We strive to identify and meet the unique educational needs of each child. Students are given the opportunity to learn at their own level. Our low teacher to student ratio (1:14) fosters deeper connections and allows teachers to meet the learning needs of each student. Teachers assist students in identifying individualized learning goals and routinely revisit these goals. Teachers integrate instructional strategies and techniques from multiple educational philosophies, rather than adhering strictly to one specified learning approach.
Our teachers provide regular newsletters to parents that describe what has been happening at school and what to look foward to. These samples from our last school year provide the best view of the spirit of our educational community.
A school day at OCS is structured and children can rely on the security of a predictable routine. Built into that routine are times of teacher-directed instruction with related assignments and projects as well as times for more open-ended experiences.
At OCS math is taught using a hands-on approach that incorporates many types of problem-solving activities. New concepts are introduced in concrete ways, helping students solidify their understanding of mathematical concepts before moving on to abstract processes. For example, students use groups of cubes to learn the concepts of addition and subtraction before learning to solve addition and subtraction problems on paper. Through such an approach, students gain a deep understanding that addition involves joining two groups together, resulting in a greater quantity, and that subtraction involves taking some away, creating a smaller quantity. Initially focusing on concrete methods for solving problems helps students develop an abundant set of skills and the confidence needed to solve problems as they become increasingly abstract.
Students at OCS are encouraged to solve mathematical problems in a variety of ways and to develop methods that make sense and work for them, rather than simply memorizing a set of standard rules. The process of solving problems is just as valued as finding actual answers. Students are often asked to explain their thinking verbally, with pictures and in writing.
The mathematical topics covered at OCS are informed by the Washington State Grade Level Standards and are tailored to meet the needs of individual students. Math lessons often relate to the theme that we are studying and involve a great deal of art. Much of our math teaching is inspired by the work of Marilyn Burns, John Van De Welle and the TERC curriculum units.
Math at OCS is fun and includes many real-world applications. If you were to observe a math class, you might see students:
- playing a cooperative Tic Tac Toe game to work on addition skills
- working together to measure the length of an Orca
- crafting geometric art
- creating their own counting book
- using clinometers to measure the height of trees
- using ratios to build covered wagons
- developing their own juice mixes using fractions (and then selling the juice to raise money for the rainforest)!
Our language arts time is spent in a variety of ways. Children and teachers may meet in small groups for literature/reading circles or phonics groups, children may rotate through various literacy centers, or the whole group may be writing in Writing Workshop or working on a special project or concept (poetry, fables, etc.).
Reading is taught through a combination of "whole language" and phonetic approaches. From the very beginning, children read both fiction and non-fiction. We use a combination of tools to assess and group children such as "Words Their Way" to help place children in appropriate phonics and reading groups. In the older grades, this assessment also influences their word and spelling studies. All children read books in small groups and also on their own, according to their reading level and personal interests. We practice finding the "Just right book" as well as being secure of where we are as a learner. As the children grow older, the books read together in small groups take on the form of a book club. These books may be read with a partner, aloud with the group, independently in class, or at home. Together we discuss our readings and practice predicting, questioning, clarifying, analyzing and summarizing.
All children are also given daily reading time to read or look at books of their choice during Reading Workshop. During this time we may focus on making meaningful connections with our reading, asking questions, or identifying reading strategies. Reading workshop may begin with a mini-lesson around one of these topics then time for the children to settle in with their own books and a sharing time in the end. Our workshops are influenced by Debbie Miller's, Ellin Oliver Keene's and Susan Zimmerann's work on reading comprehension.
Children put together projects for each piece of literature they have read for our Book Shares. The children choose how they would like to respond and share a book from a list of ideas that is based on Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences. The list of ideas is allows the children to choose something that allows them to shine in something they are good at. Children are also always given the option to create their own project idea if one doesn't appeal to them (with a check-in with a teacher).
From kindergarten on, children write in many genres and across all subject areas at whatever level they are ready for. They write personal narratives, stories, summaries of what they have learned, reflections, letters and more. In kindergarten, a child's story might consist of a picture with some letters beneath it, or it might be several sentences with readable spelling and periods. Older children may focus on more complex conventions, editing, word choice, and voice. Children are supported at whatever level they need – no one is held back by "grade-level" expectations and no one is pressured to perform at a level they are not ready for. Much of our writing curriculum is influenced by Lucy Calkins work and 6 Traits of Writing.
Academic and creative works are connected to the interests of children through themes. Children work with teachers to identify areas of common interest. Children’s emerging academics skills and creativity are exercised through a series of open-ended projects where children explore, manipulate and represent knowledge. Themes are common to the whole school, allowing for students of all ages to interact, while specific activities and concepts are presented at different and developmentally appropriate levels within classes.
Field trips and service learning
Our small class size and parent volunteer corps allows for frequent exploration of our community and the surrounding environment. We visit museums, community services, local businesses, explore the forest and beach. We take advantage of the range of opportunities provided through our parents’ networks to reinforce classroom learning and open doors for individual exploration. Field trips include volunteer work for community social services and local environmental stewardship.
Assessment and accountability
Assessment is primarily portfolio based, and is reported using a continuum of skills for each subject area. The continua allow for parents to see exactly where their child is within the entire range of development for that subject area (for example, reading). Students are encouraged to set their own educational and personal goals, and reflect on their learning. We hold two parent-student-teacher conferences, as well as formal opportunities for portfolio sharing, where parents come to school and children show and talk about their work. Weekly work is shared through a Thursday folder which is returned the following Monday before being integrated into a portfolio.