Junior School Builds Foundations for Personalized Learning

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by Nancy Richards, Director of the Junior School

Prospective families visiting the Junior School as part of the admissions process often comment on the warm, joyful and invitational climate at the Junior School which has been created by staff to enhance a sense of belonging for young children.

Nurturing and supporting this kind of rich and joyful learning is at the heart of all we do as educators. In order to sustain it in the classroom, a professional learning community must be nurtured with the faculty, as well. Recent research points to the fact that teachers working collaboratively in a professional learning community creates a profound effect on the teaching and learning of children. For this effect to happen, a culture of collegial relations needs to be firmly in place- a culture of trust, respect, inclusion and support, as well as time and space for teachers to be learners, too!

One way of supporting this notion of a professional learning community is facilitating time for the Junior School teachers to spend time every week in Grade Meetings where home room and specialist teachers together explore how they might enrich the curriculum and make the necessary connections for children across subject disciplines. As teachers continue to personalize student learning, they need time to learn how to move beyond course-based delivery towards connected or what we call ‘interdisciplinary units of study’. The Junior School Grade Meetings provide such a time.

At the Grade 1 meeting, homeroom teacher Alison Galloway along with Gordon Chan, computer teacher, Diana Nason, teacher-librarian, Sharon Goodman, learning support teacher, and myself put our heads together to find ways enhance and enrich the Grade 1 Science inquiry project on bats.

by Alison Galloway

My weekly Grade Meetings are a source of inspiration and support. The energy that is generated from a group of teachers focused on creating an integrated, engaging inquiry unit is very exciting. At our last meeting when discussing a new unit on bats, I brought the children’s questions about bats to the meeting and we worked with these questions to brainstorm ideas. As colleagues, we discussed ways to integrate music, art and technology into the bat theme and came up with many creative ideas. I then took those ideas back to the children and had them brainstorm aspects of the unit that interested them.

The students were very enthused to be co-planners and came up with many imaginative ideas that the teachers hadn’t considered such as researching caves, forming a craft committee and inventing bat-themed games. That afternoon during their exploration time, children demonstrated initiative and curiosity by independently drawing bats, recording bat facts and taking it upon themselves to go to the library to find bat books. The positive energy from the Grade Meeting had transferred to the children and created a dynamic, personalized learning environment.

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