by Thad Falkner, Head of School
There are many ways to learn, but not all are created equal. There’s no shortage of tools, techniques, and methods to use to teach and learn. Which is most powerful, though? Which has a lasting impact across students of all backgrounds, abilities, and interests? That lasting impact means critical learning has been achieved.
At The Wilson School, we embrace integrated learning as the primary method for teaching our students. From our founding in 1913 as The Wilson-Froebelian Kindergarten Institute, we’ve held certain principles at the core of our school - involve children in activities which have purpose and meaning; and develop capabilities of each child: creative, linguistic, mathematical, musical, aesthetic, scientific, physical, social, moral, and cultural.
What leads to critical learning?
Integrated learning has been shown time and again to not only help students learn information, but more than that, truly understand it. It helps them develop a more intimate knowledge of the topic or content. For instance, our sixth grade students don’t just read and memorize information about the Civil Rights Movement as part of their curriculum. While exploring literature, art, history, and more, Wilson students learn what it means to identify injustice, inequities, and barriers in society. They develop ideas and hypotheses as to what may be causing such barriers and consider potential solutions.
It doesn’t stop there. Wilson sixth graders then travel to Little Rock, Arkansas and visit some of the specific sites that have made their way into textbooks. The students are physically in the places they’ve read about, discussed, and explored. While gazing upon the steps leading to Central High School the students’ research, discussion, and experience coalesce for a critical learning moment. Touched with a truer understanding of the courage from the Little Rock Nine, Wilson students come away with a lasting commitment to equality.
Such learning experiences are so impactful because integrated learning maximizes student engagement.
How engagement increases the value of learning
By engaging students in their learning journey, student motivation increases and off-task, distracting behaviors decrease. They learn persistence, grow in confidence, and develop advanced social skills. Student engagement leads to understanding that sticks, those critical learning moments which last a lifetime. At The Wilson School, our staff works to engage our students with regard to the desired outcomes that will equip them for life years after they’ve graduated.
Some ways our students at Wilson benefit from integrated learning approaches include:
Coding is a great example of how students develop through engagement. When building a program to animate something in a digital environment, a second grader may have difficulty getting it to perform like it’s supposed to. This could be due to a grammatical error in their code, a missing tag, or the completely wrong formula to begin with. Instead of just copying and pasting a solution, the student has to try different solutions and come to understand why it’s not working like they expect. When the student gets the right combination of code they’ve learned in class and have properly implemented it, they have an “aha” moment. This is another critical learning moment when they will have learned something for life: Not specifically the actual code itself, but more importantly, the process it took to understand their mistake, how it impacted their project, and what they did to achieve the success they desired.
Collaboration and community
Wilson students are engaged at every level and exposed to cultures and environments that they wouldn’t experience in a school that doesn’t embrace integrated learning and high-engagement.
Third graders at Wilson go through a block of learning that lets them explore the natural water cycle. While this is something that has been taught in schools around the country for a very long time, our students partner on the project with a school in Nicaragua. That school also explores the water cycle, but through a different lens as their access to water is drastically different than what our own students experience. This collaboration allows students from both schools to explore not only the water cycle, but ways to conserve water, how to produce and gain access to clean water, and how to educate others on the needs and benefits of clean water practices.
Students at The Wilson School learn very quickly they are not just being taught something; they themselves are the key to their learning. The more they engage, the more they learn. The more they learn through integrated learning, the more they develop other soft skills they will have with them for life.
In your own life as an adult, it’s likely you’ve discovered you learn better in your job by experiencing a problem and having to develop a solution on your own, versus just reading a solution and then moving on to the next thing. Children are no different. When you watch your child learning, look for the critical learning moments that occur when they’re exploring the topic at a deeper level rather than just hearing information and repeating it.
A student at The Wilson School is better prepared to tackle challenges and obstacles in all areas of their life because they’re taught how to think, explore, and develop ideas and solutions that have real impact.
by Stephanie Wiegert, 1st Grade Teacher
It’s no secret that children learn best when they feel respected and valued by a teacher who sees the child as an individual and recognizes the depth of the child’s potential, not only as a student, not only as one capable of high test scores and significant academic success, but also as a person responsible for her family, her community, and society at large. These children—children who feel supported, children who test themselves academically and socially under the guidance of a nurturing instructor—these children thrive.
At The Wilson School, we foster just this type of environment by utilizing several unique advantages we have as a small institution. For one, everyone—teachers, students, administrators alike—knows each other from the time a student enters Pre-K, our earliest grade. The Buddy Program begins for these children when they are matched with a 4th grade buddy who remains with the younger child until the buddy graduates. Together, the two share unique experiences such as weekly buddy reading, shared assembly performances, community service projects, active play, and a Thanksgiving feast.
The Wilson School is a family.
The focus on students at the center of everything we do is something that makes Wilson unique. Our youngest learners look to those in the upper grades for guidance, support, and encouragement. They feel that they are part of a welcoming community, and have a glimpse of themselves down the road. The older students, too, reap benefits. They learn to be compassionate, patient, and experience a leadership role.
Students in grades 1 through 3 participate in another special program. In its first year, 1-2-3 Magic has already proven to be a favorite of the students. This monthly small-group gathering of the mixed grade-level students focuses on one area of curriculum, and rotates each session. During one month you and your group might be learning to code in the technology lab, and during the next you might use yarn to make a Native American inspired weaving and learn about the frontier.
Another instance when Wilson has multi-age groupings is for Student Council. Beginning in the 1st grade, elected representatives attend meetings on behalf of their class. These bi-weekly meetings put representatives and class officers together in a respectful forum to discuss topics ranging from the Fall Festival to hurricane relief efforts to school spirit days. All voices are heard equally, and the younger officers learn much about poise, public speaking, and responsibility from the older representatives and STUCO officers.
The upper grades provide even more opportunities for multi-age activities. In 5th and 6th grade, students gather regularly and research what has been in the news that week. After choosing what to focus on, they find websites and fact-check information, and turn their findings into a newspaper article. This article is then posted to a global studies board to celebrate their hard work and for others to admire.
Kevin McGinnis, fifth grade homeroom teacher and Social Studies Specialist, has noticed even more of an impact during the Recess Games Project. Fifth and sixth graders are creating seven unique recess games, such as building an oversized version of the classic game “Guess Who?”. Students collaborate in groups to come up with a list of materials, take a trip to a local hardware store, and construct the game. The games, after constructed, are brought to the recess field for use by students in all grade levels.
“They’re working through teamwork challenges, learning to support their own ideas in a conversation while listening to the ideas of others, to make the best product. It has been beneficial having cross-grade help, because the sixth graders have been taking the lead, but also helping the fifth graders. In every group a leader has emerged,” says McGinnis.
These many opportunities for multi-age grouping, touching each grade level, are just some of the benefits to a Wilson education. Students are seen, heard, and recognized for who they are and the contributions they make to our school. Our buddies, teammates, and peers are there to build each other up, not only exposing each child to different viewpoints, but celebrating their successes along with them.
Wilson in the News