At Delmar Arts Academy we use the HighScope Elementary approach that incorporates an Active Learning framework for planning the instructional design.
Active Learning has five major components that teachers include when planning for students.
- Materials, people, and/or ideas
- Interaction with materials, people, and/or ideas
- Student choice and shared control
- Students communicate their thinking
- Adult support for optimal student learning
We have a combined Kindergarten and First Grade classroom, with an average class size of 5-10 children
Once the teacher has determined the learning goal(s) and the student’s stage of learning (new, guided practice, collaborative practice, individual practice, application or transfer of knowledge/skills) each of the Active Learning components are used to guide the instructional design.
The Learning Environment
The environment is a major contributor to student achievement. Our teachers model and expect respect for all. Positivity is felt throughout the school and children know they are loved.
The physical environment at Delmar is aesthetically pleasing, with windows that let in natural light and allow students to see outside, and a beautiful 15,000 square foot playground. The classroom supports active learning with places for individual, small groups and the large group to work. Some spaces are soft, comfortable and quiet, while others are hard to accommodate messy projects and are easily cleanable.
Our Kindergarten / First Grade classroom is divided into areas where materials and tools related to the area are organized in containers with labels. Materials are usually open-ended and are stored on easily accessible shelves. The areas often correlate to curriculum content (reading, writing, art, science, math, music, drama), but could also be created and named by students.
The teacher may have a small workspace and storage area. Student-created work is on display in the classroom and throughout the school. The outdoor areas, both our large playground and our covered, outdoor breezeway, are also part of the school’s learning environment.
The Daily Schedule
Children are most comfortable when they have a consistent and predictable daily schedule that allows flexibility when needed. The schedule is posted and reviewed each morning.
Each day begins and ends with a whole class meeting. Starting the day off together, sharing, and singing, discussing issues and reviewing the day fosters “togetherness” for students and teachers. At the end of the day, the whole class reflects on the day and briefly discusses plans for the next day, before saying a warm good-bye.
Approximately one hour each day is devoted to Plan-Do-Review (PDR). This is a time when students are in control of their learning. They make their plan (alone or with others), carry it out during work time, and then review or reflect on their learning. The teacher’s role during PDR is to support each student, meeting the student’s level of development. The small classroom size allows for individualized attention across both grade levels.
The balance of the day is devoted to large group “mini” lessons, small group and individual work. This time could be devoted to a single content area or integrated content, such as with project based learning.
Adults as the Facilitators of Learning
The relationship the student has with his/her teacher is one of the most important predictors of achievement and learning. Students must believe that the climate of the class is fair, empathetic and trustworthy (Hattie, 2012). When students feel comfortable about taking a risk or making a mistake, and respected by peers, they become more emotionally open to learn.
If we want students to take ownership and initiative of their own learning and behavior, teachers share control, putting some choice and decision making in students’ hands. Conflict resolution and problem solving are considered learning opportunities with a gradual release of responsibility on the adult’s part.
Student active engagement in fulfilling the learning goals increases when the learning is relevant, relational, and challenging. A growing amount of research points to such engagement as particularly linked to favorable learning outcomes for minority
students who have been placed at risk of academic failure (Boykin, A. and Noguera, P., 2011). It is the teacher’s responsibility to continually monitor engagement levels and make adjustments if needed.
Adults provide encouragement and specific feedback while fostering a growth mindset. They support students to set their own goals and assess themselves. By providing models of exemplary and poor work, expectations become clearer to students.
Effective teachers know their students. They are aware of what the student already knows and builds new learning on this foundation, scaffolding when appropriate. By making learning visible and providing many opportunities to share thinking, teachers continually and authentically assess their students and adjust the learning design accordingly.
HighScope, Common Core, and Reading
HighScope and the Common Core State Standards are compatible in several ways:
- Reading is a component of English Language Arts (ELA) and is interwoven with other ways of communication: Speaking (oral language), Listening, Writing, Visual-graphics and thinking organizers, and Media (mostly digital).
- When the components of ELA are used in authentic ways through active learning, learning how to read develops naturally when children are developmentally ready to learn a particular new skill and apply/transfer prior learning to new situations.
- Learning how to read is “playful”. As children play with phonemes, letters and words, through stories, poetry, songs, games and drama they learn as they are having fun.
- Teachers support children and scaffold each child’s learning based on their interests and development. They model and facilitate by writing what children think and say, creating an environment rich with labels and other types of meaningful words (such as a word wall, personal dictionaries, anchor charts, song books, etc.)
- Vocabulary and concept development are fostered through concrete experiences, peer to peer interaction, and other intrinsically motivating experiences. Adults read-aloud daily to create a “love” for reading and develop comprehension skills and deeper thinking.
- Students know what they are expected to learn, are formatively assessed (through authentic means such as observations and work samples), provided feedback with encouragement and taught how to assess themselves. By using an assessment tool to monitor progress, you will be able to identify students who may require other ways and/or more time to learn, as well as those who are ready for more challenging (but still developmentally appropriate) work.
In a HighScope Kindergarten learning how to read happens all day long, including during Plan-Do-Review. You will not see many-if any-worksheets.
HighScope Kindergartens have a library of high quality picture books usually organized with covers out (and a variety of genres), student and family-made books, and a variety of organized materials to support students emergent writing.
HighScope teachers partner with parents to give them ideas of what they can do at home to strengthen all of the ELA skills and parents are welcome into the classroom to participate.
About our First-Grade
We continue building upon and advancing skills within the Common Core State Standards through the extremely creative and child directed High-Scope program which combines the arts, integrated and active learning, project based learning and individualized and small group scenarios. Spanish immersion and Conscious Discipline are also major components in Delmar’s programs.
Each child is involved in his/her learning process and self assessments. The teacher’s main role is to facilitate and scaffold the child’s learning while incorporating play and imagination through the area and center times. By observing and interacting with the students while they work in the areas, the first graders, who often serve as mentors, are able to teach their peers. Children from the different knowledge levels address questions among themselves, and when necessary, they direct these questions to the teacher, who is happy to contribute new knowledge.
We have implemented a Science lab in our classroom which we use to do experiments on a regular basis. Children are learning to question their environment, identify problems, and explore and observe in order to come to conclusions about problems in real life scenarios.
The advantages of such small classroom sizes are immeasurable and really do make personalized teaching across various ability levels a possibility!