The term “innovative learning methods” refers to new ideas and new manners of delivering instruction to students. While schools should always have the worthy goal of improving student learning outcomes and concrete methods of self-evaluation, SJCA believes the greater goal is to produce students who communicate effectively, are virtuous, possess cultural literacy, and are active and productive members of American society. In order to accomplish this valuable goal, we propose to use time-honored instructional methods that may not fit the standard definition of “innovative”, but whose results speak volumes. These methods are the cornerstone of classical education.
Core Knowledge Sequence:
The foundation for St. Johns Classical Academy’s curriculum is the Core Knowledge Sequence. The Core Knowledge Sequence is based upon E.D. Hirsch’s idea of cultural literacy, which makes it the ideal basis for a Classical Liberal Arts school. The Core Knowledge Sequence provides a grade-by-grade sequence of specific topics to be taught in grades K-8. Topics taught include history, geography, literature, visual arts, music, language arts, science and math. The content of the topics is based upon basic principles that are lasting and solid; for example, important events of world history, essential elements of math, and essential elements of written expression.
As learning becomes more meaningful if knowledge is built on prior knowledge, the Core Knowledge Sequence provides a specific outline of the skills and content to be learned grade by grade. Thus, all children are exposed to knowledge needed to be included in a shared literate culture. Teachers and parents are all on the same page, and the chance of repetition and/or gaps as children move from grade to grade are eliminated. The curriculum constitutes approximately 50% of what is taught so teachers have the freedom to develop their own knowledge goals as well.
The Sequence provides content and skill guidelines for all core content areas, recommending coherent, cumulative, and content-specific topics to be taught at each grade level, from kindergarten through eighth grade. It addresses skills-based topics in language arts (decoding, handwriting, spelling, and written composition), geography (spatial sense), history and science. The Sequence is designed so that, whenever possible, related topics in literature, history, science, music, and art are covered together, so that students can create connections and see the rich and varied perspectives provided by each discipline. We have taken great care in selecting specific instructional materials and curriculum resources that are aligned with the content and structure of the Core Knowledge Sequence and that adhere to the framework of a classical educational model. For specific curriculum mapping and subjects, please visit http://www.coreknowledge.org/.
To provide a foundation in numeric literacy, St. Johns Classical Academy will adopt Singapore Math. Singapore Math is a program that presents mathematical skill building and problem solving from a conceptual viewpoint. It saves instructional time by focusing on mastery of essential math skills, not on re-teaching skills that should have been mastered in prior grades. The program’s detailed instruction, questions, problem solving, and visual and hands-on aids ensure that students master the material. Ideally, students do not move on until they have thoroughly learned a topic. Singapore textbooks are designed to build a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts as opposed to just memorizing algorithms and formulas. The focus on number sense, geometry, spatial relationships and measurement in the early grades make it a perfect match for the new Florida State Standards. Additionally, the coherence of the strategies used build from one idea to the next and is carried throughout all grade levels, giving students the tools needed for confidence in mathematical concepts.
Singapore Math’s placement tests facilitate ability grouping for optimal student success. A daily math block will be scheduled for the purpose of ability-grouping students in K-8th grades, allowing for the needs of both mathematically- competent students as well as struggling learners to be met. Indeed, the country of Singapore embraced a common core standard for mathematics years before the United States proposed such action. In Singapore math, each element of the system — the framework, a common set of national standards, texts, tests, and teacher preparation programs — is carefully aligned to clear and common goals. Each semester-level Singapore Math textbook builds upon preceding levels, and assumes that what was taught need not be taught again. Consequently, it is necessary to assign Singapore Math students to a textbook that matches what they are ready to learn next. By contrast, the typical US classroom offers the same grade-level math instruction to all students, reviews previously taught math skills before teaching new skills, and gives more emphasis to topics that don’t build on previously taught math skills (bar graphs, geometric shapes, measurement units).
A great deal of instructional time is saved by focusing on essential math skills, and by not re-teaching what has been taught before. In fact, some teachers report that Singapore Math feels slower paced than what they’re used to. However, the result is that students master essential math skills at a more rapid pace. By the end of sixth grade, Singapore Math students have mastered multiplication and division of fractions, and they are comfortable doing difficult multi-step word problems. With that foundation, they are well prepared to complete Algebra 1 in middle school.
The hallmark of the curriculum is the careful guidance of students, done in a child-friendly pictorial language, not only to technical mastery, but to complete understanding of all the “whys”. This differs from typical U.S. curricula, which either aim for dogmatic memorization of “rules,” or expect students to reconstruct mathematical ideas from hands-on activities without much guidance.
Beginning in kindergarten and continuing through sixth grade St. Johns Classical Academy will use the Riggs Reading Program (Riggs) – The Writing & Spelling Road to Reading & Thinking— a multi-sensory, brain-based approach to teaching explicit phonics, reading, language arts, and composition in conjunction with the Core Knowledge English/Language Arts curriculum. The Riggs method began with Dr. Samuel Orton, a neuroscientist who researched the functioning of the human brain in learning language skills. He collaborated with teachers to combine his multi-sensory techniques with classical and Socratic instructional approaches to teaching.
Riggs is an “explicit” phonics approach as defined and recommended in a Federal Compilation of Reading Research: Becoming a Nation of Readers. Riggs incorporates phonics-based spelling with a rules system dating from the Webster-Oxford standardization of English spelling, and also provides phonemic/graphemic correspondences from contemporary dictionaries, enabling students to learn correct spelling as well as regional dialects and pronunciations across the English-speaking world.
In addition to explicit phonics and instruction on the English code, students also learn syllabication, oral vocabulary, and comprehension. The English code is taught through an explicit, Socratic question and answer dialogue for 2400 vocabulary words spread from Kindergarten through 3rd grade. During these primary grades, the students progress from spelling, to sentence writing, to reading their own sentences, to the reading of books. The Core Knowledge literature is the basis for the students’ practice of reading in the early grades. The young students quickly move sentence writing to compositions of varying lengths. Grades 4-6 continue to use the phonetic foundation the students possess, to add vocabulary drawn from the rich Core Knowledge literature and content areas focusing on morphology. This will include heavy emphasis on Greek and Latin roots. Riggs recommends vocabulary-rich literature, such as the classics, and is a proponent of high student expectations. For composition, students learn spelling, cursive writing, creative writing, spacing, margins, listening skills, orthography rules, vocabulary, grammar, syntax, punctuation, and capitalization. It also uses direct and Socratic instructional techniques to augment the instruction to integrate grammar and syntax, creative and organizational composition skills and vocabulary development. Each of the language arts strands is integrated around the vocabulary instruction. Riggs uses a complete and comprehensive method to teach language arts skills — roots, prefixes, suffixes, homophones and homographs, antonyms, synonyms and graphic organizers. Riggs recommends vocabulary-rich literature, such as the classics, and is a proponent of high expectations. The complex information comprising the English code is practiced and sorted with the students through a notebook of graphic organizers.
Although the rhetoric surrounding a classical or liberal-arts school often emphasizes the humanities, the sciences are no less important than the humanistic disciplines and do not play a secondary role. The Core Knowledge science program focuses on thematically-linked science topics and science biographies of great scientists. The science program is supported by Pearson’s Science Explorer series, complete with integrated lab manuals and demonstrations, and Delta Science Content Readers.
Science will be taught with an emphasis on scientific facts and the inquiry- based method and will include the incorporation of technical approaches to observing, describing, recording, ordering, analyzing, testing and comparing predictions to observations. Scientific knowledge is advanced when students have the opportunity to construct ideas through their own inquiries, investigations, and analyses.
We do not participate in student-led science fairs, but prefer teachers to conduct science demonstrations and experiments to teach the scientific method; led by a teacher, these practices have meaningful application.
Arts and Music:
Students at St. Johns Classical Academy grades K-8 will also receive instruction in the fine arts via the Core Knowledge sequence. Studying music and the visual arts will teach students to appreciate beauty and equip students with important perspectives on their culture. In keeping with classical education, St.
SJCA will teach music and art largely through an intensive study of technique and through the works of the masters.
In Visual Arts, students will learn about the elements of art, sculpture, portraits, still life, landscapes, photography, architecture, expression and abstraction, works of art from long ago, the Renaissance, Impressionism, Postimpressionism, and 20th century sculpture. They will be exposed to Islamic art and architecture, African art, Chinese Art, Japanese Art, and American Art.
In music, students will be exposed to a wide array of music from jazz to orchestral music as well as vocal music that includes songs from the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods. They will learn about composers and their music, the elements of music, and vocal ranges.
History and Civics:
People live in the present. They plan for and worry about the future. History, however, is the study of the past. Given all the demands that press in from living in the present and anticipating what is yet to come, why bother with what has been? Given all the desirable and available branches of knowledge, why insist—as most American educational programs do—on a good bit of history? And why urge many students to study even more history than they are required despite history’s absence on high-stakes standardized testing?
We believe a cogent and ongoing study of history is necessary for the following reasons:
-To help us develop judgment in worldly affairs by understanding the past behavior of people and societies
History must serve as our laboratory, and the past must serve as our most vital evidence in the quest to figure out why people behave the way they do in societal settings. If decision makers do not consult history, they make decisions without all of the facts.
-To help us understand change and how the community, nation and world we live in came to be
Each person’s world view is shaped by individual experiences, as well as the experiences of the group to which he or she belongs. If we are ignorant of the contemporary and historical experiences of a variety of cultures, then we cannot hope to understand why people, communities or nations behave the way they do or make the decisions they make.
-To help us develop essential skills for good citizenship
Citizens are not born capable of ruling. They must be educated to rule wisely and justly. The cornerstone of democracy is the informed citizen, which we believe was the intention of our Founding Fathers- a government by the people, for the people.
–To inspire us
History teaches us that a single individual with great convictions or a committed group can change the world.
–To help us develop essential thinking skills
The study of history and civics promote:
- Reading at the evaluation, synthesis, analysis and interpretation levels
- Analytical thinking skills through writing
- Analytical thinking
It is in history lessons that students learn skills ranging from reading a map to making an argument. Students learn how to assess the validity of evidence, evaluate conflicting points of view and apply facts to making decisions.
How does SJCA’s history and civics curriculum compare?
KINDERGARTEN SOCIAL STUDIES CURRICULUM COMPARISON
|Month||SJCA History||Local Public School Social Studies|
|September||Identify Seven Continents.
American Flag, Pledge of
Allegiance. Maps and Globes
|Lessons we learn from our families|
|October||Christopher Columbus, Europe||Let’s get along with each other|
|November||Pilgrims, Native Americans,
|December||Native Americans, Antarctica,
North and South Poles
|Your Neighborhood. Cities, suburbs,
|January||Past and Present Presidents, 4th
of July. Important landmarks
|Holidays and Celebrations|
|February||Presidents, Mount Rushmore,
South America. Compare North
and South America
|Learn telephone number, play telephone|
|March||White House, Asia, Locate
|April||Statue of Liberty, Australia,
Name the four Oceans
|Difference between wants and needs|
|May||Review American History,
Review the Continents, Review
|Importance of Water. Earth Day. Rainforest|