Deep Learning: A Shared Mission of Teachers and Students

June 19, 2018


Clarion is a school that thrives on innovation and sharing of ideas between teachers and students. It is a place where the strengths of all members of the community are valued and where deep learning takes place to further the growth of each individual student and as a collective. Unlike more traditional schools where the curriculum stays the same from one year to the next, Clarion’s progressive approach is one in which the curriculum is shaped by the individuals engaging in the learning. In this ongoing dynamic exchange, it is important that students are active participants in their learning, curriculum is interdisciplinary and achieves content mastery, students are assessed regularly, and teachers have opportunities to develop their practice.

At the core of Clarion’s approach is a belief that when children are invested in their learning and are active participants, they feel motivated to acquire skills and knowledge. This learning environment requires a combination of high expectations and individual choice that allow a child to use their strengths to demonstrate their understanding. For example, in a study about communities, students may be expected to learn about how a community’s needs are met, from jobs that people play to services provided and where food comes from. They may then use their own interests and skills to demonstrate this understanding. Some children may choose artwork while others write a story and a third person may conduct interviews. While the children may choose the project of greatest interest to them, they will also be practicing other skills such as complex reasoning and problem-solving that will enhance their overall learning.

While Clarion’s progressive model gives flexibility within the curriculum to allow children to make choices, it relies on consistent measures and an interdisciplinary structure to ensure that each child is acquiring core skills and information. Teachers work together to share the main objectives of the curriculum, and they outline places for interdisciplinary work. Music, math, reading, writing and social studies do not exist as distinct studies but as ways to enhance learning for depth and breadth. In the community study, students may learn songs that capture the many people in a community. They may do math problems to determine the number of cars, schools or houses in a community. They read books about how communities work and they demonstrate their understanding in writing. When a study is structured well, the main concept are reinforced in a number of ways while also allowing students to develop their skills in a range of subject areas.

In the Clarion model, assessment is critical to ensuring that students are learning these core understandings and skills. While we do not rely on traditional worksheets and tests, students are being assessed frequently in a number of ways to identify areas of strength as well as areas that require further instruction.  Teachers note responses of individual students in class discussions, they engage in one-on-one conversations with students during work periods, and they use carefully-designed rubrics to evaluate students’ work and see that it meets benchmarks. They also have external tools and measures that they use to determine if certain students require learning support beyond what they are currently providing in the classroom. These assessments all take place as part of a positive classroom environment, reinforcing the concept of each child being an individual.

At the center of Clarion’s progressive teaching model is skilled teachers. Teachers, like students, are encouraged to be hands-on learners. Clarion understands that teachers learn best in active learning environments where they learn new ideas, practice the implementation, and get feedback on their progress. Our faculty engage in an ongoing professional development model with coaches who help them implement new curriculum and practice new skills in the classroom, in an authentic environment. This helps our teachers to organically embed practices in their daily teaching routines. It also contributes to the development of a shared language among the many faculty members and a consistency across classrooms and grade levels that amplifies learning outcomes.

Deep learning at Clarion is something that sets the school apart from other independent schools. It is at its center an active learning environment for students and teachers, and one in which new ideas grow from a foundation of high expectations and best practices. With roots in the merits of progressive education, Clarion aims to build a deep interdisciplinary curriculum that honors the individual strengths of each child and teacher while using ongoing assessments to ensure everyone is thriving.

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