Dig Deeper, Strike Gold

Student digs by the creek

The ability for students to dig deeply into curricula might sound like a luxury in a world driven by standardized tests that prize breadth over depth, but we know that "digging deep" is how you strike gold.

By Tracey Marks, Head of Lower School

When I think about progressive education and why I believe that it is the best way for teachers to teach and for children to learn, one of the characteristics that I identify as a critical part of this philosophy is that of depth. Progressive teaching and learning necessitates that children understand concepts deeply. This is accomplished through a focused approach that does not rush children to memorize facts or ideas, but, rather, encourages them to actively construct their own knowledge through hands-on exploration and time spent probing important questions and developing a strong understanding of a concept or topic of study. This process builds on foundational understandings and then extends them as new learning occurs. It is this vital process in which we engage children at Green Acres, keeping their developmental needs first.

One critical step of this process is keenly observing where children are in their learning of different subject areas and determining where extending and enriching their learning is needed. After students develop their foundational knowledge of a topic (and they each do this at different times and speeds), they work toward mastery, and, when this has been achieved, they are ready for enrichment and extension of that topic, providing them with an in-depth grasp of the concept studied that will solidify, endure, and support future learning.

Math and reading provide apt examples. Students may be able to memorize the process for dividing fractions by remembering that they can arrive at the correct answer by flipping the fraction upside down and multiplying the numerator and denominator, but that doesn’t mean that they understand why they need to do this. Similarly, students may memorize the steps to follow in long division, but a firm grasp of why the steps make conceptual sense may be missing. The same is true in reading. Children may be able to sound out words on a page, but that does not necessarily mean that they understand the meaning of what they are reading.

For this reason, we do not accelerate our curriculum; rather, we push students to go deeper in their knowledge of grade-level topics as we see that they are ready. We know that accelerating curriculum before children are ready to absorb it may enable them to memorize steps or facts, but that does not necessarily mean that they have a strong conceptual understanding of that subject. We teach so that children will strive to learn deeply and develop a thorough mastery of what they are learning. That, combined with the love of learning that teachers foster at Green Acres, is how we develop in children a firm foundation of knowledge and a readiness to learn more. ❖