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 Importance of Sleep

The start of school is an exciting time for students, teachers, and parents. We buy school supplies, and maybe new shoes! It is also a big transition from lazy summer hours and late nights to a routine that will maximize student learning. This first blog of the year is about the connection between a good night’s sleep and learning. Our grandparents and probably their grandparents would say that this is a given. Children need a good night’s sleep in order to have a good day. As in many areas of education, neuroscience is now supporting what we at PS1 already knew.

Healthy sleep appears to be a pre‐condition for learning and in turn, consolidates and enhances memories, helping to integrate them into existing neural networks. A growing body of knowledge shows that sleep enhances memory processing and, conversely, that sleep disruption can result in learning deficits. (Sigman, Pena, Golding, Ribeiro, 2014)

What is vastly different between our grandparents' lives and those of our children is that increasingly, sleep is vulnerable to disruption from features of our environment that would not have concerned them, such as 24-hour lights, sound stimuli, and the pervasiveness of screens (Hill, Hogan, Karmiloff-Smith,2007).  Children's bedrooms may be inadequate sleep environments, stocked with capability for 24-hour stimulation and communication, in the form of music systems, mobile phones, and the internet.

In particular, screen time close to bedtime has been associated with bedtime resistance, difficulty falling asleep, anxiety around sleep and sleeping fewer hours  

Poor or inadequate sleep can lead to mood swings, behavioral problems such and cognitive problems that impact on their ability to learn in school (Dewald, Meijer, Oort, Kerkhof, Bogels, 2010).

Establishing a consistent bedtime routine is important. The routine should ideally start at the same time every night. As soon as the sun goes down, start to “wind down” the household.

·        Dim the lights

·        Stop use of electronics/screens at least an hour before bed

·        Limit caffeine

·        Take a warm bath

·        Do a quiet family activity such as reading a short book

·        If your child wakes up during the night, walk them back to their room with as little commotion as possible

·        Set a wake-up time for when the child is allowed to leave his or her room. The child can play quietly until that time if desired.



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).


A Virtual Toast to PS1 Teachers

Summer days are long, but summer still speeds by.

Enjoy your time with your children. They are wonderful.

For this last blog of the 2018-19 school year, I want to present a virtual toast to the teachers at PS1 Pluralistic School.

Along with the comprehensive progress reports teachers just finished writing about the development of each child, teachers also write detailed self-reflections about their teaching each year at this time. They are long, about eight pages, and cover a wide variety of aspects of teaching and learning. It is my privilege to meet with individual teachers and talk about their work and these reflections. Every teacher acknowledges their strengths and examines their areas for growth. They are introspective and think about how they are going to study over the summer. Growing and learning are integral to who they are as professionals.

Many of the classrooms have created special mini-units for these last few weeks to keep students engaged and focused as they get summeritis. Walking into classrooms, I see students who are engaged and focused.

When the students leave for the summer, the teachers will attend professional development, clean-up their classrooms, and start to brainstorm curriculum ideas and themes for next year.

It is an honor to work with the teachers at PS1. Please join me in a virtual toast to them.


Studio Stewardship

Social Emotional Learning at PS1 (SEL) begins a soon as our students enter the school in Youngers. The program is ingrained at each cluster level, with teachers supporting students’ SEL in numerous ways. In the Olders cluster, the Studio Stewardship program supports a culmination of this learning for our students. The Studio Stewardship aspect of the SEL program is guided by Genevieve Mow, our Child Development Specialist and Chris Kuzina, The Studio director. This blog, written by Genevieve and Chris, provides an overview of the program.

Studio Stewardship has two main components. One component of the program is for Olders students to practice their leadership skills in an experiential setting with Chris. The other component, led by Genevieve and one of the classroom teachers, is designed to enhance students’ attitudes and beliefs about themselves, their relationships with others, and their education. The sixth-grade equivalent students participate in Studio Stewardship from September through Spring Break. After Spring Break, the fifth-grade equivalent students begin the program.

Chris: I mentor the Olders students, helping them work in the Youngers and Bridge classrooms as well as in The Studio. This year, Olders worked directly with Youngers on their various writing, reading and math centers. They also worked with the Bridge classes to help them with their Studio science lessons related to physics. This leadership gives Olders the opportunity to learn alongside and give guidance to their younger peers on a variety of different projects and learning goals. We are very proud of the relationships that are forming between age groups and the service that is being performed around campus. This not only helps our Olders students begin to value the power of generosity, but it also allows us to see where and in what capacities these students feel inspired in growing their leadership abilities and at the same time experiencing self and social awareness.

Genevieve: I meet with students together with one classroom teacher from each class to provide a structured forum and space for students to process their thoughts and feelings as they transition to adolescence. The groups are small to provide a space for honest and thoughtful conversation. There is a clear roadmap for discussion including managing stress, digital citizenship, values, and the upcoming transition to middle school. Students can also bring up other topics of interest as they arise.

In the class, the teacher and I sit in a circle with the students. Each class begins with an initial “check-in” to provide an opportunity for anyone to ask a question or bring up a subject to discuss. The conversation will always reference the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (www.casel.org), five core competencies, which are:

1.    Self-Awareness:

2.    Self-Management

3.    Social Awareness

4.    Relationship Skills

5.    Responsible Decision Making

Through discussion and role-play, art and games students learn about themselves, develop in their understanding and management of emotions to show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships with peers, and explore how to make responsible decisions. We hope that providing this learning environment for students to discover and discuss their feelings provides each of them the foundational skills that they will take with them to middle school.



In her book, Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word, Barbara Blackburn (2008) states, “Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels.” To create an academically rigorous environment, teachers must help students develop the capacity to understand content that is complex, ambiguous, provocative, and personally or emotionally challenging.

As I prepared this blog for publication, I walked through each classroom to find evidence of rigor. To provide a sense of continuity, I include here examples of rigor from Youngers to Olders, specifically in the subject area of Writing.

In Youngers, students wrote about the features of non-fiction text. This is the culmination of a long process in which students are required to identify characteristics of non-fiction text and to understand their purpose. From books about Antarctica to Matter, students are reading and writing to understand the specific structure of non-fiction text and the value of non-fiction to provide information. Rigor is evidenced in the varied levels of text that students read. Students wrote multiple drafts to address specific learning goals, from scribing letters correctly to ordering their ideas. On an ongoing basis, teachers meet with each student individually throughout the week to review their drafts and go over expectations. These one-on-one conferences ensure that students incorporate new concepts and provide a rich opportunity for each student to progress.

In Bridge, students wrote poetry inspired by paintings that they created. I include some here:


As you read these poems, notice the careful imagery, rhythm of the language, and sophisticated vocabulary. Teachers base their learning goals on the Teachers College Reading program to provide students with clear expectations and standards. In writing these poems students experienced multiple opportunities to move through the different stages of the writing process to take their pieces from rehearsal to publication. The finished product that you see here reflects the arduous process that an author goes through.

In Middles, students wrote non-fiction research reports about Monarch Butterflies. These reports are individual, detailed, and fact-checked. Teachers and students examined a rubric together that offered students detailed explanations for expectations. An educational rubric is a way to communicate expectations of quality around a task. They are typically divided into distinct sections that explain and illustrate the properties or characteristics on which the task is going to be evaluated.

In Olders, students worked to strengthen their understanding of inference and the importance of using text to support one’s argument. Looking at specific chapters of a novel, Olders students wrote about the inferences that they were making from the text and supported their arguments with specific and concrete examples. Once again, students were aware of the expectations and precisely what was required to create publishable-quality papers.

One bi-product of rigor may be cognitive disequilibrium. Cognitive disequilibrium occurs when there is a mismatch between what a student is currently thinking and new information that may not “fit in” to that way of thinking. This can be initially uncomfortable for learners and may result in a temporary dissatisfaction, or a feeling of unease. Equilibrium is restored when students expand their thinking to incorporate these new concepts.

This blog offers several examples of the academic rigor that takes place daily in our classrooms, from Youngers to Olders. The essential components of rigor: content acquisition, critical thinking, relevance, integration, application of concepts, long term retention, and student ownership of the learning is essential to all of the work we do at PS1.

Additional Posts:

PS1 and Thematic Curriculum:


Structure in a Progressive Classroom: