The Spring School Philosophy
Totally Individualized Instruction
|Ms. Wendi corrects Timmy's work on compound words. Each child in the class receives individual attention.|
Traditional schools treat children as if they were all the same. Imagine children learning to play the piano the way most schools teach reading and math. In the "8 Year Old Piano Class," students would sit in rows at their keyboards, and the teacher would say, "Now, open to page two, and everybody play the piece together." A child with an instinctual sense of melody but problems with her fine motor control would be practicing the same piece as a prodigy who had been playing fluently since age 3! Both children would be frustrated and bored. Surely neither could reach his or her full musical potential!
Every Child is Different
|Chelsea works on her puzzle map of Africa.|
Jamie has loved to tell stories since earliest childhood, can easily repeat word-for-word every sentence of "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very-Bad Day," and reads fluently. But his poor handwriting frustrates his attempts to put his thoughts on paper.
Rachel loves logical inference, and is a whiz at classifying triangles by their sides or by their angles. But she resists memorizing her times tables, and makes many errors when multiplying.
Every child has strengths as well as weaknesses. We respect both.
Our curriculum is structured and sequenced. Each child moves through it at his or her own rate.
Individualized Work Contracts
Just as the pieces in a piano book gradually increase in difficulty, our math and language work is sequenced to introduce new concepts one at a time and provide plenty of practice on each one. Each child can learn at his or her own pace. Each child practices just the right amount to master each concept, whether that concept is reading long vowel sounds, or exchanging hundreds for tens in order to subtract.
|Carrington (2nd grade) exchanges a ten for ten units on the "bead frame".|
Each child has a work contract, prepared by a team of teachers each week. In the Language Room, the child's work contract specifies work at exactly the right level of difficulty in: Phonics and Spelling; Reading; Writing; Grammar; Punctuation; and Editing. In the Math Room, the work contract assigns work that is just right for each child in the areas of: Place Value and Numeration; Computation; Fractions; Geometry; Measurement; Problem-Solving; and Memorization.
Look Around Our Classrooms
Let's visit the Math Room, where a mixed age class of 6 to 8 year olds is working.
On a white rug, Carrie, age 6, has arranged the Bank Game math materials. She has built the number "5,642," using single golden "unit beads," "ten bars" made of ten beads wired together, "hundred squares" containing one hundred beads, and substantial cubes of a thousand beads each. Now she is beginning a subtraction problem. The problem calls for taking away seven units. Since she only has two units, Carrie gets up and takes a ten bar to the "bank," where she exchanges it for ten unit beads.
At a table, John and Michael are measuring around the edges of a wooden box with a tape measure. They are recording their measurements on a piece of paper, and are about to add them to find the perimeter of the rectangle.
Ellen is working with Lindsay and Alex to solve a problem from a basket of menu problems. If they have $15.00 to buy lunch for all three from the menu, and each can order an appetizer, a main course, and a drink, what should they order, and how much change will they get?
The room as a whole is quiet and productive, but the children are not sitting like zombies. Some are at tables, some at white work mats on the floor. Some are alone, some working with friends.
The teachers circulate, checking each child's work, providing clues and suggestions, and introducing new lessons to single children or to small groups.
In one corner, Ms. Sandra is sitting on the floor giving a lesson to a small circle of advanced 3rd graders about the "order of operations." On the white board, she writes the polynomial: (3 + 2) x (6 - 4)2. Which should the children do first? Add, subtract, multiply, or square?
Ms. Amy leans over another child who is working at long division with an impressive array of test tube bead materials and wooden boards. "Here's your mistake!" she says. "You forgot the zero in the ten thousands' place. Try it again and then show it to me."
At a small table in another corner, two girls are solving a tangram puzzle. "We earned free choice time! We finished all our contract works! Now we can choose whatever we want!" they tell us.
Next door, in the Language Arts Room, we see a similar scene with a group of 5, 6, and 7 year olds.
At a table, Alan and Theodore are looking words up in the dictionary. Across from them, Laura and Jenny are collaborating on a story about a trip to Africa. It's Laura's turn to critique Jenny's section. She asks, "Did you use powerful verbs?"
|Simone (2nd grade) builds a noun phrase out of an article, adjective, and noun.|
At one table, Ms. Lindsey checks Paula's grammar work. Paula has drawn small symbols over the words in a poem: red circles for verbs and black triangles for nouns. "Is 'fun' a verb or a noun?" Ms. Lindsey asks.
In a corner, Ms. Anne-Marie conducts a reading discussion group. Hands are already raised and the children are practically jumping up and down to answer her question, "Why didn't William want a doll?"
Children of different ages and abilities are working happily, companionably, side-by-side. In effect, they are all taking private piano lessons, in a large, bright room with their friends.
Active, Not Passive, Learners
Did you notice that in our classroom, children were responsible for budgeting their own time? In a traditional classroom, children learn to do as they are told. "Reading time is over. Turn to page six in your math book. Use the purple crayon to color the cows."
In our classes, teachers prepare individual work contracts for each child, with work for about a week, in all areas of the curriculum.
Children must learn an effective strategy for completing work. Each day, they should choose a variety of works, some easy, and some hard. They must learn to pace themselves in order to finish work, but not to work too quickly, because careless errors mean the work will have to be done again after a teacher checks it.
Transfer students of all ages adapt to our system in a matter of weeks. While at first they may be confused by the choices, they soon learn that freedom is not license, and that choice entails responsibility.
Children are thrilled to earn "free choice time" at the end of the work period. They take pride in their work. At the Spring School, it is "cool" to be smart, and friends are eager to compare their levels of achievement.
Independence and Responsibility: Preparation for Life
Most elementary schools do not prepare children for higher education. College students need to be responsible for planning their study time. They need to read books on their own, and be able to judge whether they understand well enough to answer questions on a test. They need to meet long-term project deadlines. They need to gather resources for research and write papers without help.
Many students have learned so well the lessons of passivity that they simply are not prepared to meet these challenges. At the Spring School, children prepare for life in the real world after school is over.
Hands-On Materials Make the Abstract, Concrete
Traditional educators are beginning to realize the importance of hands-on learning. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics now recommends that math education move away from paper and pencil work and towards the use of "manipulative materials" and real-world problem solving.
The Montessori math materials were designed to meet these goals a century ago!
|Kaila and Julie (4th grade) divide 6,723 by 27, using the "test tube beads".|
Spring School students will truly understand place value and large numbers, because they will carry with them throughout life the feel and look of the tiny unit bead and the huge million cube. They multiply and divide, add fractions, and subtract decimals for a long time with actual physical quantities before they gradually begin to do these operations with pencil and paper.
A typical middle school student is confused about fractions. Is 8/12 larger than 2/3? Our children will carry within them for life mental images of the fraction pieces, reducing the problem of "simplifying fractions" to the level of direct visual perception!
And it is not only in math that our children learn by doing.
|Kindergartners practice short vowel sounds.|
They use colorful symbols such as circles, crescents, triangles, and other shapes to learn the parts of speech. They learn geography by tracing pieces from a puzzle map. They learn biology by dissecting everything from worms to starfish to fetal pigs. They learn about the ancient Greeks by building Archimedes' machines with levers and pulleys, by making Greek red and black pottery, by slicing play-doh cones into parabolas and ellipses, and by building models of Greek temples.
A Powerful, Integrated Curriculum
Educators such as Hirsch bemoan the fact that most schools today teach isolated facts: this week a unit on plants, and next week a unit on planets. There is no overall plan to teach the history of our culture, and graduates are "culturally illiterate."
At the Spring School we have developed a unique curriculum, one which, while based on Montessori principles, sets us apart even from other Montessori schools.
All students, from Kindergarten through 8th grade, work through a four-year integrated curriculum.
Year One: The Timeline of Life on Earth
This is the year we study astronomy, earth science, and biology. We explore:
- The formation of galaxies; the life cycle of stars; the birth of our planet
- The evolution of life from single-celled organisms to humans
- Early humans and how they solved the fundamental problems of shelter, food, clothing, transportation, defense, and spiritual needs
Years Two, Three, and Four: Great Civilizations
We emphasize the history of ideas and of scientific discovery in the civilizations of:
- Ancient Mesopotamia
- Ancient Egypt
- Classical Greece and Rome
- Medieval Times
- The Renaissance
- The Age of Discovery
- The Age of Enlightenment
- The 19th and 20th Centuries
The study of each period is multi-disciplinary. Look at our Renaissance Studies unit. Children did research on painters and sculptors such as Michelangelo and Leonardo and Raphael. They learned to draw in perspective. They repeated Galileo's classical experiments with pendulums, and built their own telescopes and microscopes. They learned about Galileo's life and how he fought with the Inquisition when he re-drew our solar system. They learned about the governments of warring city-states and the lives of craftsmen and merchants. They performed scenes from the plays of William Shakespeare. They sang Renaissance madrigals. And much more.
The entire school (K – 8th grade) studies the Timeline topics of the year. Each child, of course, works at an appropriate level. While a Kindergartner may participate in a lesson on wrapping a mummy, a 7th grader may prepare a multi-disciplinary oral report on the Valley of Kings.
We supplement class work with field trips to places such as the Coney Island Aquarium Invertebrates Lab, the Brooklyn Museum's Egyptian galleries, or the Met's Medieval Cloisters. The Liberty Science Center brings more hands-on work, as does the Pioneer Living Fair.
|Lower Elementary students trace the route of the explorer Magellan.|
The entire school participates in annual events such as the Timeline of Life Parade, the Classical World Fair, or the Newtonian Science Fair, for which children prepare projects to share with family and friends.
Upper School students (4th-8th grades), in addition to the Timeline Curriculum, study American and World History in a three year cycle:
- The Colonies, Revolution, and Constitution
- The American Civil War: Prelude and Aftermath
- America and the World in the Twentieth Century
The Structure of the Lower School: Kindergarten to 3rd Grade
A Team of Teachers
|Christine helps Sharon study for a quiz on the countries of Africa. (3rd grade)|
Each child in the Lower School has an entire team of teachers.
The children begin the day in Home Room, where they have two teachers. One of these is their Traveler, who will travel with them when they visit the four classrooms of the Specialists.
During the course of the week, the entire class will spend time in four different classrooms:
- The Reading, Writing, and Literature Room
- The Math Room
- The Language Arts Room
- The Timeline Room
In each room, the class of about 25 students will have the attention of two teachers, their Traveler, and the room's Specialist.
Each class spends a lengthy period of time in each room. They follow a rotating schedule for about 8 days, spending an entire morning in the Literature Room, an entire afternoon in the Math Room, and so on.
In the Geography Room, besides studying geography, they have a chance to meet with special subjects teachers for lessons in Singing, Art, Spanish, Physical Education, and Violin.
We have no "assistant teachers" at the Spring School. Every teacher is a graduate-trained teacher. Some are Montessori certified, others are New Jersey State certified, and many are both. Each teacher brings a unique background, from being a lawyer in a previous life, to earning an advanced degree in history. The best teachers never intended to be teachers! And the faculty children, from infants through Upper School, are a large part of our community, making the Spring School more like an extended family than a school.
Mixed Age Classes
Children learn best in a family-structured environment, with classmates of different ages. Mixed age classes make it possible for us to individualize work, so that each child can work at just the right level in math and reading, without regard to age or nominal grade. Having role models, friends, and mentors of different ages also builds social and emotional skills.
In 2009-10 we had four home rooms, two for students in grades K – 2nd, and two for students in grades 1st- 3rd. Students were assigned to a class based on friendship, rather than on academic level.
Is there homework?
Students practice skills at home with workbooks on math, phonics, spelling, and vocabulary, and with book reports and other assignments. Homework is assigned based on each child's individual level, regardless of official age or grade. Parents help by checking the daily homework and sending it in to school on specified days.
Are there tests?
To help with the important work of memorizing math facts, students work through math facts quizzes at their own pace. On test day, each child takes whatever test he or she has been studying for, whether that is "+ 2" addition facts or "x 12" multiplication facts. When a student passes by completing the questions correctly under time pressure, he or she goes on to the next test in the series.
There are also weekly tests in spelling for Kindergartners, and in Spelling and Vocabulary for older students. Students learn, not only to spell words, but to write complex, lengthy sentences which use the words correctly in a context.
In the spring, 2nd – 8th graders take the Terranova Tests, a nationally administered, computer-scored test of basic skills. Look at our recent Terranova Test scores to see how our children compare.
The Upper School
|James and Joshua (3rd graders) build a computer-controlled robot.|
The Upper School is where it all comes together, the point of it all. Students have learned the basic skills of reading, writing, and 'rithmetic, and now it is time to apply them to some real content. This is the time to bring to fruition the seeds which have been so carefully sown and nurtured in the lower grades. Our students burst into bloom, studying science, literature, mathematics, and the history of civilization in much greater detail.
Our goal is to graduate students who are literate about their culture, knowledgeable about the history of art, music, science, technology, and human events, familiar with the great achievements of world civilization, and prepared to be creative innovators in their own rights.
We aim to produce students who think clearly and write well, and who are confident of their ability to solve problems. We expect our graduates to be able to plan long-range, work independently, and organize their time and effort in high school, college, and career. But perhaps most important, we want our graduates to be naturally curious and unafraid to follow that curiosity wherever it may lead them, for the rest of their lives, so that they never stop seeking to learn.
Mixed Age Classes
We have two classrooms in the Upper School:
- 4th/5th Grades
- 6th/7th/8th Grades
Each school day consists of 8 "mods":
- Four 45-minute class sessions in the morning,
- Lunch, Recess and Physical Education
- and two 45-minute classes in the afternoon.
Each student studies:
- Timeline/Science Studies
- American History
|Charlotte multiplies a huge number using the "checkerboard"!|
Math classes emphasize hands-on materials to teach Fractions, Decimals, Per Cents, Ratios and Proportions, Geometry, Measurement, Graphing, Statistics, Probability, Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, Algebra II, and Trigonometry.
Rather than teach from any one textbook, teachers draw from a variety of sources.
We stress solving problems, and we nurture confidence as students stretch their minds to reach creative insights. Students may participate in the New Jersey Mathematics League competitions, which involve solving non-routine problems.
Our wonderful literature teachers impart their great love of literature and drama to their students. While there are classes which stress how to comprehend fiction and non-fiction, using strategies such as identifying main ideas and forming inferences, there are also classes which immerse students in the great themes of all the genres of literature.
Students work on "author studies," in which they read many works by an author. They look for imagery and vivid uses of language such as similes and metaphors. They learn about an author's style of narration and dialogue. They read real novels, and record their thoughts in their reading journals.
The key, however, is that literature enriches our lives by providing heroes to admire, by helping us to make choices in our own lives, and by awakening our emotional sensitivities about human relationships.
We write many sorts of things, from poetry to 5-paragraph expository essays, from personal journals to plays. Students learn the writing process, which begins with brainstorming, and ends with final editing. Along the way, they engage in peer review, asking each other questions such as:
- "Did I use powerful verbs?"
- "Did my introduction grab your attention?"
- "Is my thesis clearly stated?"
- "Does my conclusion re-state my thesis?"
Writing is thinking, and grammar is the logic of writing. Upper School students are well-prepared by their work in the Lower School with the parts of speech. We take them to the next level, understanding the structure of sentences.
Our unique method of teaching grammar combines Montessori grammar symbols with sentence diagramming.
Here's a sentence diagram, complete with symbols for each part of speech. Can you write a sentence to fit this structure?
The ugly old crone threw the terrified children hastily into the kettle with a dash of salt and pepper.
Do you see the function served by the two adverbial prepositional phrases in that sentence? "Into the kettle" serves as an adverb because it tells where the throwing took place. "With a dash" also modifies the verb, telling about the manner of the action. There is even a prepositional phrase modifying another prepositional phrase! "Of salt and pepper" is like an adjective which modifies the noun, "dash," telling what sort of dash it was.
Can you believe that 4th graders can not only work with sentences like these, but that they beg to do so?
There is no substitute for old-fashioned study of the rules of capitalization and punctuation. We concentrate on learning them step-by-step, honing our skills with weekly dictation tests, and, finally, applying them to our own writing.
Upper School students follow the same three-year Timeline Curriculum as the Lower School, but in much greater detail.
They learn to take notes during lectures and from sources such as videos and books.
They work on research reports. For instance, when studying the Renaissance, students prepare ten- to twenty- page research papers on "Renaissance People" such as King Henry VIII, Dante, Erasmus, or Martin Luther. Then they share their knowledge with their classmates with oral reports and multi-media presentations. By the time they graduate, 8th graders are fluent and at ease as public speakers.
|Marielle, Lisa, and Priyanka (4th graders) research Isaac Newton.|
Science Lab Work is part of our Timeline Studies. When studying the Renaissance, for instance, students work with lenses as van Leewenhoek, Galileo, and Newton did. See our Physical Science Curriculum for details about experiments performed to explore the images formed by convex and concave lenses, to combine lenses to make a telescope or microscope, to measure the angle of incidence and angle of reflection of mirrors, to break white light into colors with prisms, and so on. Each week, students write Lab Reports explaining their materials, procedures, and observations.
Each week we take a Timeline/Science test. Students must remember the details of science experiments. They must also answer essay questions to see if they can put everything together and understand the main ideas about history. To answer an essay question such as "Why did some princes of Germany support Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms," it's not enough just to know what the Diet of Worms was and what Luther was accused of. There's an inference involved. Why would the princes take Luther's side against the Pope in Rome? Maybe they were tired of having to answer to him and pay taxes.
Younger students are given plenty of help in learning to answer such challenging questions, of course, and 4th graders take their tests ungraded, Open Book and Open Notes.
Besides the Timeline Studies, Upper School students work on American History in a three year cycle:
- The American Colonies, the American Revolution, and the Constitution
- The Civil War: Prelude to Aftermath
- The Twentieth Century: America in the World
- When studying the Twentieth Century, for instance, students write and present a research report on each decade. In studying the 1920's, students researched topics such as: Coco Chanel; Flappers; Prohibition; Al Capone; Vladimir Lenin; Charlie Chaplin; and Art Deco.
The history of film provided a focus for our studies of each decade, and we saw many film classics from Buster Keaton to Casablanca, Cary Grant to Dustin Hoffman.
There are weekly tests in History, too, with a variety of essay questions from short one-sentence essays to essays requiring several paragraphs to answer.
It is amazing to see the students grow, from timid 4th graders who struggle to put their thoughts into words, to confident 8th graders who write fluently and with detail. It helps that students answer comprehension questions about daily readings each evening for homework.
Practical Life Curriculum
There's more to life than rigorous academics. While we expect our graduates to be prepared for admission to high school and college, we expect them also to live in the real world. As adults, they will need to know how to change the oil in a car, find an overloaded electrical circuit, clear a clogged drain, or build a simple bookcase.
With the help of expert visitors, we introduce children to hands-on skills. At holiday times, they prepare multiple-course meals, from soup to dessert. Our students also learn the rudiments of sewing and first aid. In art class, they build sculptures, make prints, and throw pottery.
Students have run their own school store, raising capital for inventory by selling stock to investors, and have produced their own student newspaper and yearbook.
They have practiced parenting skills by helping care for toddlers in our Steppingstones room.
We help Upper School students develop work habits by providing planning calendars so they can record homework each day and schedule their long-range projects. We help them study for tests with review questions and with samples of excellent answers to test questions written by their peers. We provide special binders to help them organize their papers.
Communication with Parents
Adolescents need their parents, too, but in a different way from younger students. We believe it's important for parents of middle school students to know just what's going on in school. That's why we send home the Upper School Update each Friday, with information about what's been studied in class and about events and assignments.
Each Friday we also send home each student's work contract, so that parents can see if work is owed in any subject, and what grades have been earned.
Three times a year we hold parent-teacher conferences. Our lengthy report card provides details about the trimester's work in each class. In the Upper School, students are graded in each subject, A, B, C, or N (Not Acceptable). (Fourth graders are an exception; while they do take tests in History and Timeline, they take them Open Book, and are not graded.) There are Midterm and Final Exams, too.
Our teachers are always accessible for a chat, and parents can join our classes at any time.
What happens after the Spring School?
Our graduates attend local public schools and private schools in New York and New Jersey. The Spring School has an excellent reputation, and our graduates are in demand. We will do everything in our power to place your child in the school of your choice.
Recent graduates have been accepted to the Bergen Academies (in the Science, Engineering, and Culinary divisions), to Horace Mann, and to the Academy of Holy Angels, and to St. Peter's Prep.
How do Spring School graduates adjust?
Extremely well. Their level of achievement in reading, mathematics, and writing is usually above that of others in their grade. They are much better prepared than their peers to take notes and to write research papers.
In the Upper School, they have handled a challenging work load and are prepared to do high-level work in math, science, and history. They can budget their time and take responsibility for completing projects. They become leaders in high school and college.
Here are some examples. Rebecca Knapp was our first alumna, graduating from 8th grade in 2001. In 2005, she graduated from the Academy for the Advancement of Science and Technology (now part of Bergen Academies) with a straight A average. As a National Merit Scholar, and having earned close to perfect scores on her SATs, she attended the University of Chicago, where she majored in Classics. In 2006, she entered U.C.L.A. law school.
Our second alumnus, Max Thompson, attended Horace Mann High School in New York City, and is now an honors student at the University of Pennsylvania. He has worked as a Congressional intern in Washington, D.C., and recently completed a research project on life expectancy in the nations which were once part of the Soviet Union. He found that alcoholism was a major cause of death.
Copyright 2011 Dr. Deborah Knapp. All rights reserved.