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How Do Children Learn Best?

The best learning communities don’t grow by chance; they are built with a vision. At Harley, we look deeply into how educators can support the achievement of every student. We achieve this through a responsive curriculum.

Studies show the greatest cognitive growth occurs through social interaction. Through language, learning becomes accessible. In our classrooms children are invited throughout the day to share their thinking with classmates and teachers. A responsive classroom supports this on many levels.

But, what is a responsive curriculum? Why do we use this as a foundation for our teaching?

First off, a straightforward definition:

A responsive curriculum is an evidence-based approach that focuses on the strong relationship between academic success and social-emotional learning. In other words, the social curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.

Social, emotional learning

Social, emotional learning

The social side of things teaches students how to interact and empathize with one another. This ensures students feel good about themselves—and their relationships. By learning in this way students come to understand their own emotions and those of other people. They become socially aware and emotionally intelligent.

An example of social curriculum in action can be found during morning meetings in our Lower School. By beginning the day in a way where everyone feels safe and welcome the tone is set. Students and teachers demonstrate mutual respect through eye contact, tone of voice, and courtesy. Our youngest students learn the importance of being good listeners, taking turns, respecting each other and more. As they progress through school these basics are reinforced and help create a solid basis for our community.

The six key practices used in a Responsive Classroom are*:

  1. At a morning meeting that happens each day, students are welcomed with a written message, greeting, news and announcements, sharing, and an activity.

  2. Rules are clear, simple, positive, and generated with children. Student hopes and dreams guide rule creation. Logical consequences are a consistent approach to discipline.

  3. Classroom organization promotes a caring environment and maximizes learning.

  4. Academic choice invests children in their learning.

  5. A method known as Guided Discovery is used to introduce materials and how to care for them, and to encourage inquiry.

  6. Parents are partners in their child’s learning.

How children learn is as important as what they are learning. In fact, the process goes hand-in-hand with the content.

This approach balances what teachers want children to learn and the students’ current interests, knowledge, and strengths. Recently one of our nursery classes developed an entire unit on birds because of a spark ignited during a class discussion following the reading of a book about them. Their Pageant song and costumes were even based on birds!

 There is compelling evidence growth in academic skills and growth in social skills are intrinsically linked. We see this unfolding in our school daily.

* As outlined in the following article: