Inquiry and Research
The curriculum is guided by a social constructivist perspective, in which ideas emerge from the children’s questions, interests and intrinsic predispositions (their ways of being smart). These ideas are developed through negotiation with peers and teachers, and become the basis of investigative research projects.
Within the classroom, the focus is on collaboration. While differences between individuals are celebrated, there is an explicit understanding that each individual as a learner has a responsibility to the community. All learning that occurs initially in small groups comes back to the grade level group where it is shared and vetted. For example, First Graders shared stories they had written with the class in an “author’s circle.” The class was invited to notice and ask questions about plot, characters, and ending. Later, the authors reviewed videotapes of their circles and made decisions about changes with the help of feedback from their peers. Thus, the learning process is dynamic and shared as a community.
When children engage in inquiry, they pursue answers to a question that intrigues them. In the process, they generate hypotheses, theorize, choose effective tools for addressing problems and devise solutions in increasingly logical ways. They advance their understanding through collaborative exploration, by articulating and representing their ideas and theories.
When we represent an idea mentally, verbally, graphically (through drawing or painting, for example), musically, or through movement, we create an image of the idea for ourselves. In the process we clarify meaning and are able to build on the mental image. This is the process of learning. When we give children many media, or languages, through which to represent ideas (both their own and those of others), the opportunities for learning multiply and learning becomes a more efficient process.
Observation, Documentation and Reflection
Teachers carefully observe and document the children’s work, then revisit it with the children to support a process of reflection. Together, teachers and children use their reflections on the ongoing work as a way to return to problems and to identify points at which learning can deepen. Children gradually take over many of the efforts of documentation and reflection and learn to support themselves and the group.
Each teacher works in collaboration with a second teacher. In addition, the environment is considered a third teacher. The learning environment includes the physical site (the classroom, outdoor space, the school as a whole) and the materials and “provocations” (see below) available, as well as the social “site” (the nature of adult-student interaction, the expectations of students, and the culture of the class). These components of an “amiable environment” jointly create a context for efficient and joyful learning.
The environment is thoughtfully prepared with materials and experiences likely to “provoke” or spark interest and inquiry. These preparations are referred to as “provocations.”