I realized this week what an odd mixture we are of traditional teaching and cutting edge. Many of our techniques are tried and true, traditional and old school. Grammar is but one example. Having a clear understanding of the parts of the sentence and what goes together and what doesn’t is critical to good writing. So we talk about subjects and predicates and dependent and independent clauses and why you’ll never find the subject or verb in a prepositional phrase. We diagram, especially helpful for our visual learners. We have a daily “caught ya,” an ongoing story about an evil language arts teacher, doled out in sentences rife with punctuation errors. They try to catch me by finding all the errors and correcting them. I try to catch them by providing particularly nefarious mistakes. “Aha!” a student yelled today. “You thought we wouldn’t know to capitalize Minotaur! Well, there’s only one of him!” They caught me that time. And then we write . . . on an iPad.
Our school’s whole computer lab fits in a tote bag. Students compose and correct their compositions on the iPads and can then put them in my drop box to be printed. They can also practice proofreading with the app iSentence, which requires them to make sure they have the correct lookalike word. They improve their vocabulary by using the app Textropolis when they are finished with their other work. And we can download any of almost 25,000 books in the public domain and read them right on the screen.
In math, you’ll find Saxon math books, multiplication bingo, pre-algebra, and off in the corner, students practicing those skills using Hot Dots (talking pens that allow students to correct their own work) and the iPads. In science, students learn about polymers and make crystals. They research constellations and make posters and Hot Dots cards about their constellation. And then they can look at the planets from an iPad virtual planetarium aligned to our school.
Once a week a volunteer comes and teaches conversational Japanese. She helped me find a free online Japanese dictionary which was downloaded to our iPads. On the floor, one child lies and practices his Japanese characters, while across the room another child is receiving individualized Orton-Gillingham reading tutoring from the teacher. One child, who loves worksheets, has a stack in front of him. Two other children read Harry Potter, one from a book, the other from her Kindle.
And every day we read to the kids, from The Odyssey, Aesop’s Fables or another book. We’ve finished Mr. Popper’s Penguins, The Egypt Game, and The Hundred Dresses. Every day we have silent reading, students and teachers alike, because nothing replaces the joy of being lost in a good book.
We have no need to be original. What we do want to be is best practice, honing our curriculum and teaching methodology to what our students need. Sometimes that is something that’s been done for years. Sometimes it is something of our own invention. And other times it’s something that’s new and exciting. But it is first thought-out and reasoned, and we build and scaffold on existing skills so that a student is always successful and moving forward.
When you have a school for students with untapped brilliance, academics are too important to leave to chance. We use every tool we can find to help these students succeed. It doesn’t matter if it’s old or new; the success is what matters.