Straight Talk About Ren School
We seem to draw the most amazing questions and observations. And we are flattered, and sometimes stymied! In knowing who we are, we also are clear about who we are not. In an effort to communicate the richness and rituals of Ren School, we offer the following sketch:
We value childhood and revel in the questions and investigations that arise in compelling learning environments. A Renaissance School of Arts and Sciences is concerned with life-learning, creating confident and competent contributors. Therefore, how children learn and how they feel about their ability to tackle their questions of significance, are as important as what they learn. We strive to open doors that children do not yet know exist, to raise awareness of interesting patterns, gaps, and mismatches in the things we think we understand… to springload inquiries that are deemed worthy, that require the development of skills and processes to catapult wonderings into full-fledged investigations and contributions to our learning community.
We are not a Waldorf School. Or a Montessori… or a play-based school (although what we do is quite mentally playful!). We are not laissez-faire. We have been identified as a relation to Reggio Emilia, which is actually a powerful model of pre-school and kindergarten education. However, none of these defines us. Let’s dig deeper…
Our work comes from the practice of artists and scientists. We ask questions, design pathways to lead us to a pause or conclusion, revel in the mix of media and the use of authentic tools, structures, and materials. We value reflection as a way to open another set of questions, to understand our progress, and communicate our knowing. We love multiple entrances and exits to problems and we enjoy the freedom of the cityscape as our classroom when we are challenged to be participants through civic engagement. Our classrooms are an abundance of opportunities and possibilities. We use our time to uncover and grapple with concepts that underlie broad questions and resolutions. We work with strategies that allow children to take information and ideas, shape and blend them in new and interesting ways, and allow ideas, insight, and expression to emerge. The majority of our school time is spent in exhilarating application, in collaborating with peers, cultivating the need to know… occupations that can be found in a vibrant school environment. In this place, children stretch, explain, revisit, reflect, and extend their reasoning and capacities for life-learning.
We are eclectic, understanding that each child presents a unique rhythm and core set of strengths for unlocking the world of information. We do not align ourselves with a specific publisher’s textbook or workbook series. That would diminish our options to serve children. We believe strongly that the world offers incredible, relevant experiences for learning and child-focused opportunities for practice.
Homework And Basic Skills
We underscore the importance of academic skills and knowledge as tools for building deep understanding, application, and contribution, not as ends in themselves. We do not create a second curriculum for homework. Homework is an extension, an opportunity to practice and refine skills that are begun in class and that need simple, consistent effort to build fluency– confidence and competence in application. We lay strong foundations for calculation, handwriting, spelling, and reading, often layering and networking multiple approaches to support the integration of skills into daily use. We unearth evolving skills and apply them to compelling project work. Context is the motivational springboard and natural home for maturing skills. Children eagerly attend to skills that allow them to tackle questions meaningful to them. We are able to assess development and relevance of applied skills, and set goals for further instruction and guidance.
During child-involved goal-setting conferences, children, parents, and teachers meet together to celebrate personal successes, look at progress, and establish personalized goals tailor-made for the child.
Our curriculum is formed around essential concepts, illustrated by questions and multiple case studies. We frame learning as an integrated, interdisciplinary process of constructing meaning rather than as a series of isolated skills and concepts. Children grapple with questions of history, geography, government, physical and biological sciences, ecology and environment, geology, economics, and integrated humanities. When topics contain opportunities for multiple investigations (case studies), several things can happen. We can explore enduring questions that have long-life relevance. Larger ideas unfold, pertaining to different times and places, more like the lives our children will live outside of school, across multiple career paths, and beyond our ability to guess the future. Case studies provide options for groups and for individuals while adhering to a larger conceptual framework, thus recognizing the part-to-whole and individual-to-group relationships that make us a strong learning environment. Children are able to select areas that pertain to, or ignite, their interests. Each case study adds to the definition and fuller evolution of the main concepts. Children have a reason to share and engage in dialogue using comparison, contrast, parallel issues, and analogies, all high levels of thinking and expression. Collaboration becomes centered around essential ideas and questions rather than limiting discussion to simple fact-checking. Over years, children’s contributions and archives allow for a greater depth which propels us into extensions and questions beyond a basic “coverage” of material. Greater understanding of an enduring question is generated and revisited with the addition of each new case study.