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Teaching & Learning Blog

Learn more about PS1's academic program, philosophy, and curriculum through the lens of Nancy Harding, our Assistant Head for Teaching & Learning. The Teaching & Learning Blog features posts published several times throughout the year. See the latest posts below.

The WHY Behind Multi-Age Groupings

The WHY Behind Multi-Age Groupings

Most of us grew up in age-segregated classes, as did our parents and perhaps, our grandparents. This history makes it easy to assume that such a school structure is both natural and universal. The age-stratified culture in which we educate our children is actually a product of the 20th century.

Early in the history of the US, schools were one-room schoolhouses with age diversity. In the dedicated one-room school building that emerged in the eighteenth century, a full-time teacher would use individual and tutorial methods to instruct a group of 10 to 30 pupils ranging in age from 6 to 14 years.

This one-room classroom practice started to end in 1843 when Horace Mann, the Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, visited Prussia and saw schools in which children were “divided according to ages and attainments." This type of segregation seemed to him an excellent model for preparing a populace for the growing factory economy. By 1852, classrooms in the US were more narrowly segregated by age than ever before. Ability grouping, which is so much a part of how we envision classrooms, gained popularity after about 1920. This further reduced the variety present in classrooms.

In 1963, Goodlad and Anderson looked at the current research in child development and proposed that the rigid age/grade system was not designed to accommodate the realities of child development, including children's abilities to develop skills at different rates and at different levels. The graded system does not take into account differences in children's achievement patterns. Goodlad understood that learning is not linear and children typically progress at different rates in different areas of study and at different times in their development. A traditionally graded school assumes that all children will progress through each area of study at the same pace. In this system, a child has no freedom or flexibility to develop at the pace that is optimal for their needs. 

In a non-graded school like PS1, there is a longitudinal concept of curriculum and planned flexibility in grouping. We describe a student’s trajectory at PS1 as one seven-year experience. The curriculum includes continual and sequential learning, with behavior and content running vertically through the curriculum. Grouping is flexible and changes to meet student needs. Groups are organized around interest groups or work-study groups or achievement, or a combination of the three with some groupings being heterogeneous (mixed levels) in skills and other groups being homogeneous (similar levels) in skill levels. Teachers adjust their lessons to ensure that students grasp concepts, skills, and content through their entire educational journey.

Multi-age groupings are (and always have been) an integral part of the structure of the PS1 learning experience. Just as the research suggests, we see how our multi-age groups enhance learning on a daily basis. Year after year, and now generation after generation, parents come back and tell us that a two-year age range was the most important piece that made their children the well-rounded, well-spoken, confident, comfortable, agile people they have become.

Source: Author (2002). Title. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available:  http://fcis.oise.utoronto.ca/~daniel_schugurensky/assignment1/  (date accessed).




It seems straight forward. We can all picture balance. As a write this the 2021 Summer Olympics and Paralympics are happening. We watch gymnasts, swimmers, and soccer players balance their bodies in every direction to optimize their opportunity for success. If we look closely at our REALM model for social and emotional learning it provides us a guide for balance as well:

R: Routine
E: Energize
A: Appreciation
L: Lighten
M: Mindfulness

If we all practiced these all of the time we would, I am certain, feel balanced.

At PS1, balance relates to our commitment to see each student as a whole person and to help them understand and achieve academic, social, and emotional balance. We understand the duality of balance in terms of what we need as individuals and in within our community. In their seven-year journey at PS1, our students develop their own understanding of what they need to feel balanced within themselves and within the community. Our Vision Statement, “Celebrate the many, Build one,” supports this concept of balance between community needs and individual needs.

The underlying goal of balance is embedded in many PS1’s teaching practices. A commitment to teaching the whole child means that teachers strive to balance social-emotional with academic goals. In each classroom, we mix collaborative learning and individualized learning. There is also balance during the school day in terms of both active and quieter periods. 

Balance is something that we hope each individual child to understand, appreciate and achieve.










Balance is the result of collaboration and cooperation.










We value mental balance.
















Physical balance.















And social-emotional balance.









As we look forward to the 2021-22 school year, we will strive to create and maintain balance in the midst of a changeable environment. I am excited about our faculty and the balance of experiences and interests that they bring to our students. We remain the center of the seesaw, that holds steady.




At PS1 Pluralistic School, we celebrate childhood. What does this mean? It means that we understand that one’s childhood is a unique period of life. Erik Erikson, a renowned 20th-century child development psychiatrist and theorist, called this time in a child’s life Industry vs. Inferiority. Children between approximately 6 to 12 years old want to feel success and agency connected to their tasks. This ranges from feeling respected when discussing why an author would make a house disappear to making up their own mathematical word problems to writing and mailing letters to the president about climate change to making friends. A successful resolution of this stage produces children who are ready for the highs and lows of adolescence and the identity crises that it brings. They feel solid and secure within themselves.

Something that every educator, parent, and carer of children is thinking about is how this “year like no other,” will affect our children. The thinking and research will be ongoing. As we have said at PS1 since March of 2019, the social and emotional health and well-being of our students remains central. As we come to the end of the 2021 school year, I had a wonderful experience with some students in Olders that indicated that we have had success.

Last week, I enjoyed listening to a group of Olders students pitch their ideas for their end-of-the-year projects. These are passion projects and students get free choice about the topic. Some of the ideas were more thought out than others. Some were positively goofy. The passion was there in all of them, and all of them clearly communicated that these were the ideas and aspirations of children.

For each pitch, one or two students shared their ideas with their teachers and me. They ranged from writing a “great great” story to developing the best recipe for oatmeal cookies, from re-creating a TV show to animating the Norse myths. What was evident in each child’s pitch was their childness, their enthusiasm for their idea and its possibilities, their unique view of the project and of themselves.

When the pandemic hit, schools and educators were thrown a knotted mess of a curveball that upended our lives. We were not alone in wondering about how the pandemic was going to affect these children who are our students. What I saw this week is that however the pandemic impacted these students at PS1 it had not robbed them of their childhood. Their industry and belief in themselves is alive and well. The possibilities are endless, and they are ready to grow into happy, healthy adults. 

Scaffolding vs. Hovering: Tips to Support Your Child's Learning

Scaffolding vs Hovering: Tips to Support Your Child's Learning

It's been about 8 months since our world has changed. Parents have become our partners in education. In this partnership, there is no perfect formula... the most important thing to remember is that your relationship with your children is more important than being perfect at distance learning. We all want our children to become self-reliant learners...but how do we support this from home?





When we think about scaffolding, we might imagine supporting a structure until the foundation is secure.

When we think about hovering, we might imagine an object lingering or staying still in one place. 

If our goal is to support self-reliant learners, then we want to scaffold our children so that they will build a strong foundation for their learning future. 

The following are tips to support your child’s distance learning at home. This is meant to be a family tool-box of things to try. It is not comprehensive and not all of it will work for your family. Look at this as a menu and use what works for you.

· Expectations: Together with your child, set behavioral expectations for independent work and Zoom time and review them daily. 

· Goals and Progress: Write a simple list of activities that your child needs to complete each day. 

· Be solution-focused: Let your child know when and how they can ask for help -be close but not there. What are 3 things they can do before they come to you for help?

· Time management: Use of a timer can help your child to stay focused for a period of time. Start small!

· Managing Frustration: Help your child to describe a problem and express their feelings (I feel...,when...). Ask teachers and others for help.

· Connection: Each day, try to connect with your child without any distractions. Highlight positive experiences. If you have time, do an activity together that your child selects. 

Pandemic parenting is about your well-being and the well-being of your family. We acknowledge and honor the uniqueness of each family in our PS1 community and we hope that you will find these tips helpful.


Nancy and Genevieve

Co-Teaching at PS1

Co-Teaching at PS1

At PS1, two lead teachers in every classroom are central to our mission. This model of collaboration occurs at every level of the school. In the education research literature, two lead teachers in the classroom are called co-teachers. Co-teaching is defined as the practice of pairing teachers together to share the responsibilities of planning, instructing, and assessing students. In a co-teaching setting, the teachers are considered equally responsible and accountable for the classroom. Two teachers leading a class opens up many opportunities for students as well as the teachers. Two significant benefits of co-teaching are expanded opportunities for one to one interaction between students and teachers, and the chance to learn from teachers who have different ways of thinking and teaching.

In PS1's co-teaching model, lessons are more robust and creative, due to teachers sharing the planning process. Teachers support one another by complementing each other's strengths and weaknesses, building camaraderie, and dividing the classroom workload. Our values of collaboration and cooperation are not just instructed but modeled for students by the adults. This model of teaching is challenging! For it to work, partners must establish trust, develop and work on communication, share the chores, celebrate, and work together to creatively overcome the inevitable difficulties that enter any partnership. The teachers at PS1 have strong teaching partnerships. It is remarkable to see how the co-teaching model transfers to our Distance Learning Community Program (DLCP), illustrating the depth of trust and creative interchange between teaching partners.

I have seen examples of the power of partnerships in our DLCP throughout the school.

Before starting the DLCP, a teacher was quoted as saying, “The collaborative nature of the teaching partnerships means that teachers are never complacent. I constantly see innovation within the classroom. Innovation and examining practice and making small adjustments for kids and each other.” This was never more evident in our jump into distance learning.

In the first days of our DLCP, I noticed that during whole and half-group meetings, one teacher was interacting with the students and focused on the lesson. The other teacher was managing the new Zoom details-raising hands, muting mics, virtual backgrounds clicking on and off, etc. PS1 teaching teams did this organically since they are used to co-teaching.

In one class, one teacher was presenting the lesson to the class and sharing her screen, while the other teacher was guiding the conversation so that the discussion among the students about the lesson was relatively seamless. Since we had no warning that we were jumping into a DLCP, these skills were not taught. Teachers who work in partnerships naturally come to rely on each other and “divide and conquer” to meet the needs of their students. In planning their DLCP, teachers planned who was going to do what, just as they do in their on-site classroom. What was remarkable was how well it worked without any time  for “practice.”

In another class, when teachers are running a book group, they are writing students' thoughts on the Google page, which serves as the "board" to collect ideas. Even though teachers are working separately in small groups, and cannot see each other, when they write on the board, students can see everyone’s ideas from both groups. This type of collaboration requires an extraordinary give and take between the teachers who cannot see each other and who are sharing a virtual space while making room for all of the students’ ideas in one place and giving attention to a specific small group of students.

Sometimes, in a Zoom meeting, one teacher's tech freezes or glitches, and the teacher partner picks up the thread of the class without missing a beat.

Teaching is a process, and learning is its goal. When education is most successful, both teachers and students learn. Students and teachers (and administrators) learning and growing together is the culture of PS1. Relationships are a core value. The co-teaching model that provides strong relationships between teaching teams is central to our ability to provide high-quality education whether it is on-site or through our DLCP.


Additional Posts:

PS1 and Thematic Curriculum:


Structure in a Progressive Classroom: