Classroom and curriculum approaches
The New Schools Project is rooted in an essential Erikson idea: that an understanding of child development is essential to good teaching, instructional design, curriculum, classroom arrangement, teacher-child relationships, discipline practices, and more. Creating a positive environment with rich and varied learning experiences to engage a child’s natural curiosity builds social skills and academic success.
Schools following the PreK–3rd approach strive for a sense of continuity in early schooling experiences, through carefully sequenced curriculum and consistent approaches to teaching, learning, and assessment among classrooms and across grades. A key premise of the PreK–3rd concept is the idea of adjusting schooling to children, so that each child experiences early success. PreK–3rd schools recognize that children in a given classroom grow at different rates and that an individual child may be more advanced in some developmental domains than others. To respond to the developmental needs of children, schools following the PreK–3rd framework rely on small class size, heterogeneous assignment of children to classrooms, and flexible grouping for learning.
In March 2011, Erikson hosted more than 90 education leaders for a one-day forum on the PreK–3rd approach called Exploring PreK–3rd Grade: A Dialogue on Educational Reform.
Most schools working with the New Schools Project are interested in improving their literacy instruction, so Erikson consultants follow a balanced and multidimensional approach to foster children’s learning. Balanced Literacy is a framework designed to help all students learn to read and write effectively. The balance between reading and writing allows students to receive instruction they need through modeled and guided learning experiences in order to reach grade level status, while allowing students to work independently at a level that is not frustrating for them. Students also participate in shared and individual writing activities each day. Children are taught about letters, sounds, words and how they work and vocabulary and apply their learning in integrated curriculum studies throughout the day.
Additionally, in the fall of 2008, New Schools Project sites adopted two new initiatives—Making Meaning and Being a Writer—to integrate teaching of reading comprehension skills, writing traits, and social skills. This innovative approach to reading and writing will help develop children’s capacities to think deeply and critically and to become committed to personal values such as kindness, helpfulness, personal responsibility, and respect for others.
In the New Schools Project, how technical assistance is provided is as important as what is emphasized.
Erikson consultants are not just visiting experts but supportive and encouraging partners. The relationships they establish with staff in schools mirror and model the approach encouraged in the school and classroom. They build trust by responding to teachers’ strengths and struggles and understanding their goals for children.
Consultants spend one to two days each week in the school, observing classroom interaction, coaching, and modeling instructional practices. They hold regular teacher meetings, monthly professional development workshops, and ongoing support to principals—all aimed at promoting high-quality, child-focused teaching. As a result of the collaboration, the schools
- create caring, responsive learning communities;
- integrate social skills learning into all aspects of the school day;
- formalize a system for reflective practice within the school;
- implement relationship-based teaching practices; and
- complete the alignment of curriculum along the PreK-3rd continuum.