Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Choosing a School, Part Two: What I Love

So now the change to American Preparatory Academy has happened.  After attending an informational parent meeting I am more excited than ever.  Their teaching model, direct instruction, is decidedly different from what is used in most other schools.  This teaching model is also the main source of the conflict with those who oppose the change.  The rudimentary basics of a few (not all) subjects are taught with a script.  At first my teacher instincts flared up and I was against it.  Everything I knew about teaching to different types of learners was screaming at me that a script couldn't possibly be a desirable way to dispense information.  But I decided to listen to the why behind this teaching style to find why they thought there was any merit in it.  Using the script ensures that students are  taught ALL of the required information and that it is taught correctly.  After teaching basic skills many times over there is a risk of skipping something that may be second nature to adults and easily taken for granted, but which is vital new knowledge for the students.

As an example, I used to teach about recipes by having my students write a recipe for making a PB&J.  I would then follow the recipe exactly and give the sandwich to the group.  Only once or twice did any students give an estimated amount of peanut butter or jelly to place on the bread.  Some groups got only as much jelly as stuck to the knife after dipping it in the jar, while other groups had about a half cup of jelly on their bread.  The basics are important.

When I allowed myself to see past what I had been taught in my teacher training classes and consider that there might be another effective teaching model I was able to see direct instruction as a valid option.  Besides, I never was quite the disciple of John Goodlad as were many of my teaching instructors.  I was also pleased to hear that the scripted teaching is only for the basics and is not done all day.  Some of the teachers were concerned that they would no longer be teaching, but only delivering a script to the students.  This is untrue.  I also thought it very telling that the teachers who went to observe at the Draper campus have all committed to return to Liberty next year.  It seems they saw something they liked.

Putting the direct instruction teaching method aside, there are other things that make me happy about the change to APA.  First off, and my favorite of the changes, is the structure.  The schedule is predictable and expectations are clearly set out and consistently maintained, which is the #1 reason I was drawn to a charter school in the first place.  The system they use (CHAMPS) has it down to a science.  I was very impressed.

Another aspect of the school I loved is the organization.  All the students' work is filed in a docket that comes home every night and goes back to school in the morning.  There's no losing papers in the desks and they don't have a problem with students leaving their docket at home because no work can be done without it.  It becomes a habit for both parents and students to check that they have it before leaving the house.  That will help me, as well as the kids.

The school is a very loving environment.  Behavior correction is done in a loving manner.  They want the school to be a place where students feel valued and loved, not just an institution of learning.  Learning is the main goal but they also heap on the praise.  One of their character development tools is a poem about builders and wreckers.  Builders create and build up, while wreckers destroy.  The builders have knowledge and skills that help them.  The wreckers simply destroy.  They acknowledge that we are all both builders and wreckers but that we can work to fix things we do when we are wreckers.  I'll have to find and post the poem because I love it.

The last thing I'll post today (there are so very many) that I love about the change is the small group learning. Certain subjects are taught in small groups and the students are placed in their groups according to their learning levels.  The students are evaluated weekly and placed accordingly.  I like the weekly evaluations.  It keeps the groups as fluid as they need to be and maximizes each student's abilities.

I was so pleased with what I learned about the school and how it does things.  I love that Eliana will start with it now and have the time to grow with the program as it expands.  The whole thing is really exciting to me and I look forward to Ellie starting school next year.

1 comment:

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