Third & Fourth Overview

The Choir School experience generally begins in the third or fourth. The curriculum for these new arrivals helps them make a smooth transition into our residential community.

Saint Thomas Choir School students in classThe academic focus in the third and fourth grade classroom is on comprehension through active listening and reading, collaboration in the shared pursuit of knowledge, and the communication of that knowledge through clear and well-constructed verbal presentations and written compositions.

Subject matter includes literary works such as the Narnia Series, history texts including the “Who Was …” series of biographies, and experiments and film clips to bring the science of sound and light to life. The Linguistic Skill Development part of the curriculum focuses on words as precision tools and grammar as a means of clear communication.

Boys in third and fourth grades also have separate classes in mathematics, French, theology, and art. Their music curriculum is extensive and includes music theory, individual voice and instrument lessons, and choir.

Third grade mathematics curriculum is all about using curiosity and pattern discovery to solve problems. We use the Beast Academy series of illustrated textbooks to reintroduce math as skilled play. We make mathematics an adventure that requires a willingness to make mistakes on the way to discovering new principles and methods. Developing skills, mastering facts, and understanding operations are promoted in the excitement of solving engaging problems.

English

The English curriculum at the Saint Thomas Choir School focuses on providing students with a solid foundation in English language and literature by building the boys’ skills as writers, analytical thinkers, and critical readers. We hope to give our students new ways of experiencing history, of thinking about the world around them, and of better understanding themselves.

Over the course of their four years of English class, the boys build a comprehensive portfolio of creative, descriptive, and imitative written works including personal narratives, biographies, memoirs, scenes from plays, chapters of novels, short stories, myths, and poems.

The primary writing focus, however, is on learning how to write thesis-driven analytical essays, a progression that begins with simple paragraphs in fifth grade and culminates in complex, four to seven page analytical papers in eighth grade. Independent, targeted vocabulary practice with the Membean program and formal grammar instruction through The Grey Grammarian supplement their writing skills. We also put particular emphasis on participation in class discussions: the boys develop increasing independence in class over their four years, ultimately taking responsibility for running some classes without teacher intervention in their seventh and eighth grade years.

While the immediate goal of the program is to prepare the boys for the challenges they will face in high school English classes, on a broader scale it seeks to foster a love of reading, writing, and language in the boys that they will retain for the rest of their lives. Each grade is structured around three to four comprehensive, text-based units. In the past, those have included:

Fifth Grade: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and The Adventures of Ulysses by Bernard Evslin.

Sixth Grade: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor, The Miracle Worker by William Gibson, Comparative Mythology (with an emphasis on the foundational Greek and Roman myths), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, and selected personal narratives/selections from autobiographies.

Seventh Grade: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, selected short stories, selected poems, and The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

Eighth Grade: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, selected poems, selected short stories, selected memoirs, and Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.

History

Historical study has experienced a shift in the past few decades. This movement has shifted from an emphasis on facts and rote memorization of historical subjects to an approach more focused on thematic arcs, cultural exposure and historiographical processes.

While terms, definitions, people, places, etc. maintain a hallowed role in the curriculum and appear frequently for assessment purposes, the bulk of study is dedicated to this “new” history. All of our study focuses around the ideas and questions essential to the story of humanity: who are we, what has made us this way, and what can we become?

Fifth Grade history class starts at the beginning. We study the history of the universe, hoping to provide perspective when we begin studying mankind. We also explore the work of a historian through a variety of immersive activities. The students study hominids intensively, providing an opportunity for independent research and a discussion of the changes in hominid behavior and physiology over time.

Then, we examine the transition from hunter-gatherers to agricultural communities and how this gave rise to modern civilization. Units on both Mesopotamia and Egypt follow similar trajectories. The linear history of these two civilizations is vast, so study is focused in thematic units rather than chronological ones. We explore each area’s geography and the effects on life and development. We study their governments, religion, warfare, class structure, art and literature. This year provides a base, both in content and skills, that familiarizes the students with the study of history.

Sixth grade history focuses on Ancient Greece and Rome, aligning well with beginning the study of Latin. These units are immensely popular given the prevalence of Hellenistic and Roman art, culture, government and mythology in the historical canon. The topics lend themselves more to a chronological order, while still highlighting the key thematic elements of grade five.

The study of Ancient Greek civilization begins with a geographical study of the area before moving on to our first comparative study of Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations. Close to a month of our study features an introspective look into Greek mythology. Our study of myths helps inform our look at the Trojan War and excerpts from Homer’s The Iliad. We then enter the ‘Golden Age’ and our study of the Greek polis, focusing on Athens and Sparta. The unit concludes with the study of Alexander the Great and a look at what defines “greatness” in a historical sense. Instead of a traditional written exam, the boys develop concept maps — visual interpretations of the material.

The study of Rome begins with its founding legends and the structure of the early Republic aligning well with the boys beginning their study of Latin. We learn about Roman religion and Rome’s meteoric rise to supremacy in the Punic Wars. Without the blanket of Roman authority, Europe plunged into chaos and entered a ‘Dark’ Age. From this socio-political void, we see the ways in which local rules and the Church provided structure to a diverse society. Following this, we look at the Emperors who destabilized Rome throughout the years with gross abuses of power. Finally, the year ends with units on Christianity and gladiators.

Seventh grade history starts with the study of Pre-Modern Europe and provides a foundation for better understanding the relationship between the Saint Thomas Choir and the larger Christian Church. The study is predicated on the quest for order and the reform of institutions once stability has been established. Without the blanket of Roman authority, Europe plunges into chaos and enters a ‘Dark’ Age. From this socio-political void, we see the ways in which local rules and the Church provide structure to a diverse society. We then analyze the developments of the High Middle Ages and the contexts in which great cultural revival occurred, moving on to the idea of revolution; we focus particularly on how increased connectivity and individual freedoms paved the way for societal changes and rethinking the role and influence of established institutions.

Eighth grade history begins with an anachronistic and lengthy project – an analytical research paper. Planning begins at the end of grade seven and the fall term is dedicated to learning the tenets of research, planning, and constructing an argumentative essay. We then delve into early American history. Much of our study is about reconciling the mythos of America with harsher realities. This comes from learning both the established, ethno-centric narrative of the US, alongside the histories and struggles of the oppressed. Race and class struggle play important roles. Ideally, this type of exploration instills a sense of patriotism and civic duty while also illuminating the struggles of those who have not profited from the democratic ideals of American society.