* The purpose of the Academic Platform is to articulate the fundamental educational practices specific to our school as we implement individual components of our Academic Plan. *
Critical Thinking, Complex Problem Solving and High-Order Reasoning
Windermere Preparatory School excels in teaching critical thinking, complex problem solving and high-order reasoning. Studies indicate a clear link between these skills and eventual success in college and in the workplace. Critical thinking – the acquired skill of gathering, organizing, testing and using information – is the key to understanding and navigating today’s global community.
The 5 Teaching Protocols
Every day in our classrooms, our teachers use a system of proven best teaching practices to help students reach their fullest potential. These techniques include:
Every child learns differently and brings his or her own unique skills, interests and knowledge to the task. Differentiated Instruction focuses on actively engaging students by teaching to each child’s interest and ability level every day and in every lesson. Not to be confused with “tracking” or grouping by ability level, differentiation ensures that each student masters the appropriate skills and concepts before moving on. Differentiated instruction expects teachers to work with students from their Personal Learning Plans (PLPs), and effective differentiators make ongoing adjustments in the areas of content, process and product to meet the needs of each student.
Essential questions do not lend themselves to a singular, factual answer. Instead, they are designed to make students think and encourage them to consider a wide range of approaches and possible answers. Each day, essential questions for every lesson are posted in the classroom and serve to stimulate thought and focus for that day’s lesson. These high-order questions help not only to shape the lesson, but also to focus students’ minds and stimulate their thinking.
Almost all new learning includes unfamiliar language or suggests alternative definitions for familiar words. For this reason, Windermere Preparatory School teachers make a habit of posting the unfamiliar words associated with the day’s lesson and employ many instructional strategies to facilitate the acquisition of new vocabulary. By writing vocabulary on the board, teachers and students are reminded of the central role that vocabulary plays in effective instruction, learning and communication. Teachers will know that new learning has taken place when students begin using the new words appropriately when framing their own questions and answers.
High Order Assessment
Windermere Preparatory School class instruction works toward deeper understanding in academic areas that are measured by high-order assessments. These daily assessments take many forms (quizzes, short writing assignments, group projects, oral reports, etc.) and are the basis for differentiated instruction the next day. They also help ensure that students are progressing against their PLPs. This type of assessment helps demonstrate how deeply students have been able to think about the lesson’s essential questions and whether the teacher has been successful in building their understanding of the subject and targeted thinking skill, or if changes are needed.
Writing is a skill which, just like playing a sport or musical instrument, isn’t acquired over night. We think in language, and language and thought are so intimately connected that it is impossible to imagine one without the other. Writing mastery requires continual practice from an early age, and all Windermere Preparatory School students are expected to write for every class every day. Written work should be an integral part of each day’s lesson, and will continue to play a role in students’ lives both in college and in most careers.
Standards Based Learning
The adoption of standards-based learning and grading began several years ago when Windermere Preparatory School embarked upon a program to raise its academic standards and measure student growth in critical-thinking and complex-problem-solving skill using ERB’s CTP-4. At that time our school began mapping their curriculums to ERB’s content standards, and in their maps, teachers identified the ways in which they intended to assess their students’ work against these standards. Standards-based grading is the natural and inevitable completion of this work – the means by which we share with students and parents the results of these assessments and align teacher Grade Books and student Grade Reports with our teaching standards.
The great advantages of this approach for parents and students are transparency, consistency, and honesty.
Transparency: parents and students will be able to identify the skills the school promises to teach and understand what lies behind the grades the school assigns.
Consistency: parents and students know that whatever teacher they get, he or she will be teaching the same skills and assessing in the same way as all other teachers at that grade level.
Honesty: parents and teachers know that the assessment is not based on the student’s efforts, attendance record or extra work, but the actual ability of the student to complete specific and well-defined tasks. Together, these advantages give families greater insight into the learning process and enable students to focus on what they need to do to improve.
Curriculum mapping is a method of writing and managing school curricula that guides teacher lesson-planning, identifies gaps and repetition in instruction, and ensures that skills and concepts are being introduced in the right order to achieve cumulative and efficient effect. Windermere Preparatory School uses Rubicon Atlas (RA) to map curriculum online to ERB (Education Records Bureau) standards. In fact, we are the only schools among ERB’s 1800 members to do this! RA gives our school a powerful tool to organize, communicate and disseminate information regarding the curriculum and share instructional best practices across grades, subjects, schools and cultures.
Global Awareness Touchpoints
Touchpoints is a unique program developed to bring students together from around the globe to understand debate and propose solutions to complex problems facing societies around the world. For example, fourth graders spend the year studying the challenge of bringing nutritious food to market; eighth graders examine the plague of international drug trafficking. Each class in grades 2-8 is paired with another class, often in another country, and these paired teams create wikis based upon a monthly task.
Individual Growth Assessment
Individual Growth Assessment is an objective measure of a student’s growth in seven key skill domains over the course of a year. For this purpose, Windermere Preparatory School uses the CTP4 - a sophisticated test of critical thinking and problem solving skills developed by ETS (the makers of the SAT and other high-stakes tests) for ERB, a consortium of the best independent and public schools in America. Windermere Preparatory School is committed to seeing that all of their students score above their average independent school cohort growth rate on all seven subtests. The results are shared with teachers every summer and provide crucial information and feedback for the PLP process.
Student Portfolios and Personal Learning Plans
The Personal Learning Plan is an individually tailored plan focused on achieving unsurpassed student learning and personal growth. Based on objective testing results and teacher observations, PLPs contain focused and specific learning goals accompanied by plans to achieve them. Just as all of our students are unique, no two PLPs are the same. Each PLP not only addresses skills needing improvement, but also offers challenges in areas of student strength and interest.
Student-Led Parent-Teacher Conferences
All Windermere Preparatory School teachers meet with parents and their student three times a year to review the child’s progress against his or her PLP. The student leads the final two of these three discussions. Research indicates that students who feel engaged in their education enjoy school more and outperform their peers. Students, aided by their teachers, present their work portfolios and review their progress against their own PLP, suggesting changes as needed.