Let’s take a walk around the school and see what the students are doing on a typical day.
As we enter Kindergarten, we immediately notice the variety of spaces available to the children. These are matched by the scope of activities taking place. The atmosphere is busy, but calm, with each child gainfully, happily occupied. There are two students on the rug reading a second grade chapter book together. A group of six is having a lesson on a new consonant sound with one of the teachers. The other teacher is checking independent work on vowels done by other children, one child at a time. Three students are on the computer practicing decoding, and one child is listening to a tape on the loft.
In first grade we see an amazing presentation! Each student has created a display of fossils, text, pictures and sculptures related to the study of whales. All the parents are there, as the children confidently describe their projects. As we leave their room, we notice that each child has a handmade whale bookbag for extended reading hanging from their coat hook in the hallway. Some of the bags have more than five books on whales inside that the students want to take home!
Second grade welcomes us with a rug area, a huge library and lots of educational manipulatives. All of the students are gathered for a collective lesson on the book “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” a story of how slavery was thwarted by brave souls with an intense yearning and a clever plan to find freedom. The students are encouraged to learning active listening and participation habits. They are taking turns reading aloud.
What’s going on in third grade? The room looks more like a rainforest than a classroom. There are vines hanging in the doorway, trees and animals around the room and ceiling. A closer look reveals that the room has been turned into a museum of sorts. A child acting as a docent is giving a tour to a group of younger students. Some of the third graders are in the study hall, attached to their classroom, planning improvements to the poison arrow frog display. There is a group of students at a table making a poster for a tree planting effort that they want to popularize in the school.
Fourth grade is quieter, more settled. Age brings a little more tranquility with it. The children are divided into three math groups. One group of eight has been taken to a separate room designed for undisturbed, small group lessons. There one teacher is giving above grade level instruction on the guess, test, revise method of word problem solving. Another group of eight remains in the classroom with the other teacher. They are making purchases for a classroom store from a catalog. They are doing a hands-on math lesson on grade level that includes budgeting and taxes. One child sits aside. He is doing advanced algebra using a sixth grade book. His independent work is a follow-up to a private lesson he received earlier.
Fifth grade looks different. The room has three sections. Right now the students are in the back section of the room. They are taking turns giving oral presentations on various aspects of World War II. The students have had in-class instruction on how to research, organize, speak, create visuals, and engage their audience. At present one student is describing the Navy’s air campaign. Her model of an F4F Wildcat is a big hit. We notice that they are also reading the novel “Number the Stars,” to integrate with their social studies.
Sixth grade has half of its student currently at Art making stain glass creations, a special project reserved for them only. The remaining sixth graders are reading Newsday and having a debate about the merits and demerits each Presidential candidate’s environmental plan. Debating techniques and public speaking were taught and practiced earlier in the year. While both teachers are present, the students have taken over, while the teachers sit back in silent, but proud amazement. After the debate, one of them comes over to a teacher to ask if she can do an independent elective on renewable energy projects in the US.
Seventh and eight graders are in the solar powered middle school building. The students are presently in three groups. One group is at their English course, English B. The room is as much a living room as a classroom. The students are reading THE ALCHEMIST, and discussing whether it’s philosophy of “There are no accidents” is practically applicable to their lives. A second group is at STUVOL, short for Student Volunteers. They are planning volunteer activities in the school and the community that simultaneously satisfy NY state requirements for technology instruction. One of the students is far along in his plan to create a new pond. The third group of middle schoolers is at Drama. They are practicing with puppets that were previously made in Art classes for an original production that was written during English class. In 45 minutes the groups will rotate, so that each group will get to enjoy each experience.
Where are the test drills? … nowhere to be found.
Where’s the hands-on, practical, experiential, meaningful learning that goes into long term memory? … everywhere, at every age level.