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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.

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.

 

Collaborative Learning

In the real world, working well with others is critical. Rarely is there a job, project, or task that doesn't have a better result when the minds of multiple people come together rather than going at it alone. Interviews for jobs and schools often include the question, "Tell me about how you function on a team." 

The term "collaborative learning" refers to an instruction method in which students at various performance levels work together in small groups toward a common goal. Collaborative learning is a relationship among learners that fosters positive interdependence, individual accountability, and interpersonal skills, and critical thinking (Gokhale, 2012). 

Collaborative group work at PS1 is a core tenet of our philosophy around how we teach and learn. Our students collaborate daily. Our teachers collaborate with their partners and in their Clusters. Our administrators collaborate with each other, with parents, teachers, and students. Collaboration is at the heart of what keeps PS1 a vibrant learning community. 

Purely in terms of academic learning, we know that collaborative learning increases student academic knowledge acquisition and retention of higher-level cognitive activity and creative problem-solving. Research suggests that collaborative learning positively impacts verbal and mathematical tasks, procedural tasks, and unsurprisingly, students' self-esteem and positive attitudes about learning (Kuh et al., 2007; Johnson, Johnson, 2006, https://www.wabisabilearning.com/blog/how-collaborative-learning-activities-build-more-powerful-student-brains).

At PS1 collaborative groups are crafted thoughtfully, depending on the teachers' desired learning outcomes for the students. Students may be grouped with a social purpose in mind or an academic purpose or both. Teachers think about the academic and social elements that will promote the best possible outcomes for students in a group. 

PS1 students in all clusters learn that they have individual accountability to the group and understand that they are accountable for contributing their share of the work to facilitate the group's success. 

Our approach to collaborative learning is influenced by brain research. Research has proven that the modern human brain's primary environment is our matrix of social relationships. A human brain thrives on close relationships that provide learning.

Social benefits of collaboration:

  • Helps to develop a social support system for learners;
  • Leads to building diversity and understanding among students and staff; 
  • Establishes a positive atmosphere for modeling and practicing cooperation;

Psychological benefits of collaboration: 

  • Student-centered instruction increases students' self-esteem; 
  • Cooperation reduces anxiety, and;
  • Collaboration develops positive attitudes towards teachers; 

Academic benefits:

  • Promotes critical thinking skills; 
  • Involves students actively in the learning process; 
  • Classroom results are improved;
  • Models appropriate student problem-solving techniques

There are measurable responses that occur in the brain when working with others in a supportive and cooperative group. A release of dopamine happens during these activities. This neurotransmitter increases the feeling of pleasure, helping a child persevere and overcome challenges. The amygdala also activates. This area is part of the emotional-monitoring limbic system. It determines if stimulation goes to the prefrontal cortex, the seat of the higher cognitive brain, or the involuntary, reactive brain. Brain scans have shown that information learned among peers in an emotionally-supportive situation will be sent to the cognitive brain. (https://www.wabisabilearning.com/blog/how-collaborative-learning-activities-build-more-powerful-student-brains).

Through our approach to collaborative learning, PS1 students learn how to teach, help, support, applaud, and encourage one another to reach the group's goals. They learn how to challenge reasoning and conclusions constructively. Students develop and practice trust-building, leadership, decision-making, communication, and conflict management skills. 

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.

ZZZZZZZZ

 

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.

 

Additional Posts:

PS1 and Thematic Curriculum:

http://learn.psone.org/?p=165

Structure in a Progressive Classroom:

http://learn.psone.org/?p=154