• 21st Century Elementary Initiatives

    NOTE: Portions of the information listed here no longer apply.

    Multiage Instruction

    What is multiage instruction?
    District 41 is multiage in grades four and five in literacy/social studies. It intends to be multiage in 2014-2015 in grades two and three in literacy/social studies. Multiage is a general term that has different meanings in different school systems. In District 41, it means grouping students strategically by learning needs rather than by chronological age alone. To create these groupings, the school staff looks collaboratively at individual student needs from an academic and social-emotional standpoint. They look at data from ISAT, MAP and reading assessments; they share staff observations; and they look at input from parents. Students are in Level III (grades 4 and 5) for two years during which time they cover the appropriate Common Core Standards. To the observer, multiage classrooms look much like traditional classrooms, with kids of similar age and development moving along at the best pace for each one of them.

    How does it benefit children?
    To see why multiage groupings work, it helps to be familiar with the workshop model the district has been using as its structure for the last six years, and with the literacy/social studies modules that are a basis for instruction. In the workshop approach, students spend some of their time in whole class work, some in independent work, and some in small guided learning groups where they are with similar learners. Guided learning is when the teacher can deeply differentiate to student needs and help them achieve mastery. Our student learning data shows that learning needs among fourth and fifth graders are similar; looking at that larger number of students together (multiage)  gives us more flexibility to ensure that every child has other like learners to be grouped with for  guided learning. At the same time, we are better able to make sure that classroom teachers have a  manageable number of guided groups within a diverse range of learners in the classroom. The guided groups  are flexible and teachers can move students from one to another if needed. The new Common Core standards lend themselves to a multiage approach in literacy and social studies and the literacy/social studies modules are designed around essential questions and take students through the standards in the integrated way the  Common Core suggests. There are eight modules for Level II (grade 2 and grade 3) and eight for Level III  (grade 4/5) delivered in the same rotation across the district.

    What does that mean to me as a parent?
    Parents are usually the first to notice that their child’s growth and development is on a continuum, and to observe that a birthday does not herald an abrupt increase in maturity or knowledge. Their children play with kids both younger and older than themselves and are in multiage groups in their families, neighborhoods, sports teams and so forth. School has been the rare place where students have been sorted by “manufacture date” as it’s sometimes described. As always, we encourage parents who have questions about their child’s setting to talk to the teacher and/or the principal. Our mutual priority is to do what is best for each learner.

    Teacher Specialization

    What is teacher specialization?
    Teacher specialization, sometimes called content specialization, simply means teachers who focus on a particular subject. Core content teachers in grades two through five specialize in either Literacy/Social Studies or in Math/STEAM*. We know that children learn best when they make connections in their learning; the district integrates the Common Core Standards in authentic, learner-centered instructional practices through its literacy/social studies modules and its STEAM* approach. Literacy is the foundation of all learning, and teachers embed literacy into their instruction, regardless of what subject they teach. *Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math.

    How does it benefit children?
    Teachers specialize to better address individual learning needs and take children deeper into their subjects. Whenever possible, teachers choose their area of specialization based on their interest in and passion for a subject. We all know children who are whizzes in literacy and struggle in math—or vice versa—and their needs in one area are quite different from their needs in the other; specializing allows teachers to focus on their subject and on the instructional strategies that work best with that subject.

    With the advent of the new Common Core Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, school has gotten more rigorous; expectations are roughly a grade-level higher than they were before. This means that elementary teachers must master more content knowledge than previously, especially in math. At the same time, the range of learning needs in today’s classrooms is becoming more diverse every year. A teacher who specializes brings to this range of learning needs strong content knowledge and strategies specifically for his or her area of expertise in order to meet students where they are and help them take flight.

    What does that mean to me as a parent?
    Your child sees many caring adults during the course of their day at school: the office staff, the principal, their core content teachers; perhaps a different teacher for WIN time (targeted help); teachers for physical education, art and music; the school nurse; and possibly a social worker, psychologist or therapist. Having two main teachers for their core subjects strengthens that network of caring adults, each one of whom knows your child as a learner and an individual, and who collaborates with others on your child’s behalf.

    Elementary STEAM

    What is STEAM?
    STEAM stands for an integrated, authentic approach to teaching Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math, the arts being integrated when appropriate. STEAM teachers also extend instruction in reading, writing, speaking and listening. STEAM fosters innovation and often involves handson projects that take days or weeks. Ideally, classes have access to a larger space where their projects can live while students are working on them; and most of our elementary schools have found some space to designate as “Innovation Labs.” Students still take their regular classes in math, art and music; those subjects are reinforced in the integrated STEAM approach.

    In 2013-2014, we will use our existing science curriculum; there will be opportunities to integrate other subjects such as art, as we have already begun doing. In 2014-2015, we expect to have our new STEAM curriculum that is aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards.

    *The term “STEM” is common in the education world—the same idea only without the emphasis on the arts.

    How does it benefit children?
    STEAM helps to make learning real for kids as they make connections among the various subjects. It’s active, hands-on learning that lets students see the relevance and the relationships of various skills as their learning develops before their eyes. Like PBL, STEAM fosters students’ ownership and leadership in their own learning. Students don’t need to be told when they are on the right track because they see it in their work. The STEAM approach fosters the inner scientist that lives within every child.

    What does that mean to me as a parent?
    Parents, especially those of students who experience restlessness in school, may notice that their child is more engaged in their learning. Most children thrive when they experience some autonomy and control over their learning, and when they can be physically as well as intellectually engaged in meaningful work. Parents may notice their children looking at their everyday world differently and more inquisitively.

    WIN Time

    What is WIN time?
    WIN stands for What I Need, and is a highly individualized time in the day for students in grades 1 through 5 during which students get extra help, extensions or enrichment. First graders have one WIN time, and students in grades 2-5 have two: there is a WIN time for literacy/social studies and a WIN time for math/STEAM. Teachers collaborate closely to plan for this time. WIN evolved from the elementary schools’ work with Targeted Learning Time, during which students across a grade level were regrouped according to learning needs.

    How does it benefit children?
    WIN time helps us move toward our goal of an individualized learning plan for every child and providing an approach that makes the most of each child’s strengths and helps them to overcome challenges. Whether a child is ready for enrichment or extension, or needs more time to master something difficult, WIN provides daily times for individualized learning.

    What does that mean to me as a parent?
    WIN time is one more strategy that demonstrates to parents that their child’s teachers understand and respond appropriately and effectively to their child’s uniqueness as a learner.

    Problem-Based Learning

    What is PBL?
    PBL stands for Problem-Based Learning (or Project-Based Learning) in which students identify a real-world challenge to solve or address. PBL combines the theoretical with the practical as teachers facilitate children in their exploration and discovery allowing the children to participate in creating their learning goals and charting their path. Scores of District 41 teachers have been trained in this inter-disciplinary and collaborative approach. Some recent examples are students researching the local impact of the Emerald Ash Borer, creating resources and developing a tree-replacement plan; students inventing working weather instruments; students investigating the impact of soil variables on plant growth; and students creating model communities comprising rural, suburban and urban settings. Regardless of topic, fundamental literacy skills are embedded in the children's work.

    How does it benefit children?
    In PBL, teachers gradually release tight control and take on the more challenging task of facilitating learners in their own journey by helping them set goals, assess their progress and reflect on and share their learning. PBL helps children gain background knowledge that makes specific learning meaningful, and helps them gain lifelong skills such as being a productive group member, disciplining themselves to stay on task, developing the confidence to speak up, and learning to present their findings to others with poise.

    What does that mean to me as a parent?
    Parents will see their children excited and engaged in their PBLs as their innate curiosity and creativity grows. Sometimes parents will be invited to participate in PBL work as local experts, or to see classroom PBL presentations. For at home projects, parents will learn (as their child's teachers have learned) to relinquish control and develop their own facilitative skills.

    D41 Learner Characteristics

    What are the District 41 “Learner Characteristics?”
    The District 41 Learner Characteristics are 30 skills, applications, habits and attitudes that are essential for success in the 21st century. The explosion of knowledge and the demands of the 21st century mean that educators must go far beyond “dispensing knowledge” if they are to help students be successful in school, life and career. The District 41 Learner Characteristics address intellectual and personal characteristics. They are the bedrock for everyone in our learning community and the lens through which we view our goals and behavior, whether we are teachers, administrators or students. The district adopted the Learner Characteristics in 2006 and they have been embraced throughout the system with creativity and confidence, helping students to become lifelong learners who will thrive in an increasingly global society.
    How do they benefit children?
    The Learner Characteristics are embedded in everything we do. They help children become engaged thinkers who ask critical questions, recognize and use relevant information to solve complex problems. They help students learn how to look beyond their own environs with a global perspective so they will be able to navigate a rapidly changing world. Just as important are personal qualities: we want our children to develop initiative, cultivate intrinsic motivation, engage enthusiastically, productively and optimistically with others, value beauty and the arts and welcome challenges with confidence and resilience.
    What does that mean to me as a parent?
    During Parent Teacher Conferences, your child’s teachers may talk with you about the goal setting and self-assessments your child has done around the Learner Characteristics. By becoming familiar with the Learner Characteristics you will be able to reinforce them at home, acknowledging your child for demonstrates them, modeling them yourself and setting expectations that take them into account; in other words, to be alert for ways to incorporate them naturally into home life.

    Guided Learning

    What is guided learning?
    Guided learning means that part of a student’s instruction will be in small, flexible groups of like learners where he or she can be challenged but not overwhelmed. Over the course of the year, children develop and they may get out of sync with their group; in that case the teacher may move them to another guided group that suits their needs. Guided learning has been part of the district’s literacy instruction for several years; a similar approach to math is being incorporated into our schools as well but is not fully established.

    How does it benefit children?
    Guided learning helps teachers provide students with those instructional strategies and supports that are best for each child and to adjust these as children learn—whether they are hitting their stride, experiencing a learning plateau or facing an obstacle. Guided learning groups are designed so that children feel comfortable to take the time they need and also to take risks; students are in a just-right setting of like learners that lets them master, move on and soar.

    What does that mean to me as a parent?
    Parents can feel confident that the teacher is looking at their child as a unique learner and as a whole child. Their child’s teacher is basing their grouping decisions on specific data on student performance as well as their insights and observations.

    Elementary School at a glance (2013-14)

  • Learning, playing, making friends!
  • Half-day program
  • 3 programs: Early Childhood Special Ed, At-Risk, and Blended (Blended includes Special Ed, At-Risk, and tuition-paying typically-developing students)

  • Kindergarten
  • Half-day program
  • Curriculum aligned to the Common Core
  • Dual Language (an option only at Churchill); new program will “roll up” to add a grade each year).
  • Students who are still acquiring English will receive ESL services instead
  • Art, music, PE

  • First grade
  • Curriculum aligned to the Common Core
  • Art and music weekly, PE daily
  • Spanish daily (new program will “roll up” to add a grade each year); students who are still acquiring English will receive ESL services instead

  • Second grade
  • Curriculum aligned to the Common Core
  • Students have two main teachers: a literacy/social studies teacher, and a STEAM/math teacher
  • Art and music weekly, PE daily

  • Third grade
  • Curriculum aligned to the Common Core
  • Students have two main teachers: a literacy/social studies teacher, and a STEAM/math teacher
  • Art and music weekly, PE daily

  • Fourth grade and fifth grade
  • Curriculum aligned to the Common Core
  • Students have two main teachers: a literacy/social
  • studies teacher, and a STEAM/math teacher
  • Multiage groupings of 4/5 students during literacy/social studies
  • Art and music weekly, PE daily (may be 4/5)

  • LEARNER Characteristics
    30 skills, habits and attitudes that underlie everything we do.

    TEACHER Specialization
    Teachers in grades 2-5 specialize in their subjects in order to take their students deeper.

    MULTIAGE Learning
    In multiage classrooms (4/5 literacy/ social studies), teachers focus on learning needs rather than chronological age.

    GUIDED Learning
    Each day, instruction is a combination of whole class, individual and small guided groups of similar learners.

    WIN time
    Students receive enrichment or interventions in small groups during What I Need (WIN) time.

    PBL Project-Based Learning
    Teachers connect subjects to each other and to the real world using Project-Based Learning.

    Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math are integrated when possible. Math, art and music are also taught separately.