The beginning of the school's 59th year saw the faculty embark on the fifth phase of our school-wide Curriculum Initiative. Two questions have guided our work this year: How do we know our boys understand what they are learning? and, How do we know our teaching is effective? To help us critically examine these questions the school invited Harvard University's Mary McFarland to join us in our work this year. Friday's professional development day was the third in a series of days spent with Dr. McFarland this school year.
Using a framework developed by Harvard's Project Zero, Teaching for Understanding, the faculty formed 17 multi-disciplined teams this past summer to target one unit to "reversion" in light of the framework during the fall and winter trimesters. The aim is to implement these units throughout the school this spring. Friday's work session focused on assessment, especially on-going assessment tools and strategies that aim not only to help determine what has been learned, but how deeply it is understood and how "assessment" can be used throughout a unit to gauge learners' progress, thereby informing instruction.
This Assessment phase of our school-wide Curriculum Initiative, the How questions, follow four earlier phases that focused on "mission" and "philosophy" first, then moved to What we teach at Saint David's (skills and concepts in each discipline at each grade), When we teach it (vertical alignment, curriculum mapping PK through 8th grade), Why we teach what we teach when we teach it (critical analysis, including recommendations for change). Following the fourth phase we began implementing recommended changes over a multi-year period. Throughout this initiative, the faculty have worked as curricular departments, in mixed discipline teams, mixed grade teams, and in random groupings. Our overall theme has been to improve the teaching learning process by balancing the training of memories with the education of minds.
Some of the more significant changes that have come out of this initiative to date include the earlier introduction of foreign language instruction at Saint David's, a school-wide Comprehensive Writing Program, the overhaul of the science program including a new program-wide focus on the "scientific method," the increase of science instruction time and the addition of new science labs; a new phonemic focused reading program in the early grades; reorganized physical education and athletic program that focuses more on early skill development balanced with "game time", including the addition of a new, exciting "virtual fitness" component, to name just a few.
It's an exciting initiative and Friday's work with Mary was another successful step in the process.