THE INTERDISCIPLINARY EDUCATIONAL APPROACH
The nexus of the Roberts Field curricular program is an interdisciplinary approach in which the academic curriculum becomes one with the creative process.
Thematic units of study are based in the cultural and physical world around us, with each aspect of development and learning interwoven to cultivate a rich exploration. Themes such as The Bering Land Bridge, Extreme Climates On Earth, and Australian Aboriginal Cultural Expression present an opportunity to integrate English language arts, math, science, and social studies to construct children’s authentic and enduring understanding of the topic. Children develop their skills in each discipline while deepening their knowledge of a particular topic through classroom experiences including environmental investigations, mathematic problems, narrative and expository writing, and literature rooted in the current unit of study.
Science and Social Studies are core components of the planned thematic topics children will learn about and investigate throughout the year. There is also room for self-directed inquiry into scientific, historical, anthropological, and cultural studies in relation to the established topics.
Children’s academic development intersects with their artistic and creative development through two of the most unique aspects of the Roberts Field experience: the Field and Workshop.
The Field is a 4-hour, once-a-week exploration of the wild spaces of New York City, often based in Prospect Park but also extending into places such as Central Park, the Highline, and the Gowanus Canal. Besides exploring spaces, enriched by opportunities for science and social studies lessons around the Unit Theme, there will be opportunities for volunteering and connecting to the community in the spirit of Roberts Field.
Workshop is a time of self-directed inquiry and creative expression, when children have an opportunity to dive deep into an aspect of the current interdisciplinary unit of study that most interests them. They are invited to draw, paint, build, compose, or choreograph projects to illustrate what they have learned. Workshop is held three times a week, and its fluid nature allows for an inquiry and project to extend as long as needed for children to complete their exploration. Here, too, is opportunity for all of the disciplines, including math, science, reading, writing, and social studies to play a natural and concrete role in each child’s Workshop project.
English Language Arts
English Language Arts encompasses one’s communication through and comprehension of both the written and spoken word. The Roberts Field English Language Arts curriculum centers on developing children’s joyful engagement with text as they expand their capacity in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. As children explore these aspects of language arts, they concurrently deepen their knowledge of the thematic unit of study.
At Roberts Field, children grow as readers through a combination of whole class, small group, and independent experiences. Teachers regularly model strategies for the whole class as they read aloud from complex texts—both narrative and informational—which are anchored in the current interdisciplinary unit of study. Among the strategies that teachers model are approaches to drawing out main ideas and literary themes, using context clues, distinguishing between literal and figurative language, making inferences, and drawing conclusions about a text. These shared reading experiences also offer an opportunity for children to have meaningful discussion around higher level, complex text, including the acquisition of challenging vocabulary words with the support of their teachers.
Small reading groups provide an opportunity to tailor literature and instruction to the interests and needs of a particular group of children. With more focused support, children are able to connect with and analyze the structure and meaning of text in increasingly advanced ways. And because each child possesses a unique approach to literature, teachers establish individualized reading goals, which they support through one-on-one conferences with the child around an independent reading book of the child’s choosing.
When learning to read, it is essential that children understand the individual sounds and blends represented by the letters in the alphabet, which comprise words in the English language. Building children’s phonemic awareness and knowledge of phonics allows them to approach new and increasingly complex written text through specific strategies. It is equally essential to a child’s love of reading, however, that this instruction be grounded in meaningful and interesting contexts that relate to thematic units of study and classroom conversations. Rather than phonics in isolation, children at Roberts Field learn to decode words that are challenging to them in the context of reading shared text or independent reading books.
At Roberts Field, writing does not live in a single period of the day; it is integrated into every aspect of the curriculum from the moment children walk into their classrooms. Writing opportunities and instruction offer a platform for personal expression, such as journaling, poetry, and personal narratives, as well as expository communication, such as persuasive essays, biographies, and informational brochures or articles.
Where writing is the physical expression of one’s thoughts, ideas, and speech, our youngest children begin writing even before they know the entire alphabet. They may, for example, answer morning journal prompts or questions by dictating answers and drawing detailed accompanying illustrations. As they learn letters and sounds, children use their own inventive spelling to express their ideas on paper, building confidence and becoming proficient in sharing their ideas independently and creatively.
Beginning in First and Second Grade, children learn the nuances and purposes of various types of writing in order to develop their craft. In narrative writing they learn to use their senses to enhance descriptive language, to illustrate emotions through dialogue or description, and to follow the narrative arc in building a complex and satisfying storyline. In expository writing, children learn to present the main idea or argument of their text, and support it with details and/or reasons. When writing about literature or informational texts, children will begin to analyze what they have read and organize their thoughts into a response to text. They may write about how a certain character acts in a story, or the figurative language author uses in a poem, for example. When children begin their explorations in writing, they may write a few words and/or make drawings. As they become more proficient, they will be guided to organize their ideas into sentences, and eventually, paragraphs and essays.
Across all ages, at Roberts Field children routinely use journaling as a way to document and reflect on their experiences, including those they share in the Field and those at home with their families.
The math curriculum is designed to build children’s mathematical thinking and reasoning skills about the world around them. In Roberts Field classrooms, teachers and children work collaboratively to co-construct their learning and develop children’s deep understanding of the fundamental ideas of number and operations, geometry, data, measurement, and early algebra. This constructive math process is centered on the regular use of hands-on manipulatives and word problems based in children’s current unit of study as well as meaningful contexts in their lives. Substantial instruction time will also be focused on geometry and measurement of money, time, weight, and volume.