List of Terms
All Labyrinth Investigation
On Friday, the Labyrinth opens its classrooms for All Labyrinth Investigation. This gives students the opportunity to travel throughout all of the Labyrinth classrooms and freely investigate activities presented in each classroom. Students practice at making responsible social and play choices as they explore each other’s classrooms. Investigation time also provides an opportunity to rekindle old friendships and explore new ones across classrooms.
All Labyrinth Meeting
Once a week, the students meet together to discuss issues that are pertinent to our whole Labyrinth community. Playground and lunchtime are frequent agenda topics. When a student’s agenda item is discussed, that student facilitates the meeting with teacher support. Students practice listening in a large group, thinking of themselves and their role in their community, and sharing ideas that help create solutions.
All School Meeting
Class Reps from all grade levels meet in All School Meeting thirty minutes per week. Representatives serve a four meeting term and participate in discussions about issues that affect the entire school. Students set the agenda and issues are resolved by votes taken back to a daily Class Meeting. Early Elementary representatives bring a summary of meeting topics to each All Labyrinth meeting to help facilitate the sharing of school wide ideas. A teacher from each level (Early Elementary, 1-2s, and 3-4s and 5s) is present at each meeting to help provide counsel as needed.
Early Elementary Program
During Booklist, teachers use this time to work with readers individually on skills and comprehension. Students practice with “just right” reading books that offer them a chance to work on their reading goals set with teachers during conference time. Some common goals at this level are memorizing text and using a finger to match words on the page, building a bank of common sight words (the, have, because) and sharing details about the stories like personal connections to the texts or information about character, setting or plot. Students master the text in a book appropriate for their level, and not only read with teachers but also with friends. This helps to build their fluency and natural inflection and tone. Teachers help students to log books practiced on a Booklist Goal sheet to help track their progress and celebrate their reading success!
Buddies (sometimes known as Truddies) are partnerships between classrooms at different levels throughout the school. Buddies/Truddies meet together several times during the year to read together and share activities, all school celebrations, assemblies, and field trips. Students between levels connect in small groupings or partnerships. The relationship promotes a sense of trust and well-being in the community and a sense of belonging in all areas of the school.
Early Elementary Program
Regular class meetings are dedicated for students to discuss classroom and school-wide issues. The students set the agenda and take turns facilitating the meeting. Teachers participate in class meetings as a member of the class but also provide support as needed to structure meetings, they model group process strategies and provide counsel.
Time is set aside most days for students in each classroom to meet about classroom and school-wide issues. The students set the agenda and facilitate meetings. Class members take turns in the leadership positions. Teachers participate in class meetings as a member of the class but also provide support as needed to help structure meetings, model group process strategies and provide counsel. Each classroom also elects a Classroom Representative to attend All School Meetings. The Representative carries concerns, discussions, and decisions between class meetings and all school meetings.
Coaching and Performance-Based Assessement
Teachers use a variety of coaching techniques and informal “performance-based” assessment tools as they work with students every day. Ongoing assessment is key to constructing our curriculum and developing teaching techniques that meet the individual needs of our students. Classroom teachers carefully observe a student’s approach to a problem and ask probing questions to assess understanding and provide the next challenge. Teachers use these “real time” assessments to help the student stretch and at the same time, to set appropriate goals. Teachers coach children to use specific strategies, organizational tools, and resources that are best suited to achieve their goals.
Continua: Benchmarks for Learning
There is a UCDS continuum for Reading, for Writing, for Math and for Reflective Thinking. The continua serve as benchmarks for learning at each developmental stage and directly inform curriculum design and instruction at each level. Teachers use continua descriptors as a framework for communicating with parents/guardians and with each other about a child’s growth. Teachers mark the descriptors that exemplify exhibited learning behaviors to create a picture of each child as a learner. Students’ progress is marked on the continua in January and June. Each continua document has been created in house by the UCDS faculty over several years of development. Continua are reviewed and updated regularly by the UCDS faculty.
UCDS encourages an individualized and multi-faceted approach to learning. Assessment at UCDS is authentic. Students also participate in standardized tests in order to practice more standard test-taking skills. The Educational Records Bureau (ERB) Comprehensive Testing Program is given annually to students in the third and fourth grades. This testing instrument is the one used by most established independent schools. The reasons for this choice are as follows:
- The test is similar in format to the entrance examination that students will take for middle school admission.
- The ERBs are the most challenging of the multiple-choice tests available for elementary school students. These tests simulate for our students many of the challenges involved in future test taking and, with teachers’ assistance, help them develop test-taking strategies.
- Although no multiple-choice test can fully assess conceptual learning, the ERBs have thoughtful and interesting questions.
- The ERBs reflect a somewhat conservative, but nevertheless widely accepted, sampling of skills elementary students need to assimilate for middle school success. The overall results and general trends of the tests allow the school to evaluate some of the elements within our own curriculum.
This experience is the first exposure to such tests for many of our students. Tests are given on a practice basis; individual scores have only limited validity.
In the fall fifth graders may practice test-taking skills to support them as they independently participate in middle school entrance exams
Early Elementary Program
Each day as students complete their work, they are invited to explore independent and collaborative projects. Teachers select games, puzzles, and other problem solving activities that may be new to children or not normally chosen during “Investigation” times. Some projects are designed for independent work while some are designed to explore with friends. Explorations reinforce and teach both critical and spatial thinking skills and encourage cooperative learning.
Field trips enrich the Theme Study, build community, allow students to explore the arts and learn more about the world. It also gives students a chance to open their minds to the diverse environment around them.
The Early Elementary uses a combination of Handwriting Without Tears and the D’Nealian system of handwriting. Teachers emphasize the development of fine motor skills through a variety of hands-on activities. We begin to explore correct letter formation and strategies for efficient handwriting practices. Stroke patterns are taught in a multi-sensory format.
Cursive handwriting is taught at the elementary level. Stroke patterns are taught and practiced in a format that provides short, regular practice. Both in formal handwriting sessions and when working individually with students, teachers provide multiple strategies for practicing cursive handwriting.
Home Learning and Thinking
The goal of Home Learning and Thinking (H.L.T.) at UCDS is to empower students to become independent learners and self-advocates. H.L.T. helps children to develop personal responsibility, time management skills and to establish organizational routines and structures. H.L.T. gives students extra practice with skills and will help solidify understanding of a concept. The role of the parent/guardian in H.L.T. is to help the child to establish a routine (a time and place) for H.L.T., as well as an expectation that H.L.T. be completed daily. Parents/Guardians can instill confidence in their child by helping them to build and maintain ownership of the process. If a child is experiencing difficulty at home, parents/guardians can provide support by being a resource and by encouraging students to let the teacher know how it is going. Students will vary in their individual approaches to H.L.T.. Teachers check in regularly with students to discuss individual strategies and timelines that best support their success.
UCDS teachers recognize that there will be times when outside influences (family events, celebrations, sports, and extracurricular activities) make it difficult for H.L.T. to be completed in the time allotted. Weekly H.L.T. schedules are created with individual students to support families in making decisions about when and where homework can be done. Having a flexible and responsive schedule promotes student organization, time management and communication skills.
The goal of homework at UCDS is to empower students to see themselves as self-advocates and lifelong learners. Home Learning and Thinking (HLT) is an opportunity to solidify connections between home and school. It allows students to practice concepts and skills and supports classroom activities. HLT expectations grow throughout the year with each individual. HLT helps children to develop personal responsibility, time management skills and to establish organization routines and structures. The role of the parent/guardian in HLT is to help the child to establish a routine-a time and place for HLT, as well as an expectation that HLT be completed daily. Parents/Guardians can instill confidence in their child by helping them to maintain ownership of the process. Parents/Guardians can provide support by being a resource and continually reinforcing the importance that the students actively communicate with classroom teachers about the process. Students will vary in their individual approaches to HLT. For this reason, parents/guardians are encouraged to communicate with teachers for ideas on how best to coach their child to become independent about HLT routines and to become empowered as self-advocates.
UCDS teachers recognize that there will be times when outside influences (family events, celebrations, sports, and extracurricular activities) make it difficult for HLT to be completed in the time allotted. On these occasions 3-4-5 students are expected to write a note that presents a plan for completion. The aim is to foster self-reliance and independent problem solving.
The UCDS daily schedule allows for teaching flexibility and individualized instruction. Students are placed in small groups for their work in a variety of academic areas. These groups allow teachers to tailor learning opportunities for individual students, assess and clarify student understanding, and offer challenges.
Early Elementary Program
Investigation gives students an opportunity to work together and build friendships in the context of play. Each class meets to choose which activities are open. Teachers facilitate these meetings to ensure there’s a balance of activities. For example building, art, imaginative play, and sensory play are just some of the activities that are explored during Investigation. Teachers coach students to maintain friendships and collaborate together.
1-2 Investigation gives students opportunities to move through all the classrooms on the floor and freely investigate activities presented in each classroom. Students practice making responsible social and play choices as they explore each other’s classrooms. Often the activities are designed by the classroom hosts and/or are voted on during class meeting.
At every level, UCDS students keep journals. Journals are places to record ideas through words and drawings, to plan and draft written pieces and to reflect. Students develop the habit of writing regularly as a way to document their thinking, revisit and expand on ideas and evaluate learning experiences. Teachers emphasize practicing reflective thinking skills.
Keyboarding is introduced at the 3-4 level. Typing is introduced in an immersion setting, where students receive direct instruction regularly for a period of time. Following this immersion, teachers provide additional practice through assignments both in class and at home to continue to develop their skills.
Early Elementary Program
Language Group provides children with opportunities to explore a variety of language arts skills, such as letter recognition, vowel spelling rules, root words, or grammar conventions. Teachers introduce these skills to a small group of children that are working at a similar skill level. Games are often used to integrate visual, auditory, verbal and kinesthetic modes of learning.
1-2 & 3-4 Program
Language groups are designed to practice reading, writing, spelling and oral communication in concert with one another. After careful assessment of each student’s language strengths and goals, teachers create and work with groups of 5-9 children on directed lessons tailored to the group’s needs and learning styles. Small groups allow for in depth and ongoing assessment that is used both to design subsequent activities and to create new groupings as children progress. The skills practiced in language groups are reinforced when students work with teachers in the classroom.
To support writing and spelling development, activities such as word sorts, card games, and vocabulary games are tailored to the group’s level and designed to actively engage students in word study. Included are activities for practice as well as for review of skills. This approach is multi-sensory, offering students a variety of learning strategies. For example, students write, say, and hear the spelling patterns, in order to solidify understanding. Teachers may use this spelling practice time to check letter formation and to give extra handwriting practice. It is also an opportunity to teach and review grammar and punctuation rules.
When appropriate, students generate spelling lists that focus on specific spelling patterns, spelling rules and generalizations, and irregular sight words. Included are “personal words”-words selected by the child from journal-writing and Writer’s Workshop projects.
To support reading development, teachers select a piece of children’s literature and teach a lesson that reinforces particular skills including oral fluency, reading expression, vocabulary, word-attack skills and comprehension strategies. Students practice both reading aloud and silently during this time. When a group’s focus is on developing comprehension, guided discussions provide students with the opportunity to understand texts at a deeper level.
As students read, examine and discuss a piece of literature as a group, the author’s use of language is often a focus that may launch into studies that support students’ own writing. Using real literature as a model, students may explore narrative descriptions, work to expand their use of interesting language through synonym study or focus on developing features of their own stories such as setting or character development.
Early Elementary Program
Literature Groups provide us with one more way to promote a love of reading and to study a variety of literary genres with Early Elementary students. It allows all children, regardless of their independent reading skills, to enjoy the same books, to share their thoughts and opinions and to discuss many of the “big” ideas and questions that books can cultivate. In addition, Literature Groups foster a meaningful connection between home and school; they offer a way for students to share a piece of their school day, and a way for parents/guardians to experience some of their child’s blossoming intellect and self-expression.
Children bring books home to be read with a parent/guardian. We encourage using post-it notes to mark favorite pages or note a question or idea that can be shared when meeting with a small group at school. During Literature Groups, group process skills are emphasized, with children becoming proficient at taking turns, listening to others, expressing and supporting opinions and even leading the discussion independently.
Literature Group book discussions make it possible for our students to consider ideas, problems and perspectives that have existed through time and across cultures. Students meet weekly to discuss books from a wide range of genres and reading levels. Teaching teams choose books that deepen student understanding of the year’s all school theme and support cultural awareness, geographical knowledge and social studies. Literature Groups are kept small in order to promote a language-rich experience that develops reading and comprehension skills, as well as speaking, listening and writing. Students practice following the ideas of others as well as expressing their own thoughts and opinions as they engage in lively discourse with peers and a teacher. At the 1-2 level, children examine literary elements, make connections and formulate questions for the group for discussion.
Students take a literature book home each week, read it with a grown-up and return it to school the following week for dialogue with peers and a teacher. Teaching teams select books specifically for their literary themes. For this reason, some books may be difficult for students to decode. We have found that students often have better comprehension when adults and students read the book together and discuss the book as the plot unfolds. Children at these levels are generally asked to respond to the book by reviewing four Table Topic questions, talking about these ideas with adults, and preparing to discuss their ideas with their group. Adults are also encouraged to read the weekly Table Topic assignment and invite discussions on the topics involved. Supporting students to comprehend the themes in the books helps prepare them for discussions in school.
Literature book discussions make it possible for our students to consider ideas that have existed through time and across cultures. Students meet weekly to discuss books from a wide range of genres and reading levels. Teaching teams choose books that deepen student understanding of the year’s all- school theme and support cultural awareness, geographical knowledge and social studies. Literature groups are kept small in order to promote an experience that develops reading and comprehension skills, as well as speaking, listening and writing. Students practice following the ideas of others and taking a leadership role as they engage in lively discourse with peers and a teacher.
Teaching teams select books specifically for their literary themes. For this reason, some books may be difficult for students to decode. We have found that students often have better comprehension when parents/guardians and students take turns reading aloud and discuss the book as the plot unfolds. Parents/Guardians are also welcome to read the weekly written assignment and invite discussions on the topics involved. Students need to comprehend the themes in the books in order to be prepared for discussions in school.
Literature homework is assigned weekly. We create assignments to promote thinking about specific literary elements such as character development, setting, historical context and literary devices. We ask students to plan time to read the assigned pages and to respond to questions through art and writing.
Math Exploration and Skills Time
Early Elementary Program
Each day students are invited to explore independent and collaborative projects. Teachers select games, puzzles, and other problem solving activities that may be new to children or not normally chosen during “Investigation” times. Some projects are designed for independent work while some are designed to explore with friends. Explorations reinforce and teach both critical and spatial thinking skills and encourage cooperative learning.
Time is set aside to introduce and reinforce skills from the UCDS Math Continuum. Manipulative materials are used to solidify students’ conceptual understandings as we teach the pencil and paper algorithms for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Teachers use a variety of resources to provide the practice to become comfortable with each operation. Teachers assess students on an ongoing basis, introducing new concepts and skills as students reach continuum benchmarks.
Students also practice math facts for Home Learning and Thinking (H.L.T.). Students begin with addition and subtraction then move to multiplication and division facts for practice. It often takes children several years to become fluent with math facts and additional practice may be needed beyond the math homework. Flashcards, calculator games, dice games, math fact songs and chants, as well as online platforms such as Freckle, are tools used to reinforce repetition and are a few of the ways that help students commit math facts to memory. Teachers assess students on an ongoing basis and are able to see how well students can access facts when they solve the Math Vitamin. New concepts and skills are introduced as students demonstrate consistent, accurate application.
Targeted math instruction introduces and reinforces skills from the UCDS Math Continuum. Teaching teams often introduce skills that students will need to solve the current Math Vitamins. For example, an activity to introduce measuring angles with protractors might be introduced prior to a Math Vitamin with a geometry focus. Teachers individualize math instruction and help students set appropriate goals.
During math skills time, teachers work with both groups and individuals to help students develop facility with mathematical operations. Manipulative materials are often used to solidify student understanding as we teach algorithms for multi-digit addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Teachers use a variety of resources to provide students the practice that they need to become comfortable with each operation. We assess students on an ongoing basis during skills time and are able to see how well students can use skills when they solve the Math Vitamin. New concepts and skills are introduced as students reach continuum benchmarks. In addition to the math skills, children practice math facts at home to become fluent.
Early Elementary Program
Our students explore math concepts and demonstrate their understanding of mathematical operations and concepts through the daily Math Vitamin. Through the Math Vitamin, children experience math in a very real way by solving problems that are meaningful to them. Teachers create Math Vitamin story-problems that connect to the literature, science, and curricular projects of that level. Teachers also carefully design problems to challenge students at multiple levels of understanding and encourage skill development in the areas identified in the UCDS Math Continuum.
Students have multiple entry points when solving a mathematical problem: build, draw, record. Teachers encourage students to approach a problem using their area of strength. They can develop and express their understanding by building with manipulatives, through drawings, charts or graphs, or recording their ideas numerically. Trying a variety of methods to solve a problem and exchanging ideas through collaboration with peers supports students to be flexible mathematical thinkers. In addition to Math Vitamin, math concepts are explored daily through literature, music, art, science, games and calendars.
Our students explore math concepts and demonstrate their understanding of mathematical strands through Math Vitamins. Children experience math in a very real way by solving problems that are meaningful to them. Math Vitamins are story-problems that connect to literature, science, and curricular projects of that level. Teachers also carefully design problems to challenge students at multiple levels of understanding and to encourage skill development in the areas identified in the UCDS Math Continuum.
Children practice math skills and make their thinking visible using a variety of tools, including manipulative materials, drawings, charts, graphs and equations. Students have the opportunity to approach a Math Vitamin from an area of strength while developing several strategies to arrive at a solution and prove their work.
Our students explore math concepts and demonstrate their understanding of mathematical operations and patterns through Math Vitamins. Through Math Vitamins, children experience math in a very real way by solving problems that are meaningful to them. Teachers create Math Vitamin story problems that connect to the literature, science, and curricular projects of that level. Teachers also carefully design problems to challenge students at multiple levels of understanding and to encourage skill development in the areas identified in the UCDS Math Continuum.
Students apply math skills using a variety of tools, including manipulative materials, drawings, charts, graphs and equations and to show/explain their thinking. Teachers encourage students to use an area of strength to initially approach a problem, to generate an algorithm that expresses their process, and to develop several strategies to arrive at a solution. Teachers also ask students to show their thinking in more than one way.
3-4-5 Math Vitamins may take several days to complete and teachers extend the problem each day based on the students’ responses. Expectations for recording the math vitamin process increase over time as students restate the problem, label drawings, create charts, record equations and explain their thinking. We expect students at this level to produce work that can be read and understood by others.
Milk and Cookies
Early Elementary Program
Milk and Cookie Fridays occur monthly and bring students and their families together in the Discovery Area for a community sing-a-long. Together with our Music Specialists, each class gets an opportunity to compose and perform one song for our Labyrinth friends and grown-ups. After hearing from the class of the day and singing some other favorites, everyone returns to classrooms to share milk and cookies. See the all-school calendar for Milk and Cookie dates.
Early Elementary Program
Students begin each day with a morning note. This may be a Math Vitamin, journaling, or another morning activity. The child with their adults read the board at drop-off each day. If students need clarification, peers and teachers act as resources, helping to develop the students sense of belonging to a learning community.
Students begin each day with a “morning board.” This written greeting may be a Math Vitamin, writing assignment, or other theme related activity. Parents/Guardians are welcome to join students in reading the morning board at drop-off. If students need clarification, peers and teachers act as resources, helping to develop the student’s sense of belonging to a learning community. As students become readers they are expected to read the board independently and begin to self initiate their morning work.
New, Glue and Moving-On
The 3-4-5 community is composed of the New (students who are in their first year at this level), the Glue (students who have had a year of experience at this level), and the 5th grade Moving-On students. We spend time throughout the year to support children to understand their individual contributions to the community of learners who share the 3-4-5 community and to find their own unique way to lead.
Early Elementary Program
Children practice non-fiction writing through News. The students are coached to recall and share personal experiences through drawing and writing. Teachers coach students to elaborate by considering the questions who, what, when, where, and why. Early illustrators are encouraged to use at least as many colors as they are old to express the many details for their personal stories. Teachers continue to individualize to each child’s writing abilities, taking dictation when necessary or working through the editing process with children writing multiple sentence entries.
Each spring the 1-2 level travels to NatureBridge for a two-night overnight trip. NatureBridge is an ideal setting to introduce students to the flora and fauna of the Northwest. A community experience, it celebrates a year of learning and growing together. Students travel in mixed-aged hiking groups. The spring trip is another opportunity for students to see themselves as part of the larger 1-2 community.
The 3-4-5 fall trip is an opportunity to solidify the new 3-4-5 learning community. Each fall the entire community travels to a local camp, where small groups of mixed-age students share cabins for two nights. Students learn, play and participate in team building experiences.
The 3-4-5 spring trip varies in its location and rotates through major regions of Washington State. Connecting the historical, cultural, industrial, geological and geographical origins of Washington, the trip is a culminating event for the major curricular and thematic focus of the spring. Each spring, the 3-4-5 community unites in the study of the chosen geographical area. Third, fourth and fifth grade students combine to explore social studies and literature together. In preparation for the spring trip, groups of mixed-level students read and learn together in small groups.
Each spring, our moving-on Kindergarten class works together as a group to plan an art project for the Early Elementary playground. This project provides a context for the kindergarten class to identify themselves as a group, encourages conversations about the upcoming transition to 1st grade as well as a way to reminisce and illustrate the highlights of their kindergarten year. The portions of the playground are repainted and left behind as a gift to the following year’s Labyrinth students.
READ (Reflecting, Expanding, Analyzing, Discussing)
The years between first and second grades are typically marked by a rapid acquisition of reading skills. A goal for children at this stage is to develop greater fluency and to begin to sustain independent reading for longer periods of time. At the 1-2 level, daily READ time provides students with opportunities to practice decoding, building vocabulary and growing comprehension skills. During this time teachers help students select books and set reading goals that are appropriate to individual reading levels, interests and abilities. Teachers also use this time to work one-on-one with readers to monitor progress, focus on specific strategies and assess the skills outlined in the UCDS Reading Continuum. In addition to the classroom “just right” reading selections, students are expected to read at home each day. Classroom teachers and our school librarians are excellent resources for students as they select books to support their growing skills.
At the 3-4-5 level, readers make the important shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Daily independent reading time provides students the opportunity to practice their growing independence as readers. During this time teachers help students to select books and set reading goals that are appropriate to their individual reading levels, interests and abilities. Teachers use this time to work one-on-one with readers to monitor progress, focus on individual reading strategies and assess the skills outlined in the UCDS Reading Continuum. A goal at this stage is for students to broaden their reading selections to include choices from a variety of genres, including realistic fiction, historical fiction, science fiction/fantasy, non-fiction, biography, short stories and poetry.
Students make record their reading and responses in a reading log kept in their journals.
Throughout the day there are both formal and informal opportunities for students to share their thoughts about books with their peers and teachers. Independent reading, assigned reading and literature groups give students a sense of belonging to a community of readers. Our school librarian is an excellent resource for students as they select books to challenge their thinking and their reading abilities.
Early Elementary Program
Students spend time each day listening to a teacher read aloud to the class from a wide variety of genres that are connected to the theme. Read Aloud gives students an opportunity to increase listening comprehension, vocabulary and auditory language skills. Teachers use this opportunity to ask leading questions and model literary analysis and comprehension techniques. Children also have weekly opportunities to hear the librarian read aloud and tell stories.
Students spend time each day listening to a teacher read aloud to the class from a wide variety of genres that are connected to the theme. Read-aloud gives students an opportunity to increase listening comprehension, vocabulary and auditory language skills. Teachers use this opportunity to ask leading questions and model literary analysis and comprehension techniques. Children also have weekly opportunities to hear the librarian read aloud and tell stories. Both the classroom teacher and the librarian are a good resource for books that can be read aloud at home.
Teaching levels select a Read-Aloud book inspired by the Theme which often acts as a catalyst for curriculum design. Students spend time most days listening to a teacher read aloud to the class from a wide variety of genres that are connected to the theme. Read Aloud gives students an opportunity to increase listening comprehension, vocabulary and auditory language skills. Teachers use this opportunity to ask leading questions and model literary analysis and comprehension techniques. Children also have weekly opportunities to hear the librarian read aloud and tell stories. Both the classroom teacher and the librarian are good resources for books that can be read aloud at home.
Rest and Read
Early Elementary Program
Time is set aside to promote a community of readers. Teachers use this time to work with readers individually on skills and comprehension. Students select books with their teachers that are appropriate to their individual reading levels, interests and abilities. Teachers talk with students about their book choices to help them become more independent and to broaden their reading selections. At the Early Elementary level, READis known as “Rest and Read.”
We ask students throughout their UCDS experience to evaluate their own work, assess progress, and to set attainable goals. Every day, as part of the coaching process, teachers ask students to recognize and articulate challenges and to advocate for themselves. Teachers also make time for students to write about their educational experience. These written reflections are found in student journals and portfolios. Presentation portfolios are collections of student work culled from student journals, folders and other classroom work collected throughout the year. Students select some pieces on their own and others in collaboration with their classroom teachers. In the spring of each year students meet with parents/guardians at a school-wide Portfolio Share to share their insights and acknowledge both their challenges and accomplishments.
The goal of the service learning program at UCDS is for fifth grade students to gain a deeper understanding of their academic and social/emotional strengths and to increase self and community awareness. This is accomplished through a yearlong Service Learning Project. As a member of a school committee, Moving On students identify a relevant need in the community and design a project to address that need. With their faculty mentors as guides, students establish goals, reflect on their experiences and evaluate their own performance. Students have multiple opportunities to share their goals, strengths and challenges with their fifth grade peers, the greater 3-4-5 community, and the faculty.
Sign-in is part of the daily morning structure and routine. Students are asked to respond to a daily question that reflects some part of a curricular activity, a community event or is connected to a particular homework assignment.
A daily sign-in question starts each day. Students read the question, read the responses of their peers, and compose a unique answer. The question may be in response to the previous night’s homework or a study the class is involved in, or it may require students to think on their feet. 3-4-5 students usually answer the sign-in question in a complete sentence, giving students valuable practice composing a response.
The UCDS daily schedule allows for teaching flexibility and individualized instruction. Small groups are achieved when half of the students from a teaching team attend specialists, leaving half the group at work in the classroom. The remaining students may work together with all the teachers on the team, achieving a low student-teacher ratio in small, flexible groups or stay with their teachers for individualized instruction in their classroom. Small groups are utilized across the curriculum for math skills, reading, literature groups, writing and theme studies.
Students in grades 3-4 participate in standardized tests in order to prepare for future test-taking scenarios. The Educational Records Bureau (ERB) Comprehensive Testing Program is given annually to students in the third and fourth grades. This testing instrument is the one used by most independent schools. The reasons for this choice are as follows:
- The test is similar in format to entrance examinations that students will take for middle school admission.
- The overall results and general trends of the tests allow the school to evaluate some of the elements within our own curriculum.
This experience is the first exposure to such tests for many of our students. Tests are given as practice; individual scores have only limited validity. In the fall, fifth graders may practice test taking skills to support them as they independently participate in middle school entrance exams
Each year, UCDS adopts a theme, or concept, which serves as a unifying thread for curriculum at all levels and opens the door to investigation across all subject areas. The yearlong theme is abstract, universal and timeless. It is purposefully broad to allow for emergent ideas and shifting dynamics. The theme provides the backbone for curricular decisions about everything from literature books to science explorations, social studies and field trips, with each teaching team determining how the theme will be explored.
The UCDS Constitution is at the heart of all social interactions at the school. Each child signs the constitution each year and students live and learn by the words, “We Respect Ourselves. We Respect Each Other. We Respect the Environment.”
Early Elementary Program
Word is our creative writing program. Teachers encourage students to share their imaginative ideas through drawing and writing. Teachers coach each child through the process of representational drawing, letter recognition, sound-symbol correspondence, letter formation, and handwriting. Students develop word recognition skills by reading words that they have previously generated to the teacher and classmates. As children become more independent, they use best guess spelling to write phrases and sentences that express their central idea and are often able to move into writing stories and personal narratives. Children at this level work with a teacher to edit their stories with attention to vocabulary, punctuation and grammar. Teachers then guide students to revise by adding detail and checking to be sure the story makes sense. Children are expected, and are typically delighted, to share what they have written with classmates.
The 1-2 students write daily across the content areas. Our students write to tell stories, express opinions, explore poetic forms and describe their theories and problem solving processes. At “Writer’s Workshop” students move through the stages of prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing on both topics of their own choosing and teacher-created writing prompts. Students at this stage are introduced to narrative, expository and creative writing styles. Teachers assess students as they work through the writing process and coach students individually to address the skills outlined in our Writing Continuum.
3-4-5 students write every day and are expected to use expository, narrative, and creative writing styles. For example, our students write to frame a question, to describe their problem solving process and to explain their conclusions in math and science. While in literature and in personal journals, our students write to respond both critically and reflectively. Teachers assess students as they work through the writing process and coach students individually to address the skills outlined in our Writing Continuum. We expect 3-4-5 students will become increasingly fluent with the writing process, able to use appropriate techniques at each stage of pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, publishing, and sharing work with peers. Our students learn to evaluate a piece of writing at each stage of development. Students at these levels learn to edit their own work for spelling, grammar and punctuation and are expected to write in cursive or to type a final draft.