EARLY ELEMENTARY K/1
Our curriculum is based on the Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and Michigan’s Social Studies Standards. We use integrated, hands-on thematic units to meet learning standards in a way that is age-appropriate and engaging for young children.
The thematic units incorporate all of the social studies and science standards for kindergarten and first grade. In addition, we integrate poems, art, environmental education, social justice education, and academic service-learning into the thematic units, as well some of the math and language arts goals.
Math and literacy 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 relevant ways. Additionally, math and language arts goals are incorporated into our daily routines such as morning meeting and calendar time and other teachable moments throughout the day.
Overall, constructivist and social learning theories guide our pedagogical approach in our multi age K/1 classrooms. We believe in nurturing the whole child. This means that in addition to academic skills, a great deal of emphasis is given on developing social and emotional skills. We teach conflict resolution skills and encourage cooperative learning.
Although we are not considered a play-based program, movement, drama, recess, and choice play are interspersed throughout the school day because we believe in the power of play and know that children actively learn through play.
Developmentally appropriate practices guide our teaching philosophy. We are knowledgeable about age related norms and skills, recognize individual differences in those norms and skills, and take into consideration the sociocultural influences on each child. This framework allows us to differentiate our curriculum to meet individual children where they are 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 if anything new happens to one part of a system, it will affect 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.
Families are updated on all assessments and student progress at parent-teacher conferences every Fall and Spring, and receive report cards in Winter and Summer. We use multiple measures to assess student progress throughout the school year. The DIBELS assessment is the only standardized test given to all K-1 students. DIBELS are individually administered measures of student skills in each of the key basic early literacy skills.The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) are a set of procedures and measures for assessing the acquisition of early literacy skills. We use the results of these assessments to inform our instruction and interventions.
Classroom based assessments are used for language arts, math, and theme. 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 also collect writing samples to demonstrate growth in writing and spelling.
In math, we assess and report on the development of “Big Idea” math skills. These are the foundational skills we want all children to master in order to be prepared for the next level of math. We also assess basic math facts with no stress, untimed tests a few times a year.
For our thematic units, informal assessments are used because we do not place value on children memorizing content facts in social studies and science. The emphasis, rather, is on their engagement and understanding of the overarching concepts. At the end of the unit we send home any individual work that was generated along with an overview detailing which learning goals were met through participation in projects, activities, and the reading of texts throughout the unit. Group projects related to the theme which are often too unwieldy to send home are displayed for parents at our Curriculum Celebrations in Winter and Spring.