Recently I had the privilege of observing teachers’ instruction in grades K-2 as part of Burlington supervision and evaluation program. In previous years observing in middle and high school classrooms, students noticed me with the telltale clipboard, but appeared uninterrupted from the task at hand. The older the class at Champlain, the more students seemed to understand my role. While kindergarteners saw another pair of hands, shouted hellos, showed their work, and asked for help, the second graders ignored my now-recognizable drill of sitting in a chair nearby or walking around to look at their progress, scrawling unintelligibly.
In one class, kindergarteners focused on three-letter “CVC words” (consonant, vowel, consonant, such as cat, dog, run, etc.), choosing crayons and pencils in rainbow colors. They sat in preselected groups at tables named for shapes. When their teacher announced, “1-2-3 eyes on me,” they stopped immediately to reply, “1-2 eyes on you” and listened for directions. Then they began an assessment: to try their best to write and draw in response to the “I like ______” statement.
In first grade, students learned all about penguins through multiple means. Their teacher engaged them in all learning modalities (whole-group, paired, and individual activities) and nearly every multiple-intelligence method (visual, interpersonal, intrapersonal, mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, and musical) while discovering the exciting world of penguins. Last Friday first graders presented their learning at an all-school assembly, complete with jokes and a dance that even the fifth graders joined!
The name of each of second graders’ table was a continent. On the rug together they craned their necks and raised their hands eagerly to answer their teacher’s questions based on the map of the world. Next she shared the names of countries from nearly every continent, from which students of the Burlington School District hail. Distinguishing between continents and countries was a key concept, and students colored specific countries on each page of an atlas booklet. Every student appeared hungry to learn all they could about our world.
In each of these three classes, student dug deep in areas that most adults pay little attention. How does a child’s brain learn to write, understand nature, and map our planet? These observations, a snapshot of dozens conducted since September, show that Champlain students learn their subjects in a thoughtful sequence, each lesson, unit, and year at a time. The facts and skills build up and spiral back, connecting between and across to ultimately establish a strong foundation. This foundation retains the upsurge of facts (such as U.S. History) and amassment of skills (like solving quadratic equations) in grades 6-12 and beyond.