by Joel Hawes, Lower School Director
The early years of student learning at Berwick build upon the excitement that children naturally bring to school experiences. Lower School teachers enhance this childhood wonderment by purposefully aligning individual curiosity with a vibrant and deep curricular program that aligns skills-based learning with essential problem-solving approaches.
An effective interplay between curricular experiences is essential in providing students with a well-rounded foundational program. While a focus on whole child learning can be found within most elementary programs, the manner in which these objectives are organized and aligned ultimately distinguishes one school from the next. A crucial Lower School program differentiator involves Berwick’s math and reading programs. These core subject areas promote building-block skills and problem-solving approaches necessary within the multi-dimensional objectives of 21st century thinking and learning. As is true throughout the Lower School, we want our students to become effective readers and mathematicians, who are not satisfied with simply learning rote skills or memorizing isolated facts. We help our students use reading and math objectives to engage in higher-level thinking that includes asking essential questions and solving complex problems.
The process of faculty choosing effective curricula and undertaking professional development experiences is a necessary first step. The curriculum can be considered both a time budget and a philosophical statement, involving what subject matter will be taught and, in turn, how it will be taught. Math and reading, for example, are given the greatest amount of weekly instructional minutes in our curriculum for obvious pedagogical reasons. Meanwhile, a curriculum would be meaningless without a dedicated group of faculty who bring it to life by combining pedagogical talents with a dedicated approach. Faculty purposefully connect individualized student assessment to responsive teaching via formative (short-term) and summative (long-term) assessments, including math chapter pre- and post-tests, reading fluency updates and (in grades three and four) independent school ERB standardized assessments.The Lower School class structure approach to math class and reading class instruction allows for small-group leveled instruction as students move through the division.
Math in Focus (Singapore Math) is a program that offers a series of yearly units with impressive depth and rigor. Math in Focus also provides coherent and sequential teaching tools, ranging from consistent problem-solving strategies to supportive technology use. The progression of concrete to pictorial to abstract concepts speaks to the evolving thought processes of elementary math learners and varied skills, such as measuring, observing and counting, are transferrable to subject areas across the curriculum.
Faculty pursue ongoing professional development training to become highly skilled practitioners of the various skills and approaches within the math program. Berwick was the host site for a Math in Focus workshop this summer, a conference that was attended by a number of Lower School faculty with other New England-area teachers.
The multifaceted reading program uses small-group literacy classes as the foundational experience for this subject area. With the support of homeroom and literacy teachers, we typically are able to organize these leveled literacy groups in a one-teacher-to-five-student configuration. We use the Fountas and Pinnell and Lucy Calkins reading programs and resources as our instructional base, in order to maximize student learning with systematic lessons and materials. These objectives support teacher alignment from philosophical oversight to practical logistics. Most importantly, this structure gives us a common ground for program decision-making and enables us to fluidly advance students from one literacy small-group to another, based on reading progress. While skills progression is essential, the engagement of reading meaningful literature within a supportive student-teacher group proves to be the ultimate reading program success.
Students are exposed to multifaceted connections within their math and reading programs, which promote the ultimate goal of crossing subject-area boundaries in order to develop a more holistic awareness of math and reading applications. In the Lower School, these foundational subject areas highlight students’ joy for making educational discoveries both in present and future learning moments. Ultimately, the manner in which these subject areas connect across the curriculum is just as important as their development in isolation. An overarching goal of the Lower School is to develop flexible thinkers, who view learning not as material to cover but as material to discover.