in varied situations. As we teach for deep number sense, we immediately situate the learning in real-life application, giving students time and guidance to solve relevant problems. With the help of students, we design challenges where they’ll encounter real-life problems that require them to integrate skills from their math learning, their knowledge of the world, and their executive functioning-planning and execution skills.

We support children’s metacognitive skills which are necessary for lifelong learning. Children are given time and support to notice and reflect on how they learn best, assess their learning, and set goals.

Lower Elementary science, history, and geography curriculum is guided by Maria Montessori’s understanding of how children make meaning of the world around them at each developmental stage. Montessori called these content areas cultural subjects. She based the scope and sequence on children’s innate wonder of the world around them, beginning with the big picture-the whole, the universe, and working toward the parts- individual cultures, history, geography and life forms. She called this framework Cosmic Education. Cosmic Education gives the child a foundational sense of perspective and understanding that everything he/she learns is connected, making the learning relevant and piquing interest. Children use this big picture to mentally organize new information, to build schema, and develop deeper curiosity.

Science builds knowledge necessary for promoting discovery, sparking interest, research, experimentation, presentation, and technology. Lower elementary science includes life sciences and physical and earth sciences.

In life sciences, children study the scientific method and research skills with direct instruction on the process. They explore content in botany, zoology, and biology including animal kingdoms, vertebrate and invertebrate, parts of living things and their functions, and growth and life cycles.

In physical and earth sciences, children explore the layers and geographical features of the earth, space and the solar system, properties of matter, and processes of forces and motion. They study basics of the human body, system, and functions.

History study builds in the child a clear sense of time passage, which is the foundation of a well-developed historical perspective. We begin with the creation of the universe, evolution of life on Earth, and follow the world’s historical timeline chronologically through crucial eras, understanding how our current lives evolved from ancient civilizations. They learn about common needs of people and how these needs were met at various stages of human history.

Students explore geography and history in 2-year cycles. In geography, we learn basic map skills and in-depth study of two continents each school year. The goal is to integrate the natural, physical, cultural, and political elements of each continent. Students study the biomes or natural regions of each continent including plants, animals, land and water forms, and other geographical features. They also study the indigenous people and modern cultures of each continent. They compare the natural “lines” of a continent by geographical features, with the political lines of countries. They study countries, their flags and capital cities and explore both natural and man-made landmarks across the continents and countries.

Luria’s Elementary Hebrew language curriculum uses a proficiency based approach that allows students of varied levels to learn together and deepen their skills. Grades K-5 students engage with Hebrew around a shared unit or theme, regardless of skill level. In this way, we build on the skills of returning students from our early childhood department or from Hebrew-speaking homes, and guide novice learners as they learn a new language.

We are guided by the ACTFL proficiency standards which are descriptions of what individuals can do with language in terms of speaking, writing, listening, and reading in real-world situations in a spontaneous and non-rehearsed context. Broadly, these standards include novice, intermediate, and advanced descriptions of skill level, with more detailed categories within each level. Children begin by learning to label basic nouns and verbs using scenes around them and progress to building phrases, sentences, and conversational skills at increasingly complex levels. Our program is rooted in the understanding that if we use children’s real world and prior knowledge, they can add to existing schema and from there, build more and more sophisticated language skills. When teaching a new concept that is interesting to children but that they may not have prior knowledge of, we use intentional and systematic strategies to expose them to the new idea, build schema, and pique interest. Children are able to work together in one learning community, but are given materials and tasks that match their skill level. For example, in a unit on our neighborhood, one child may learn how to label what they see such as roads, cars, buildings, or people. Students in an intermediate group might compose phrases or sentences about what they see using nouns, adjectives, and verbs, while a more advanced group is role playing conversation about their neighborhood, asking and answering questions and sharing thoughts or opinions.

Teachers are trained in understanding the proficiency standards so that they can design lessons that allow students to progress through the stages of learning to speak, group children appropriately, and use evidence-based assessment to inform next steps in the learning process.

Luria’s classrooms are alive with Hebrew language and teachers are intentionally given both instructional time for explicit learning and supervisory roles to support language development while children eat lunch, board busses, attend to their daily needs, and play. Teachers get to know their students’ levels deeply so that they can scaffold their conversation during non-instructional times based on students’ needs.

Yahadut-Judaic studies in Lower Elementary includes Chagim-Jewish holidays, Parashat Hashavua-weekly Torah portion, tefilah-prayer, and specific units of study around mitzvot or Jewish themes for each grade level. We commit to helping children become literate Jews with skills in both iyun-in depth analysis, and bekiut-broad familiarity with a wide range of content. At each grade level, we articulate a goal and essential question or big idea that matches children’s developmental level so a child’s learning becomes an essential part of their developing identity. Through building strong text skills, the content becomes accessible, and through engaging in deep discussions or immersive and experiential learning, Judaism feels alive, relevant, and has deep meaning.

In K-1, teaching chagim focuses on building familiarity with words, sounds, foods, concepts, history, rituals, and mitzvot of the holidays so that children see Jewish holidays as an opportunity to celebrate their Judaism and enrich their lives, while in 7-9, children build on this prior knowledge and focus on developing a personal connection to the Jewish people by linking their stories to the larger Jewish story. Children are exposed to customs, practices, and ways of thinking across varied Jewish communities and are encouraged to find their own voice and meaning in forever-evolving Jewish life.

Children study tefilot-prayers in depth, and learn the meanings of the words, dispositions and practices around communal and individual prayer. They have time for reflection and finding personal meaning and expression in tefilah. Tefilah time includes personal moments of introspection, community singing of the Hebrew verses sung in traditional melodies as well as contemporary tunes, individual children’s prayers, musical instruments, writing, drawing, and discussion. Tefilah at Luria  is a lively time for children to connect to each other, their Jewish heritage, and God through traditional practices and practices that they find personally meaningful.

TaNaKh in Lower Elementary begins as young as Kindergarten, through incorporating text into our learning about Parashat Hashavua-weekly Torah readings, as well as Chagim-Jewish holidays. Formal, in-depth TaNaKh study begins in second grade.

At Luria, we learn TaNaKh with two predominant goals in mind. First, we have a strong commitment to text proficiency skills so that kids can ultimately access and understand the text independently in its original Ancient Hebrew form, and glean personal meaning from it.  Secondly, we give kids the time and tools to develop a personal relationship with their learning so that the history of the Jewish people and our ancient texts become relevant and meaningful sources of insight, inspiration, and direction to the life path each person chooses.

Our teachers are trained in TaNaKh Standards and Benchmarks, which is based on UBD (Understanding by Design). UBDoffers a planning process and structure to guide curriculum, assessment, and instruction. Its two key ideas are contained in the title: 1) focus on teaching and assessing for understanding and learning transfer, and 2) design curriculum “backward” from those ends.

These standards guide us as we design curriculum that is both intellectually stimulating and spiritually rich and create learning experiences that challenge the mind and reach the heart. Our goal is that learning Torah for children is a satisfying experience both  intellectually and spiritually which deepens their connection to the Jewish people- past, present, and future and can be used as a voice that continues to support them throughout their lives and in varied experiences.

A standards-based approach aids schools in articulating and creating a coherent vision for their curriculum. This vision provides school leaders, faculty, and parents with a shared understanding of overarching goals, helping to set expectations and criteria for mastering Tanakh and rabbinics—ultimately greatly improving student learning.