The thematic units incorporate all of the social studies and science standards for kindergarten and first grade, with content goals spread over two years and the process goals addressed each year. In addition, we integrate poems, art, environmental education, and academic service-learning into the thematic units, as well some of the math and language arts goals.
Math and Language Arts skills are also taught in separate blocks of time within our schedule. During these times children are learning specific skills and applying them in a variety of ways.
In K/1 we believe in nurturing the whole child. This means that in addition to academic skills, a great deal of emphasis is spent on developing social and emotional skills.
Although we are not considered a play-based program, movement, drama, recess, and free play are interspersed throughout the school day because we believe children are active learners.
Developmentally appropriate practices guide our teaching philosophy as well. Being knowledgeable about age related norms and skills, recognizing individual differences in those norms and skills, and taking into consideration the sociocultural influences of each child form the basis of developmentally appropriate practice. This framework allows us to differentiate our curriculum to meet each child where he or she is currently functioning in terms of skills.
In our thematic teaching, we use a technique called teaching for understanding. Rather than focus on the memorization of isolated facts, in each theme, we focus on an overarching concept that we would like students to use to understand the thematic teaching and apply to all areas of learning. For instance, in How Things Work, the concept is systems, and through the teaching of the unit we expect students to understand that they are a part of many interconnected systems, that what happens to one part of a system affects the rest of the system, and that improving one part of the system can improve the dynamics of the whole system. We find that as students grasp these understandings, they are able to apply them to many areas of learning, resulting in higher-level thinking skills.
Overall, constructivist and social learning theories guide our pedagogical approach in K/1.
We use multiple measures to assess student progress throughout the school year.
For our thematic units, informal assessments are used throughout, and rubrics are sent home at the end of the unit to show mastery of project-based learning goals.
For language arts we use running records to determine individual reading level and instructional needs. Letter-sound associations, phonemic awareness, and high-frequency words are also regularly assessed. We collect writing samples to demonstrate growth in writing and spelling, and after each writing unit, we send home a checklist of skills indicating the child’s level of development in each area.
In math, a checklist of skills mastered is sent home with student work at the end of each unit. In addition, we assess and report on the development of “Big Idea” math skills four times a year. These are the foundational skills we want all children to master in order to be prepared for the next level of math.
In addition to the checklists that are sent home after each unit, families are updated on student progress at student-parent-teacher conference in the fall and spring, and receive written reports in the winter and summer. Group project work is displayed at the winter and spring curriculum celebrations.