From the moment they begin our Kindergarten program, ACDS students are learning to become effective communicators through a sequential and in-depth curriculum. The result are graduates who are uncommonly strong public speakers, writers, and communicators. Read Caroline, Isabelle, and Ty’s stories to learn how.
“It’s writing time, it’s writing time, it’s wr-wr-wr-wr-wr-writing time!” exclaim Caroline and her kindergarten classmates as they gather on the rug to begin Writing Workshop. On this day, Ms. Hall’s minilesson is centered around strategies that can be used to further develop ideas and expand their written pieces. At the end of the minilesson, Caroline knows that “when she is done, she has just begun” and begins to apply the strategies she’s just learned to a piece she is working on.
The Writing Workshop model, an instructional approach developed at Columbia University’s Teachers College, provides the framework for writing instruction in all grades at ACDS. It follows a predictable structure to allow for the focus to be on skill and strategy development, rather than assigned tasks. Teachers begin writing workshop with a short minilesson in which they demonstrate a particular teaching point. Students then disperse to delve into their ongoing writing work, drawing on what they have learned that day and in previous lessons. While students write, teachers confer with children individually and lead small groups to provide responsive, differentiated instruction. The workshop closes with a brief teaching share–this is a time when the teacher may highlight things that individual students did during the workshop that could benefit all of the others.
Throughout this process students receive continuous and specific feedback designed to develop their confidence as writers, hone their skills, and constantly provide additional challenge that elevates the quality and sophistication of their written expression. Their progress is evident in the many opportunities they have to share their writing, whether in a favorite piece of writing shared at the 2nd grade celebration, a reflective speech delivered at Grandparents’ and Special Friends’ Day, a science fair presentation, or a graduation address.
The room is crowded with peers and parents as Isabelle steps forward to begin her seventh grade Speeches & Sweets presentation. Although the thought of having to deliver a speech strikes fear in many adults, public speaking, both formally and informally, is something Isabelle has been doing now for eight years. There are still some nerves, of course, but she’s relaxed and confident. Her words are powerful and they are delivered in the polished style of a person well-beyond her 13 years.
Public speaking at ACDS begins in kindergarten, where students become comfortable sharing thoughts with their classmates during morning meeting, and might even be found making an announcement about their food drive for Blessings in a Backpack to the whole school at an assembly. Starting in first grade with the Authors’ Tea, students begin reading their written work in front of peers, parents and, in the case of the third grade poetry reading, St. Elmo’s Coffee House patrons. In fourth grade, students find themselves on the stage, preparing to deliver lines with confidence and expression in their class play. Students in all grades, K-8, regularly present work completed in a small group to the rest of their class.
Beginning in fifth grade, students participate in our annual Speeches & Sweets program. Each year, students get up in front of their parents and classmates to deliver a formal speech of increasing sophistication, and by the time they deliver their 8th grade speech, it resembles a TED Talk in style and quality.
For his third grade state fair project, Ty chose Hawaii. Like students in countless schools, he thoroughly researched the state and prepared a poster board presentation to share with students and parents. But Ty also headed to our Innovation Lab, where he used our blue screen and video equipment to create a tourism video for the state of Hawaii. With some help from one of our technology integrationists, Ty’s video along with videos created by his classmates for their states were placed on an interactive United States map and became another tool for communicating what they learned about their states.
ACDS students and teachers look for new and dynamic ways of communicating their ideas using video, audio, animation, graphics, and still photography. Sixth graders produce stop motion “claymation” videos demonstrating mitosis. 8th graders create interactive websites for their projects on Washington D.C. monuments that do not just list the facts about the sites, but rather reflected on the personal significance these sites had to them, illustrating their thoughts with creative photos. 5th graders analyze the differences in ancient philosophies by producing image filled comic books that told the stories of how characters were treated under Laozi, Hanfeizi, and Confucius. Our technology integrationists work closely with teachers and students to help develop these technology-enriched activities, and our students benefit from the myriad modes of expression to which they have access.
All of our students are also immersed in the arts, exploring ways to communicate their ideas through visual art, drama, and music. In all three areas, students are challenged to push beyond the common, and produce extremely high-quality works.
By the time our students graduate, they have had a varied and intensive experience with numerous forms of communication, and when they go on to high school and beyond, this preparation distinguishes them from their peers. High school teachers and admissions officers frequently comment on how poised and articulate our students are and how capable they are as communicators.