Academic Excellence:

Written By: 
Dana Gordon-Macey

Our academic programs are off to a great start at Kindle Farm this year! Classroom teachers returned to school energized and full of great ideas. Although our educational offerings extend far beyond what is offered in the classroom into the fields, the BMX track, the river with fishing pole in hand, the drumming studio, and everywhere we go throughout our day, we have done a great deal of work recently to extend and develop our classroom practice; our current students are lucky to receive the fruits of these labors!

Every two weeks, our educational staff members meet in what we call ‘Educational Alignment' meetings. These 75 minute meetings provide us with an opportunity to discuss our classroom practice and to agree to basic principles of instruction. Our focus areas this year are on ‘student as worker/teacher as coach' and ‘less is more;' these principles, taken from the Common Principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools ( keep us focused on providing instruction that encourages independent thought, collaboration and cooperation, and deep thinking. In defining these areas for ourselves, our educators have come up with the following:

 Student as Worker / Teacher as Coach:
• Project-based learning
• Real life
• Relevant learning
• Draw out their knowledge
• What do we need to get done and how?
• Problem Solving skills
• Let them know you believe in them
• Build from the positive
• Know baselines
• Utilize strengths
• Planning in advance
• Modeling
• Common goal
• Provide clear ground rules, expectations
• Provide feedback directly to student
• Empowers the student
• Provide opportunities for success and celebrate them
• Ensure skills are taught before asking them to use them
• Recognize when a student needs help, needs to take a step back, or needs to step up
• Students teach themselves by using prior knowledge and/or resources
• Prepare classroom to accommodate this type of learning (resources available, etc)

Less is more / Depth over coverage
• Covering fewer topics
• Teaching beyond the "test"
• Big ideas (details specific to preferences)
• Skills over facts
• Units-themes
• Essential Questions
• Doing instead of talking
• Letting the student figure it out on his own-leading
• Slowing down
• Teaching one thing three different ways
• The anchor in the head to which they hook their ideas
• Habits of Mind
• Working in the direction of their energy, not against it
• Waiting gives you deeper thoughts 

Each of us will keep these concepts at the forefront of our educational planning process. And to take it one step further, we will be spending time in others' classrooms to find evidence of these concepts!
During the ‘off' weeks for Educational Alignment, teachers meet in smaller groups with Special Education staff to explore issues related to IEP delivery, and general Special Education concepts and delivery. Teachers and Special Educators take time to review individual students and their educational goals, to discuss different strategies for differentiating classroom instruction, or to develop scaffolded curriculum. These meetings also enrich our skills to make sure that we are offering our students the best possible education.

Other exciting changes evident in our classrooms this year is the expansion of curricular offerings for our High School Students. We have moved from a model of providing full year courses on a three year cycle to one where every available subject is taught every year! This means that, regardless of when a student enters our High School program, he will be able to collect the needed courses toward graduation, whether he plans to stay at Kindle Farm or if Kindle Farm is a brief stop during his High School career.

All of this said, what would you see if you walked into a Kindle Farm classroom today? Here are some samples . . . .
• The Multi-Age classroom measuring their classroom to consider the area and cost of their recently installed carpets.
• Students in English picking out postcards to reflect the strengths they bring to an upcoming class project.
• Math students reviewing various math operations through collaborative efforts and guided by their classroom leader.
• Social Studies students setting short and long-term goals to help focus their endeavors in Social Studies.
• Science students using current information to track the changes in sunrise and sunset in order to engage in the process of problem-solving and considering what will happen next and why.
• Students in our Individual Needs program sharing their different approaches to determining equivalent fractions.
Community support and self-knowledge are still embedded into all that we do at Kindle Farm every day. As our classrooms expand and develop, we never lose our focus on our students as individuals. It is so exciting and enriching to watch each student's skills and confidence grow within the diverse opportunities for learning that have been developed and continue to grow at Kindle Farm. We are looking forward to a monumental year together!