Our curriculum is currently transitioning to the newly mandated Common Core State Standards. This is an in-depth process that is well underway in math and language arts and will be complete for all four content areas by the 2012-2013 school year. To teach these standards we use integrated, hands-on thematic units and look for ways to adapt these units to specific student interests.
Math groups are created by assessing students and placing them with a teacher who is teaching to any of the gaps that exist and/or helping them reach the next level of skills. These groupings are flexible and may change at any time over the year. The other three content areas are divided among the three teachers. Language Arts is taught by Johnny, Social Studies by Cam, and Science by Teresa. During these times children are learning specific skills that will be used as the foundation for integrated work in base classes. Throughout the year we also integrate environmental education and academic service-learning.
In 4/5 we believe that learning potential can only be reached when students are safe, physically and emotionally. This means that, in addition to academic skills, a great deal of emphasis is spent on character development and maintaining a family-like atmosphere. We practice honesty, caring, respect and responsibility as the foundation for this work.
Developmentally appropriate practices guide our teaching philosophy as well. Although later elementary students tend to mature quickly throughout the two years, we are aware that there is still a great need for talk, movement and play. Specific activities are incorporated to meet these needs, while others help
them prepare for middle school. Furthermore, we take into consideration the sociocultural influences and individual needs of each child in order to develop 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 focusing on the memorization of isolated facts, we focus on an overarching concept that we would like students to use to understand the theme, and, subsequently, to apply to all areas of learning. We also pose essential, content-specific questions, enabling students to engage in critical inquiry and research while examining concepts across the academic spectrum. We find that as students grasp these understandings, and as they engage in the process of critical inquiry, they are able to apply their critical thinking skills to many areas of academic study, resulting in higher achievement and performance on academic tasks and assessments.
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 levels and instructional needs. These assessments are conducted at three points throughout the school year (at the start of the year, mid-way through the year, and again at the end of the year). This data is collected and shared with the
grade-level team. This allows us to fill in holes in knowledge and skills for some, while challenging others to focus on more advanced skills. Finally, we collect writing samples to demonstrate growth in writing and spelling.
In math, students work at their own level to explore new concepts and/or extend those that are familiar. We focus on the foundational skills students will need to master in order to be prepared for the next level of math. Families are updated on student progress at student-parent-teacher conferences in the fall and spring, and they receive written reports in the winter and summer. Group project work is displayed at the winter and spring Curriculum Celebrations.
We also use the TerraNova standardized assessment program to assess student achievement in math and language arts.