July 29, 2014

Corbett School Principles and Methods

Corbett Schools depend on a small number of principles and methods to deliver high quality instruction to students across grades K-12.  The following provides a non-technical definition. For additional information, please reference our FAQs, or contact us directly using the email form on the Connect page.

  • Continuous Progress: This principle is at the core of all instruction delivered at Corbett School District.  Put simply, continuous progress is the belief that we expect all students to make progress from where they are forward without regard to their age/grade level.   Further, we expect them to make the most progress they are capable of making.  This philosophy stands in stark contrast to the dominant paradigm where expectations for progress are governed by one size fits all grade level standards.  The dominant paradigm holds that every student should work towards a grade level standard that in the vast majority of cases is either too far below a student’s current level of development, or too far above a student’s current level of development to be meaningful. Assessment of  each child’s continuous progress is monitored by an expert, a teacher.  Teachers at Corbett hold students to individual standards where they expect every student to make the most progress that student is capable of making.  One critical methodology teachers use to make sure this is occurring is to keep each child at their “zone of proximal development.
  • Zone of Proximal Development: Lev Vygotsky is credited with this methodology although it has been continually refined and modified in education circles.  The basic idea is that students learn best when they are given materials that are at or slightly above their current level.  In grade leveled classrooms every student is given the same materials, say the 5th grade reader or 5th grade math book. Instruction occurs around these grade leveled materials even though for the vast majority of students in the classroom for whom those materials will not be at the zone of proximal development.  By embracing a continuous progress model teachers are able to keep all students at their zone of proximal development.
  • Multi-Age Education: Multi-age classrooms provide the perfect environment to keep students at their zone of proximal development.  First, teachers spend years with each student building meaningful relationships with students.  Through these relationships teachers can provide materials that are at each student’s zone of proximal development.  By consistently challenging students at their own individual level and rate students make continuous progress free from the fetters of grade level expectations. We believe that this is how people are built to learn.  We are all born into multi-age families, and for most of human history we have learned in multi-age environments.  Indeed, after high school the remainder of our lives are spent in multi-age learning environments.  A tool we use in multi-age classrooms to meet each student at their zone of proximal development is thematic instruction.
  • Thematic Instruction: Thematic instruction involves selecting major themes that all students in a multi-age classroom will spend time exploring. As an example in Corbett Middle School students spend time studying the middle-ages.  In each classroom materials across a wide range of reading levels are provided to students so they can each investigate some aspect of the middle-ages.   Students are provided with a rubric describing what types of deliverables they will be expected to produce in their 8 week long unit.  The deliverable could include a speech, a 3-D model for a museum, a written piece, a group presentation, and a number of other products.  Teachers combine whole group instruction with copious amounts of individual learning time where each student works at their zone of proximal development.  Students all learn about the middle-ages but their focus on the specifics of the middle-ages are as variable as the students are themselves.  Within each of these thematic units writing, reading, speaking, science, art, and socials studies can be integrated.  Rather than only exploring the middle ages through the lens of a social studies focus, Corbett students integrate the socials sciences, art, and science of that time period.  Further, they demonstrate their progress through readings, writing, and speaking.
  • Place Based Education: An example of thematic instruction is placed based education.  Corbett Elementary has embraced the Columbia River Gorge as a major unit of place-based instruction.  Students in Corbett School study the Columbia River Gorge in grades K-5.  By studying one theme for an extended period of time students develop an understanding that learning can be deep and powerful.  Through immersion in one topic over an extended period of time students experience the connectivity and transference associated with becoming an ‘expert’ in one field as they study other areas.
  • Equity and Access:  A critical principle at work in  Corbett is the  belief that all students should have equity and access to the best course work possible at all levels.  In fact, at Corbett we believe it is a moral imperative to provide every student with the opportunity to engage with coursework that will leave the most doors open to each student upon their graduation. Corbett has worked diligently to remove all barriers associated with equity and access to advanced placement coursework.  Barriers that Corbett has removed include focusing course offerings to include more AP courses than offered at any other school in Oregon, enrolling students in a minimum of six AP courses, providing supports for students in those AP courses in the form of study halls, flexible transcripting of course grades, financial support, as well as a commitment to making sure that every student who tries and demonstrates continuous progress will receive credit in every course.  To not provide the best course work possible, and to not ensure that all students have equity and access to that coursework would be nothing short of shirking our moral duty as educators.