July 1, 2016

The Living Curriculum

The Living Curriculum

At the heart of the Tremont School is an inter-disciplinary project-based model we call;
The Living Curriculum.

The Living Curriculum takes a highly personalized approach to education that focuses on our students’ strengths, interests, and individual learning styles. The primary goal of the curriculum is to promote personal understanding of the material through a guided discovery process. Collaborative and individual work are woven together into a learning environment, encouraging exploration, engaged participation, and problem solving.

The Living Curriculum is organized through a weekly contract, an agenda for each student’s individual and collaborative work. The contract is a menu offering a healthy diet of academic and social tasks. Students decide when to do their math, reading, or project based work. Giving students choice in how and when to approach the many types of learning builds a powerful sense of autonomy and responsibility for their learning.

While each student takes her own path to the full integration of her autonomy and responsibility, she understands immediately the power of the message of trust. Though the contract is teacher-made, it is student- centered. Instead of teachers saying: ”Everyone, take your math test,” students come to teachers saying: ”Can I please have my math test?” Shifting the initiative to the student, puts the conversation of confronting what is hard or not as fun on the table, rather than hiding it beneath a veneer of uniformity.

The goal of the Living Curriculum is to breathe new life into the process of learning for each individual student. This fresh air rekindles the flame of natural curiosity that is the hallmark of early childhood. This natural curiosity drives engagement through the Middle School and Upper School experiences.

Individualized Instruction

Tremont’s instructional time looks a bit different than in a traditional setting.

Tremont School’s instructional time looks a bit different than in a traditional setting.  Our class sizes, faculty choices, daily schedules, and problem solving focus are developed in service of our goal:  To individualize instruction for each student.

Every student benefits from instruction that takes into account their strengths and challenges.  Everyone has strengths and challenges; this internal variability comes with being human.

At Tremont, our teachers work with students closely to understand their strengths, challenges, and goals in a holistic way.  At the beginning and end of each year, we assess student achievement in core academic skills.  This information, along with goal-setting conversations with students and parents and an understanding of individual learning styles, creates the foundation for the individualized instruction teachers provide for students.

For example, while one student may enjoy a traditional approach to mathematics instruction, working with a teacher to master material as published in a textbook, another may respond best to a custom-designed scope and sequence that incorporates more hands-on activities for conceptual understanding, repetition, and an emphasis on strengthening foundational skills.  The approach that works best for one does not necessarily work well for the other.  Tremont’s model assumes this variability in students and is designed to integrate these different needs from the outset.  This progressive and inclusive model creates a supportive classroom environment where students are not competing with each other but are challenging themselves while appreciating others’ strengths and learning styles.

Individualized instruction is incorporated into contract blocks in the Middle School schedule, and is part of both individualized coursework and tutorial blocks in the Upper School.

Upper School Overview

The graduate of Tremont School will be a curious sort.

Upper School Overview

The graduate of Tremont School will be a curious sort.  We don’t expect that many of them will take the ordinary paths from Tremont School; we expect that all of them will take an extraordinary path.  They will be inventors, writers, activists, and entrepreneurs, creative people who push the boundaries of whatever field they devote themselves to.  Alongside our students, we look to the future by focusing on the potential of the present.  We don’t simply want them to get into college; we want them to create the network of supporters, the ambitious learning agenda, and the personal vision to see each stage of life and learning as an opportunity to improve the world and to make their contribution.  The Tremont School Competencies and Essential Understanding Goals are the guiding north star by which we help students navigate toward graduation.  Advisors work with each student toward fulfilling the graduation requirements develop their personal vision as a learner, as a community member, and as an individual.

We are willing to bet that you have never seen anything like our Upper School program.  Students and teachers drive learning, rather than a class schedule.  Students enroll in two major interdisciplinary courses, one Humanities and one STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, and Math) at a time on topics like World Religions or Electricity and Electronics.  These courses incorporate content that you would find in World History, English, Algebra I and Physics classes but within a context designed to give a greater depth of personal meaning for students.  Similar to a college schedule, these courses meet as a class two to three times each week.  In addition to these meetings, students navigate their way through independent course work, like reading, projects, and writing assignments.  Teachers are available as coaches during this time to work with students individually or in small groups.  In addition to their class meetings and independent work time, students are also scheduled for math and writing tutorials to develop these skills in a small setting of three to four students.  Tutorials are an opportunity to focus in on very specific skill development in these areas.  The flexibility of our Upper School schedule allows for students to receive individual attention and focus their work according to a plan they develop with their advisor.

Upper School students are assessed in two primary ways, through the Tremont School Competencies and the Essential Understanding Goals.  The 14 Competencies outline a vision of the intellectual, social, and emotional skills of a Tremont graduate.  They include everything from, using and embracing mistakes as a part of learning to connecting socially to fulfill individual and group purpose.

Students will naturally be better at some of these competencies than others.  We see these as the defining factors that differentiate one mind from another.  This is natural.  In fact, adults engage in each of these ways of thinking with different levels of sophistication.  It is important for students at Tremont School to both work in all of these areas but also identify areas of particular strength and particular weakness.  This reflection and self-understanding will inform the types of learning and work environments, which will be most successful for them throughout their lives.  The expectation is that Tremont School graduates will demonstrate concerted attention to each of the Competencies over the course of their Upper School career.  We want each graduate to understand what it means for them to pay attention to each of these Competencies, their strengths and their weaknesses.  Students and teachers will assess their growth in the Competencies through their portfolio.

Through each course, students are addressing Essential Understanding Goals from a variety of disciplines.  The 84 Understanding Goals, 12 in each discipline, are derived from the Common Core standards, Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, and other standards, like the National Council of Teachers Mathematics standards.  Teachers have worked hard to boil these standards down to the true essential skills and knowledge, rather than the broad survey approach that is taken in many sets of standards.

Middle School Overview

Thematic units of study built on compelling essential questions.

Middle School Overview

At Tremont teachers design integrated thematic units of study built on compelling essential questions and the Tremont Learning Objectives, derived from the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and Common Core as starting points. We believe that an integrated curriculum is essential to situating the necessary academic skills in a real life context. These interdisciplinary units vary in length–from six to ten weeks–and are concluded with a Celebration of Learning where students have an opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned to parents, peers, and the extended community.

The daily schedule is organized into interdisciplinary learning contract blocks. These blocks provide extended time for learning using a flexible schedule that allows for depth of study and differentiated instruction, and opportunities to incorporate student’s natural strengths, motivations, and needs for support. The contract blocks are the periods of time in which students are working on assignments related to humanities, math, science, technology, and specialized unit work. Woven throughout the week are opportunities for individual and group project work and explorations. Student projects connect their academic, social and emotional learning to the world outside of school. As students get older, their vision and knowledge of the world expands. Tremont responds to this by expanding the scope of educational possibilities. Rather than just toiling away in a classroom learning about plant biology, we send our students to a farm to learn first hand.

Additional programs include foreign language, P.E., and an expansive arts program we call Expressions. Part of our curriculum involves expeditionary learning opportunities throughout the year such as tracking water samples at

a local pond, designing and building a bridge to hold a classmate, or writing letters and sharing quotes of encouragement for a patient facing life-altering medical issues. Our Visiting Scholars program brings in experts on a variety of subjects for an in-depth discussion of local and national issues built around the current unit’s theme.

Because we feel strongly that in order for kids to be active learners they need to be active, we have scheduled movement and recess blocks each day, along with physical education each week. Overall, the school day is paced to provide ample opportunity for students to move, explore, conduct experiments, build, and work on projects in an exciting and engaging environment.