It’s hard to believe we are in May and will soon be in the midst of summer. And before we know it, we’ll be celebrating our first day at Compositive Primary! It was so wonderful to see many of you at the Topping Out ceremony, and I look forward to continuing to get to know all of you as we come together as a community.
Speaking of community, I’ve been thinking a lot about this word as we put together plans for next year. It’s important to our school’s mission to develop in our students a strong sense of community and an understanding of how communities work and thrive. We can do this in a variety of ways, all relating back to the Compositive Primary model, which focuses on developing in our students four key capacities: Reflect and Learn, Recognize and Act, Care and Connect, and Engage and Serve. Through developing these capacities, we will help children understand who they are as individuals and as part of a community (actually as part of several communities).
Our curriculum team has been busy at work developing frameworks for teachers to develop what we call inquiry arcs over the course of the year. These inquiry arcs focus on large themes that teachers and students can take in different directions depending on what questions they ask and what areas they want to explore. For instance, in focusing on communities, a class may want to explore a specific type of community, like an ant farm or a bee apiary. Others may be more interested in exploring the surrounding community at Anschutz and discovering how the different parts work together to create a cohesive community. Either way, they will make connections with their own lives and explore how a classroom community works and how they fit into that community.
That is the beauty of inquiry-based learning: it captures the natural curiosity of children and uses it to guide students in deep learning. Whether they end up learning more about ants, butterflies, or helpers in their own community, they will learn how to research, how to express themselves, how to recognize their own emotions and start to recognize those of others. To be sure, we have a clear notion of the skills we want our students to develop; the exciting part is that there are so many ways to get there!
Planning for inquiry-based teaching might seem like a bit of a paradox – you need to plan diligently, you need to be flexible and adaptable. Some people may think that if you are letting the children’s interest guide the exploration, then you don’t need to plan ahead. Not so! Teachers need to have thought deeply about overarching ideas and questions, and they also have to have thought about what they want their students to be able to know and do (and also about how they will assess whether their students in fact do know and can do these things). They need to think about the best ways to introduce the ideas: what kind of provocations will light the students’ fire and make them want to learn more? What experiences will tap into that natural curiosity mentioned earlier?
And teachers need to anticipate what questions students might ask, not so they can provide the answers (that would be the old “sage on a stage” model), but so they can ask more questions and guide students to resources to help them explore (this is the “guide on the side” model). This is the chance to dive deep: to become critical thinkers in curating resources; to perform experiments to find answers to questions; to interview experts and ask even more questions.
Once students themselves become experts, they can make even more meaning of their experience by sharing their expertise and by taking action, figuring out how they can use their newfound expertise to make a difference. For instance, students who have studied what makes communities work together might create a book for their class library on how to set up a classroom community – this can be used by future classes. Or a class who decided to explore bees might become passionate about bee conservation and create a video to make others aware about what might happen if bees became extinct. When they have the chance to connect their learning to a larger purpose, they find themselves deeply motivated.
Author Daniel Pink has researched intrinsic motivation and has determined three things that drive all individuals: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. The Compositive Model encourages all three of these areas. Inquiry-based learning allows students to ask and answer questions that are meaningful to them. Through their exploration, students are able to become experts. And, finally, by engaging with each other and with the world around them, students develop a sense of purpose and an understanding that they can truly make a difference. This sense of purpose leads to more questions, and the process starts all over again.
I am eager to see this in action in just a few short months and know that we will all learn and grow together as we develop our Compositive community. See you soon!