The Middle Circle groups include third and fourth graders, or generally eight to ten year olds.
Vertical grouping – At The School in Rose Valley, students above kindergarten are intentionally grouped in classrooms spanning two grades to create vertical or “family groups.” This kind of grouping means that teachers have most students for two consecutive years, allowing them to get to know and understand the students in deep ways that inform their teaching. Students experience years when they are the new, younger members of a group, and years when they are the leaders and mentors.
Family grouping also means that there is less emphasis in the classrooms on any particular level of skill or learning material. Students are viewed more as individuals with unique strengths and challenges. Teachers meet the students wherever they are in each area of their development, and teach them individually or in small groups exactly what they need to be learning next.
All elementary classrooms at The School in Rose Valley are similarly equipped, though the arrangements are as individual as the teachers and students are themselves. Consistent basic features of the rooms are direct products of the school’s progressive philosophy and pedagogy.
Child-centered spaces – Just like plants and animals, children require space and light to flourish. All classrooms at The School in Rose Valley have large windows facing woods or fields, and at least one exit to the outdoors. Our classrooms also provide children with spaces that meet their basic physical and emotional needs. There are cozy nooks where they can retreat when they’re tired or overwhelmed, open spaces where they can build unobstructed, spaces to share and spaces to call their own.
Meeting areas – Creating a strong classroom community is a serious focus of our curriculum, so each classroom has a cleared, carpeted space large enough for the whole group to gather in a circle. Whether they are meeting to go over the day’s schedule, listen to a story read aloud or to discuss an issue going on at recess, meeting is a time to learn the importance of active listening and group participation.
Classroom libraries – Each classroom has its own library of age appropriate fiction and non-fiction books because it is important for children to have immediate access to a wide variety of reading choices. Students also have access to the school library for a wider selection of books and periodicals.
Work tables – At The School in Rose Valley we use work tables instead of individual student desks. Learning is often a social activity. Students’ conceptual understanding of new ideas becomes much deeper when they work together with others, show their work or simply verbalize what they have learned by sharing their thinking with someone else. Seating students at tables enables cooperative and group inquiries and problem solving. It also encourages students to see what others are doing and to ask each other for ideas or help. Six students working together at a table may be a little noisy, but the interactions they are having with each other enrich all of their experiences.
Materials – The materials provided in each classroom invite creativity, using one’s imagination, social engagement and learning. Teachers stock plentiful and diverse art materials, and often collect promising objects from nature or recyclables. Many classrooms have musical instruments for the students to play on and science tables for them to explore. Because much of the teaching and learning is literally “hands-on,” rooms have lots of blocks, counters, scales, calculators, etc. for the students to use formally in class and informally in play.
Blocks – Children do not outgrow the desire to build, and even young adolescents benefit from the activity. There are blocks in every classroom, located in a space where the students may build and the constructions may stay up indefinitely. Building with large wooden blocks helps students develop motor skills and concepts in mathematics and engineering. Because the materials and space are limited, block building usually engages groups of children, giving them opportunities to develop their social skills in sharing, negotiating and problem solving.
Playthings – So much of life these days is focused on hurrying children and preparing them for whatever is coming next. At The School in Rose Valley, we treasure childhood and recognize the inherent value of what children choose to do when they have a choice. Play engages children’s hearts and minds. It allows them to pursue their interests and to recharge their batteries for the demanding work of school.
For these reasons, all of our classrooms provide the students with great open-ended playthings such as doll houses, building materials and dress-ups. The teachers give the students time and space to use the playthings and they encourage them to expand their play repertoire. Teachers observe the students’ play, note themes and tendencies, and capitalize on what they learn about the individual students to inform what and how they teach.
The curriculum at The School in Rose Valley encompasses every aspect of children’s development. It includes specific goals and suggested teaching methods and activities covering:
Physical Development (General Health, Motor Skills and Development, Self-Care Skills, Activity, Focus and Attention Span);
Emotional and Social Development (Emotional Resilience and Well-Being, Social Skills, Group Participation, Self-Discipline and Conflict Resolution Skills);
Learning Disposition and Interests (Self Knowledge and Personal Interests, Learning Attitudes and Dispositions, Learning Behaviors & Abilities, Thinking Skills, Study Skills, Information Literacy);
Language Arts Development (Receptive and Expressive Language, Reading Interest and Engagement, Decoding, Sight Reading and Fluency, Reading Comprehension, Writing Interest and Engagement, Creative and Expository Writing, Encoding and Spelling, Handwriting and Typing, Grammar, Punctuation and Paragraphing, Editing and publishing);
Mathematics Development (Mathematics Interest and Engagement, Reasoning & Problem Solving, Number Sense, Operations & Computation, Algebra, Geometry and Measurement, Data Collection and Analysis); and
Social Studies Development (Individuality and Community, Culture, People, Places, and Environments, Time, Continuity, and Change, Civics and Governance, Economics).
In each area of the curriculum, SRV has developed rigorous Standards and Benchmarks for individual student achievement, and these meet or exceed state and national standards in the subjects where such standards exist.
The Overall Curriculum spirals, introducing concepts and skills at one level, and revisiting them again and again as the students grow and learn. The students’ understanding becomes deeper and their skills become increasingly fluent as they go into greater depth, review and practice what they learn. The curriculum is age appropriate, stretching young minds without overwhelming them, and addressing the interests and issues that appeal to each age group. Some aspects of the curriculum content are unusual, and all the standard topics and skills that children need to learn to be prepared for future school settings are included.
The curriculum is also dynamic, in that the teachers are constantly seeking to engage students’ interests and inquiries in the classroom. The discovery of a snapping turtle laying eggs in the garden may inspire an impromptu study of local reptiles. Or a student’s personal passion for weaving or trip to Mexico may change a group’s planned social studies theme. Emergent curriculum such as this allows teachers to cover the same overarching concepts and key skills through studying something that has captured the students’ interest. When the students are interested, teaching and learning are easier and more engaging.
Some special activities that Middle Circle groups have done in recent years include:
An integrated study of Malaysia that included work in literacy, math, social studies, art and science.
A student-inspired and -driven project to raise money for victims of the Haitian earthquake.
An annual performance of a traditional Scottish sword dance.
An overnight in tents at the school.