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, which has been nurturing and educating boys since 1919.
The 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.
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.
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.
• Developing understanding and fluency with multi-digit multiplication and dividing to find quotients involving multi-digit dividends.
• Understanding fraction equivalence, multiplication of fractions and addition/subtraction of fractions.
• Understanding that geometric figures can be analyzed and classified based on their properties, (e.g., parallel and perpendicular sides, angle measures and symmetries.)
• Developing fluency with addition and subtraction of fractions as well as understanding of multiplication and division of fractions.
• Extending division to two-digit divisors, integrating decimal fractions into the place value system and understanding operations with decimals to the hundredths.
• Understanding volume.
• Connecting ratio and rate to whole number multiplication and division using concepts of ratio and rate to solve problems.
• Completing understanding of division of fractions and extending the notion of number to rational numbers (including the integers).
• Writing, interpreting, and using expressions and equations.
• Developing understanding of statistical thinking.
• Applying proportional relationships.
• Understanding operations with rational numbers and working with linear expressions and equations.
• Solving problems involving scale drawings and working with two- and three-dimensional shapes to solve problems involving area, surface area and volume.
• Drawing inferences about populations based on samples.
• Formulating and reasoning about expressions and equations, solving linear equations and systems of linear equations.
• Developing understanding of functions and using functions to describe quantitative relationships.
• Analyzing two- and three-dimensional space and figures using distance, angles, similarity and congruence; understanding and applying the Pythagorean Theorem.
Fifth grade science focuses on Earth and space. In the fall, students learn about the processes and features found on Earth’s surface. We study maps and globes, continental drift and plate tectonics, biogeography, earthquakes, volcanoes, weathering and erosion. In the spring, we study space: planets, stars, solar systems, galaxies and the Universe. Students learn about the accelerating expansion of the Universe, dark matter, dark energy, black holes, gravity, electromagnetic radiation and spacetime.
Sixth grade science focuses on basic biological structures and processes. In the fall, students learn about cell structure and function (organelles, membranes, receptors, channels and transporters), basic molecular biology (DNA, RNA, protein), Mendelian genetics, the cell cycle, respiration and photosynthesis. In the spring, students study taxonomy, evolution, phylogeny (the “tree of life” showing relatedness among organisms) and ecology.
Seventh grade science focuses on chemistry in the fall and physics in the spring. In chemistry, students learn about atomic structure, the periodic table, bonding, chemical reactions, acids and bases, organic chemistry and chemical energy. In physics, students study motion (including velocity, acceleration and force), waves, electromagnetic radiation, visible light, sound, electricity, magnetism, and kinetic and potential energy.
Eighth grade science reviews much of the work from sixth grade and go into greater detail. In addition, students study human physiology (the nervous system, cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal and pulmonary physiology), pharmacology, immunology, animal behavior, and molecular biology and other modern research techniques. Considerable emphasis is placed upon reading and interpreting articles from the current literature, including professional journals such as Science and Nature, from Scientific American and other science magazines, and from newspaper articles.
Latin studies begin in grade six, and, by the time of graduation, the students will have completed the equivalent of two high school Latin courses. Rather than adhering to a particular textbook, the boys will experience Latin through an integrated methodology. They will move through an in-depth examination of Latin grammar, and they will study the grammar in context; language studies are consistently integrated with the literature and philosophical ideas of the Roman Empire.
The benefits of this approach are clear. When grammar is not studied in isolation but is instead steeped in its rich cultural tradition, then the language continues to live. This type of study does not seem detached or forced but instead relevant and engaging. Ultimately, students leave with much more than rote memorization of grammar charts; they have collected knowledge of the Latin language, and with it, the tools to read carefully, communicate effectively, and think critically.
In Sixth grade the boys move through a series of units which each focus on a particular grammar topic. In order to illustrate the new information, the students translate and discuss a short excerpt from a primary source text. At the end of this year, all cases will have been covered (and endings learned for the first three declensions) as well as present, imperfect, and future tense verbs. Simultaneously, the boys will examine text from Vergil, Ovid, and Horace, grappling with ideas such as the tension between elegy and epic in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, the morality of Aeneas’ actions in the Aeneid, and the degree to which art can be classified as immortal.
In Seventh grade the boys continue to increase their knowledge of Latin grammar, vocabulary, and culture. While the structure of class time remains largely the same as in grade six, during this year, the boys will be expected to translate with more agency, and homework assignments will often involve formal translations. Grammatically, they will learn the remaining indicative verb endings, the endings for fourth and fifth declension, expressions of time, and participles. Contextually, they will read texts by Vergil, Cicero, and Sallust, working to structure their own arguments based on characterization, figurative language, and word choice.
By Eighth grade the students begin to apply their knowledge of grammar and syntax to more substantial fragments of classical literature. During the first half of the year they will continue to learn new grammar topics in conjunction with translation; these include subjunctive verb endings, sequence of tenses, deponent verbs, the ablative absolute, and indirect statement, among others. For the remaining portion of the year, the boys will look at larger sections of text, examining them as literature, constructing their own discussion questions from the text, and engaging with secondary sources. They will translate the opening lines of the Aeneid, Aeneas’ opening speech, Vergil’s account of Dido’s death, Vergil’s description of the Underworld, the end of the Aeneid, the Daphne and Apollo story, and the account of Diana and Actaeon.
The French pedagogy and curriculum follow an immersion program in which all or a major part of the curriculum is taught in French. The textbooks are written exclusively in French and in a French context. Authors are part of the day-to-day life in France and are better placed to explain not only the language but also the culture. With the introduction of a national curriculum in France, more topics are covered in the French textbooks.
The main objective of the French program is to discover and learn the French language and French culture. It explores daily life contexts in which pupils work on concrete situations mirroring the lives of French children and teenagers with different backgrounds and origins.
Third & Fourth Grades: The third and fourth graders are studying in a book called Super Max 1 published by Hachette. During this school year, the pupils are learning and increasing their knowledge in how to greet someone, present themselves, present their family, and describe themselves and their tastes.
Fifth & Sixth Grades: The fifth and sixth graders are studying in three different books: 1. A manual called Le Mag 1 published by Hachette, 2. A book called Grammaire progressive du français (to work on their grammar) published by CLE International, and 3. A book called Exercices de vocabulaire en contexte (to reinforce their vocabulary) published by Hachette. During this school year, the pupils are increasing their knowledge in how to describe themselves, present their family, and speak about vacation and leisure time.
Seventh & Eighth Grades: The seventh and eighth graders are studying in three different books: 1. A manual called Junior Plus 1 published by Hachette, 2. A book called Grammaire Progressive du Français (to work on their grammar) published by CLE International, 3. A book called Exercices de Vocabulaire en Contexte (to reinforce their vocabulary) published by Hachette. During this school year, the pupils are increasing their knowledge in how to speak about the weather and give the date, how to present and speak about their pets, how to speak about the colors, and how to locate themselves.
The main reasons to study music theory are to improve one's ability to learn music reliably and efficiently, develop the student's ears and aural abilities, and increase understanding of music and its structure, thereby affecting interpretation and performance. To that end, the Saint Thomas boys begin by studying the basics of notation and music-reading. After they are fluent in the basics of notation, we move on to more advanced topics such as triadic harmony, modulation, chromaticism, form, counterpoint, meter, and more advanced notational practices. These skills are developed through a variety of activities and assignments, including composition, performance, analysis, and ear training.
Third Grade: The main goal for the younger boys is for them to develop a strong enough musical foundation to become full choristers. For third graders, this means learning to read music and treble clef, studying intervals, and practicing rhythms up to sixteenth notes and eighth-note triplets. Later in the year, third graders study key signatures and start to use bass clef.
Fourth Grade: As with third grade, becoming a full chorister is the main objective in fourth grade theory. Fourth graders continue working on treble and bass clefs, intervals, key signatures, and more complex rhythms. In addition, they begin to study triadic harmony – the foundation of Western tonal harmony – and are introduced to C-clefs through alto clef.
Fifth Grade: Fifth graders build on their work in harmony by studying inversions, seventh chords, and Roman numerals. Rhythmic exercises continue to become more advanced, and in addition to treble, bass, and alto clefs, fifth graders will also begin to use tenor clef. In the fifth grade, melodic dictation is introduced.
Sixth Grade: In the sixth grade, students begin learning chromatic harmony through the study of secondary dominants, Neapolitan chords, augmented sixth chords, and modulation to closely related keys. Sixth graders study four-part textures and compose in four parts more extensively, and continue using Roman numerals. By sixth grade, students perform rhythmic exercises with thirty-second notes, sixteenth-note triplets, and abstract meters. In addition, cadence types, form, and soprano clef are introduced.
Seventh Grade: In the seventh grade, students learn to write Fuxian species counterpoint, leading into a study of Baroque contrapuntal procedures, such as canon and fugue. Seventh graders also build on their knowledge of harmony by studying and composing examples of modulation to distantly related keys. Other topics and skills include modal theory, singing and identifying intervals by ear, melodic dictations in two parts, mezzo-soprano clef, and the continued study of form.
Eighth Grade: Eighth graders add baritone clef into the mix, bringing them to a total of seven different clefs. Any clefs other than these seven (such as French violin or subbass clef) are octave displacements of one of the clefs already learned. Students are also introduced to a number of twentieth century composition techniques such as atonality, different types of serialism, and aleatory. In addition to advanced rhythmic exercises, eighth graders complete four-part harmonic dictations and two-part melodic dictations.
The structure of art class at Saint Thomas is designed to complement the boys natural abilities to work as a group. As such, the lessons are usually a collaboration or group effort that involves plenty of self exploration while at the same time allowing the boys to work towards a common goal.
One of the recent assignments was a group portrait of the late choirmaster, John Scott, where each boy painted an individual portion of a large tiled portrait. In another recent assignment, the boys created “Instruments of Our Own,” making instruments they adored while keeping consistent to the proportions of the real instrument. The limitations of this assignment allowed all of the instruments to be displayed as an sculptural ensemble in the school hallways.
This way of teaching lets the boys discover their own creative voices and harmonizes with their greater collaborative roles as choir singers. Each boy in art class is given special attention when needed and encouraged to work out problems through his own creative voice. When help is provided to a struggling student, it is directed at showing that struggle can serve as a benefit to artistic vision and uniqueness. While the art projects change year to year, some major skills are covered in every grade, including woodworking (through the much-anticipated annual Pinewood Derby competition), pottery, drawing, painting, and sculpture.