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Meeting of the Minds — Language Arts

May 19, 2021 | Brent Harris

Over the last few weeks, the 4th through 8th grade Language Arts teachers have met to look at our Language Arts curriculum. We spent time considering the scope and sequence, celebrating areas where we are doing a great job, and thinking about areas where we want to grow, where we can invest some more time and energy going forward.


Although there is certainly work to be done, our conversation reinforced one particular thought: by the time they graduate 8th grade, MSS students are perceptive readers and articulate writers.


There are many contributing factors to this, but one of the clearest is that Mustard Seed School is a community of readers. We place a premium on reading; as students read, they grow quickly in comprehension skills and writing ability.

There are many other skills, strategies, tools and approaches that come together to ensure our Language Arts curriculum is robust and meaningful:

  • We provide students many opportunities to read at school, and we value high volume reading.
  • We write regularly, both formally and informally. Students lean into their creativity by writing creatively on a regular basis.
  • We differentiate! The more students read and write, the more we know them as individual readers and writers, and then the more we can help each child with their specific needs.
  • We analyze MAP test data to figure out where our classes or specific students need support.
  • We have big projects and many smaller assignments so students can flex different reading and writing muscles.
  • We have a clear and effective scope and sequence. We organize our classes in a way that reinforces previously learned skills and introduces new skills in an appropriate and efficient way.
  • Throughout the last 14 months, we have developed many technology-related skills to give students more opportunity to grow through different platforms, apps, and services.
  • We have many formative and summative assessment strategies to grasp student skills and areas of focus.
  • We practice skills together as a class, have students work in groups, and then have students work independently. This gives all different learners an opportunity to grasp the material in their own way.

During our Meeting of the Minds discussion, we also focused on some areas that we would like to invest some more time and energy in going forward:

  • Student ownership. We want students to be behind the wheel of their learning, to recognize their skills, and highlight areas that require their attention. 
  • Since all classes involve reading and writing, we will continue to work towards students learning similar skills across content areas.
  • We are excited about using our new skills surrounding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to make our Language Arts classrooms richer places.
  • We will spend more time framing projects and assignments around diverse and powerful voices and people.
  • We planning to provide students with a clearer Nonfiction Reading skillset, especially considering the ubiquity of information and the varying qualities of it. 
  • We hope to continue finding new tools and technologies that help our students with their reading and writing. 
  • We will dedicate time to figuring out potential barriers for students and giving them ways to overcome obstacles. 


There are many things that are going well, and there are many areas where we are excited to invest more time and energy. We are proud of the way our students read and write, and we are excited to see how the programs grows going forward!

Brent Harris

Teacher, Grade 7; Language Arts, Seventh and Eighth Grades

Brent Harris has been teaching Middle School students since 2015. He loves teaching students how to understand the world through literature and writing. He teaches English Language Arts, but he likes to teach other things too! Both of Mr. Harris' parents are educators, and despite trying his hardest to avoid following in his parents’ footsteps, he graduated from Calvin College with a Bachelor of Arts with a Major in English Education and a Minor in Physical Education; as a result, Brent is a great argument piece for any “Nature versus Nurture” debate.

In addition to teaching, Mr. Harris enjoys playing guitar and drums, listening to music, spending time outside, playing sports, and hanging out with his kind and loving wife, Lauren. A native of Ontario, Canada, Mr. Harris stays true to all the Canadian stereotypes by being extremely kind and perpetually sorry. He has been a director and counselor at multiple children’s camps in Canada and Michigan, and he appreciates the idea of teaching students and campers in a place where there is freedom to entertain new ideas and try out new things. Mr. Harris has enjoyed coaching volleyball, soccer, and baseball, and while he loves nature, he is being slowly converted into a city boy.

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