The Co-op School has a well-rounded curriculum that values all subject areas and interests. We cultivate readers through a balanced literacy approach that exposes children to all genres of literature. We read every day – together and individually. We develop writers through exposure to poetry, personal narrative, non-fiction, fairy tales and more. They have opportunities to write every day, in meaningful ways that have purpose and context. Mathematicians are created through real world project-based learning that encourages reasoning and problem solving development. Children are taught that it is OK to have individual approaches to problem solving. Additionally, the need to read, write, sketch, measure, weigh, build comes to them naturally though their natural questions and curiosity.
Children learn best when they are invested in finding out the answers to their questions and when learning is embedded in meaningful contexts. They learn through experiencing and experimenting. While they receive direct instruction in all content areas, choice is very important to the learning process and we try to facilitate their interests as often as possible. To do this we provide the support they need to excel and, at the same time, help them figure out what they love and how they like to learn. We listen closely to children and tailor learning to the questions they have.
We strive to create lifelong learners and socially conscious individuals. As a cooperative community, parents and teachers serve on school support committees — and the children do as well. Children might be on a recycling committee and come up with a school wide plan or they may even start their own maintenance committee, where they use the wood shop for creations that will better the community. We are looking to instill a strong voice in our students and let them know that their thoughts, opinions and actions have meaning and impact.
For Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten, choice time, or open work, occurs in the classroom daily. During this time, children are able to choose from a variety of centers such as blocks, art station, dramatic play, sensory tables, cooking, and science. Other centers open as interests are revealed or project work evolves. This may look like a group of children creating a cardboard castle inspired by a read aloud or an apple investigation that erupted from the fruits brought in from a classmate’s recent visit to an orchard. Open-ended materials are used and the children are encouraged to develop their own ideas and thoughts around what could be done with them. During this important time children make discoveries and work out social issues. They brainstorm problem solving solutions together based on situations that naturally arise, such as “what do I say when I want to build on to someone’s else’s structure?” or “how do I share the same markers with a friend?” The work becomes more complex as the year goes on. They begin to learn how to work independently as well as with their peers. As the Kindergarten year progresses, choice time can last an hour and children can sign up for centers that span 2-3 days. These explorations in the early childhood classrooms set the stage for continued self-initiated work as children acquire the ability to manage more complicated projects. Once they arrive at First Grade they are working in centers at least three times a week, The children help to create the centers and that can look like project exploration, block building, art making, book creation and cooking projects.
We are creating curriculum with and for children in order to help them think and communicate as readers, writers, scientists, mathematicians, artists and social scientists. We are increasing constructivist theory into our classrooms through a Reggio Emilia inquiry-based Open Work/Project Work periods. Integral to this studies are trips, which happen with great frequency. While the children are playing, interviewing, taking trips, socializing and exploring , we are weaving in ways to think and learn.
The term “Project” is an in-depth look into a particular topic, usually undertaken by a class working on subtopics in small or whole group, occasionally even individually. The key feature is that it is an investigation, research that involves children seeking answers to their questions. This approach to learning emphasizes children’s active participation in the planning, development, and assessment of their own learning. Long-term projects provide contexts where innate curiosity can be expressed purposefully. This enables children to experience the joy of self-motivated learning. They read, construct, research, interview and recreate in various mediums. They go on trips, interview experts and have lively debates and conversations. Our teachers are observers and facilitators to the children’s interests. They step back and listen. They allow the children to have changes to problem solve. They document their ideas, questions, struggles, connections and insights. Teachers ask provoking questions to gather prior knowledge and learn about curiosities. They present materials that they suspect will engage and elicit even further interest of the study. We are creating curriculum with and for children to help them develop lifelong thinking and communication skills.
English Language Arts (ELA)
The Co-op School loves and values language. We love reading and we love literature, both for pleasure and for gathering information. All of our students are exposed to a variety of genres and all of classrooms are rich in print. Children have constant opportunities for reading and writing in ways that are purposeful to them, creating street signs for a block structure or writing a poster informing the school about new recycling rules that have been implemented by the students. They are often asked to respond to literature – listen to this book and write about your favorite part. Additional writing experiences may happen through writing letters, poetry, stories, journal entries, and field notes. Our end goal is all not only will every child be able to read and write but that they will love doing it.
Our youngest children are exposed to language and books daily. They hear read alouds, the read the morning message together. They’ll talk about letters and start to write their names. Starting in Kindergarten, we use a balanced literacy approach, a researched and proven method which recognizes the need for both the explicit teaching of skills (sound-symbol correspondence, phonemic awareness, encoding and decoding, for example) as well as the opportunity for children to participate in activities that are designed to build comprehension and meaning. Balanced literacy instruction provides students with a differentiated instructional program in large groups and small groups as well as in individualized lessons that supports the reading and writing skill development of each individual child.
Students learn to listen, speak, write and read for a variety of purposes and practice these skills in all curricular areas. The have directed instruction in reading and writing in order to develop the skills they need. The reading and writing workshop model is used in this approach, where the teacher begins by modeling one reading/writing strategy in a mini lesson. The bulk of the time is spent practicing the focal strategy in small groups or independently as the teachers circulate and provides guidance. Selected students share their work so they become comfortable talking in front of a group as well as gain confidence in their ideas. Beginning in the second half of Kindergarten, students work towards reading leveled texts independently or write independently for an extended period of time as the teachers observe, record observations, and confer. Beginning in Second Grade, they learn how to come up with a topic that is important to them, research and write about it. They find current events that resonate with them and report their thoughts to their classrooms. Our reading and writing curriculum, while rooted in the standards for each grade, grows and changes based on what we feel is most appropriate, interesting and critical for our individual classrooms of children.
Guided reading groups also occur, where teachers look at student assessments and create what act as small “book clubs.” During this time, the teachers model a specific targeted strategy. They work together to master this skill, whether it is word study, fluency, or comprehension related. The purpose of guided reading is to support and differentiate decoding, fluency and/or comprehension skill-building in an organized fashion.
In Kindergarten we also officially introduce letters and letter sounds through a kinesthetic phonemic awareness program called Sounds in Motion. The idea is that body movements help students to remember how to produce each sound, and what sound a letter makes. The program combines speech sounds with kinesthetic, gross-motor movements that correspond to the tension, duration, pitch and directionality of the articulators (lips, tongue, teeth, soft palate, cheeks) used to produce each sound. The body movement associated with each sound mirrors what we do with our mouths as we make the sound. For example, a sound like /k/ is produced in the back of your mouth, and the corresponding body movement is a backward pulling movement. The program begins by addressing auditory skills necessary for recognition and production of these sounds. The concept of whole body listening is introduced where you teach kids to “tune in” so that work can begin on auditory perception and discrimination of consonants and vowel sounds that often are misarticulated. Then speech sounds and corresponding movements are introduced in each session to help students to remember the sound. Children practice letter to sound correspondence, sound blending, and syllable/word decoding in each session through interactive rhymes and stories. It teaches students to hear the sounds in the words first, to discriminate between sounds, so they can then make the written association with letters.
Punctuation and spelling are addressed in response to each individual child’s needs. Phonics and word study is taught through phonics-based mini-lessons. A phonemic element is directly taught and then students practice the phonemic pattern. Following this, students analyze the patterns of word derivations, root words, prefixes and suffixes.
Assessment occurs through a variety of ways, such as observations, conferring, periodic assessments with benchmark books, and writing rubrics tailored to specific projects and genres.
Integral to our math program is the development of deep conceptual understandings of the number system, place value, addition, subtraction and early algebra. We do this through a variety of ways, but what is critical is that our math work has real-life application and that it is constantly being integrated into all times of day (during morning meeting when they look at how many kids are present in school or when they are making their own graph of what is the most popular playground structure). They also read a variety of books that touch on various mathematical concepts and ideas.
Children learn best through real problem solving experiences and where problems can be solved using a variety of strategies and individual approaches while meeting national mathematics standards. Students at each grade level to explore theories and functions through investigation, to develop a variety of strategies to solve problems and share their solutions, and to see math in the world around them.
Students work in depth on a small number of problems, actively using mathematical tools and consulting with peers as they find their own ways to solve the problems. Significant time is allowed for students to think about the problems and to model, draw, write, and talk about their work. Each investigation is divided into several class sessions, approximately one hour long, and grouped together to reflect the continuity and flow of the activities as they actually happen in the classroom. During each investigation students work a number of activities that include pair and small-group work, individual tasks, and whole-class discussions. Math discussions are encouraged, where students can share and explain their strategies and thinking. Children represent their perspectives and findings through numbers, words, and pictures. Assessments occur through observations, studying student work and end of unit assessments.
The Co-op School uses TERC Investigations of Number, Data, and Space along with Math in the City’s Contexts for Learning Mathematics, programs that embrace individual approaches to problem solving while meeting national mathematic standards, form the foundation of our math program.
Our students are active and pro-social members of the Clinton Hill and Bedford Stuyvesant communities as well as the greater Brooklyn community. The children are empowered by their ideas and through year-long classroom service projects where they become empowered by the concept that they can create change in the world around them. Every grade partners with a local organization such as the BQLT, The Food Co-op, Putnam Triangle, The YMCA, Fort Greene Senior Citizen Center, etc. to support their goals. Projects include recycling education, food/hunger, homelessness and tree protection.
We believe that technology is an important tool for learning, research and communication. Technology supports project-based education approach by incorporating carefully curated learning tools and increasing research skills while differentiating instruction for the needs of each child. Technology can extend project work with virtual field trips and educational videos.
Our technology program is introduced in Kindergarten. For those first years, technology may be used simply to connect to an expert via Skype or take a virtual field trip to a far away place. Then starting in Second Grade, the children begin to learn keyboarding skills with our Chromebooks. They also learn about video creation for culminations, Google Docs and The Cloud. They create documents and share them with their peers and teachers. These skills continue in Third Grade and develop further as they begin to use online search engines to support research, how to find reliable web sites, what cyberbullying is and how to edit/peer edit their work. Our Third Grade class is currently piloting a TV with a Chromecast in their classroom. This TV acts like an updated projector or document camera, supporting learning by showing and sharing visuals images, videos and documents.
Our specials are a large part of our program. The specialist teachers teach important standards-based concepts while integrating what they are teaching to the projects the children have going on in the classrooms whenever possible.
- Spanish: As participants in a multicultural city, beginning in Kindergarten the children have daily immersive Spanish language instruction for 30 minutes. We teach the children through conversation, storytelling, music and games. They learn how to communicate basic concepts and develop a cultural understanding of spanish-speaking countries first verbally and then in writing. They begin to use spanish over other areas of curriculum, such as literacy when they begin to read books in spanish. Beginning in Third Grade they will conduct a research project on a topic they choose.
- Science and Gardening: The children have science and gardening weekly with our science and gardening teachers. During these classes, they participate in hands-on investigations and explorations, providing them with a solid foundation in content knowledge across the key fields of earth, life, and physical sciences. They learn important scientific concepts while developing the habits of mind or skills of real scientists, including meaningful inquiry, observation and exploration, testing hypotheses, and analyzing new information, while learning about the natural world. They study animals and the human body in Pre-Kindergarten. In Kindergarten, they begin to learn about the scientific method through a sense study, moving into living things and eventually earth, ecosystems and trees. In First Grade, they delve into physics and states of matter. Second Grade begins with a water study and turns into photosynthesis, biology, physics and, finally, weather. Third Grade is all about the plants, matter, adaptations of humans/plants/animals and the human body. For our gardening program, students learn what plants need to grow and thrive as well as the plant life cycle. They learn about how plants are affected by the seasons, about pollination and fertilization. They hone their observational drawing skills. They try new foods that they have planted and seen grow through samples and various cooking projects.
- Health: Beginning in Third Grade we begin to study health topics. During these sessions, led by our social worker, the focus is on creating a safe environment to provide students with accurate information and clear communication skills around issues of human development and changing bodies, social relationships, gender, and other ideas that arise. True to our inquiry-based model, we begin listening to children’s questions and ideas and then construct some of the instruction accordingly.
- Art: In order to foster and encourage creativity and fine motor skills we offer weekly Studio Art and Woodshop classes for all students. In our woodshop, students learn safe work habits in the shop. Through the lens of their studies, they plan and build items connecting to what they are learning about in class. They learn to use many different tools correctly and appropriately. They learn how to use hammers, nails, sandpaper, saws and vices. Rather than emphasizing how to use the tools safely, because that can sometimes put in a student’s mind that the tools are dangerous, we are learning to use them the “correct” way. One of the goals of wood shop is to have students build mindfully. This includes drawing plan, pictures or “blueprints” and measuring with nails to make sure it is the right size for the job and selecting the appropriate tools and materials to use for each task. Saws also help with this by allowing students to cut the wood into a desired size. They grow in their ability to be independent and be able to plan and measure. During our weekly art studio classes, the kids explore, create and have tactile experiences with a wide variety of media. We are instilling perseverance and problem solving, by encouraging them to think outside of the box and create in a way that is new and invigorating to them. Historical and contemporary artists are looked at for inspiration. Observation skills are honed. A deeper understanding of color is explored. We see the art and beauty around us every day. We use the feedback of others to dig deeper and find a new angle. We hope to teach them that many ideas have different outcomes than what we originally anticipated but that in the end our product reflects the hard work and continued process of our creative efforts!
- Music: The children receive music instruction once a week, where they learn to sing folk, contemporary and classic songs and participate in movement activities. As they get older they learn how to create their own songs and, even, play and create their own musical instruments. Pre-Kindergarten through Fifth Grade participates in whole-school sings twice a year, cultivating a natural comfort performing in front of others. Beginning in Third Grade, recorder instruction starts. Chorus gets going in Second Grade and meets weekly. They focus on creating vocal compositions as a group.
- Library: During our weekly library classes we focus on creating a love and enjoyment of books. Beginning in Pre-Kindergarten, the children learn the rules and procedures of responsible library users. They learn how to properly select, check out, and care for books. They learn and review parts of a book and story elements. They have discussions on how to distinguish between fiction and nonfiction (real vs make-believe) books. They read fairy tales, folktales, fables, fantasy and biographies, identifying where stories take place incorporating geography concepts. While reading award-winning books, the children talk about Alphabetical Order and the importance of the alphabet in library. They identify what an author and illustrator does, recognize Story Elements, Beginning, Middle, and End and make predictions about a story based on pictures. As they get older, they explore reference materials and learn how books can support the research process.
- Gym/Movement: Through our weekly movement classes, we encourage each child to have fun and be engaged. While learning choreographed movements, we ask the children to take risks and use their bodies in ways that they may not have previously attempted. The overall focus for our gym program is on organized games, activities, sports and play, including individual movement challenges and group games. Games include soccer, kickball, jump rope and even invented games. These games often work on safety, understanding instructional language and include an introduction to movement concepts. Students are also introduced to basic manipulative skills and learn safety, respect and instructional language.
- Performing Arts: We begin our drama program with the Third Grade. The students spend the first trimester learning the components of dramatic movement, sound and study. They culminate with a performance that they create and perform in.
The Co-op School believes in looking at the whole child and focusing on the interpersonal relationships between the teacher and the student. Teachers have a knowledge of national standards and benchmarks. Teachers observe, take notes and have conversations with children daily. They use these understandings of what the children are doing and what they should be doing to drive lesson making. Teachers collaborates with the Learning Specialist and Curriculum Director to support the academic needs of the students. Our detailed report cards, which come out two times a year, provide families with extensive information on their children’s school performance. In the Third through Fifth Grades, a standardized ERB exam is administered to all students as an assessment tool for the program and the curriculum.