In addition to supporting students through individualised instruction, we create student-centred classrooms by putting the impetus on the students to formulate questions and find the answers themselves. Paradoxically, this requires more work and careful preparation on the part of teachers, who must design experiences and identify authentic texts that provide enough depth and rigour to fully engage students in guided discovery.
In addition to focused time for mathematics and language arts, students approach the natural world and human society through integrated units that emphasise direct experience in a real-life context. They plant gardens, harvest vegetables and make bread; they make travel brochures based on their study of different regions of India; they celebrate holidays and observe traditions that represent ethnic groups across the country; they visit a landfill to learn about waste management and its impact on the environment.
In middle school, natural and social sciences are explored through Expeditions, which begin with an exposure to a topic (a “gallery walk”) to raise general interest, to help identify prior knowledge, and to elicit questions from students. Then, content reading and hands-on learning opportunities are provided with links to real-world experiences and, ultimately, to action—either a service project or an event which is designed to have an impact on the world outside of school. These expeditions often involve journeys outside of school but can also represent a journey into new learn—and they culminate in a product or a presentation. The learning is rigorous and challenging—and in fact reading, writing and math skills are also reinforced along with the sciences. Students work almost entirely in small groups called “crews,” ensuring that they acquire “soft skills” such as collaboration, leadership and responsibility. Teachers are able to tailor reading selections to the varied levels of students while keeping a central focus on the topic, so that all students can contribute.
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