Building Curriculum Blocks
The natural impulse for children is to explore and learn. With the right conditions, they will embrace responsibility, overcome challenges, and develop their inner talents. Understanding how each individual child learns and how he/she copes with different situations helps us customize an approach to help bring out the best in each child. In some cases, this will mean consistent support and guidance. In other cases, the main ingredients to a child’s success may simply be resources and time. Although our curriculum is structured to meet the expectations of a typical Ontario school, it looks very different than the traditional curriculum and is applied with the uniqueness of each child in mind.
The Evergreen curriculum is divided into compulsory classes and elective ones. The compulsary classes cover material students will require a strong grasp of when they move to High School. It was developed with careful consideration of the Ontario Elementary School curriculum guidelines as well as the High School courses students will likely encounter. The compulsory curriculum is divided into levels rather than grades. Students can complete levels in different subjects at any point in the year, allowing them to advance quicker in subjects they are most compatible with, while maintaining a slower pace of study in subjects they find more challenging.
The standard in Ontario for Elementary School is 300 minutes of class time per day. The compulsory curriculum at Evergreen reduces the mandatory class time to 180 minutes per day. This reduction in compulsory class time was accomplished by breaking down the Ontario Curriculum into its smallest building blocks and rebuilding it. By prioritizing the elements that were most critical to success in High School, we were able to trim, combine, and add learning elements. This process significantly reduces the time required to teach these elements, in order to offer students the maximum amount of self directed learning each day.
All children admitted to Evergreen begin their learning journey at a level that fits their maturity and academic achievements. Through a range of encouragement strategies, including our credit system, students are motivated to complete learning elements, earn badges, and advance levels.
Students who complete level D will be able to comfortably advance to High School. Completing Level D is the base expectation we ask all students to strive for. Level E is designed to challenge students to begin studying the material they will encounter in High School and beyond.
- Intense Focus
Training our students to exercise intense focus is a key element of our program. When students are unprepared or distracted, a 45-minute lesson will lose much of its benefit. Addressing behavioural issues, repeating information over and over, and generally feeling like students do not care about what is being taught is extremely deflating. This is why so much of our effort is committed to establishing a collaborative and supportive atmosphere. The moment a classroom of children feel committed to their learning, they become open to intensely focusing on the lesson.
Our students are motivated and engaged during the mandatory class time and excited to have more time for electives and other activities that ignite their passion. Our students know that their intense focus leads to tangible rewards, and that is key to not only their learning, but also the overall strength of our curriculum.
By having students feel ownership over their learning and encouraging their input and collaboration, we generate a positive feedback loop that connects our curriculum, our teachers, and the students. Our focus is therefore less on what the children are learning and more on how they are engaging with the material being taught.
- Self Directed Learning
Through optional classes and workshops, mentorship, and a wealth of resources at their disposal, students are given the freedom to choose how they spend a significant portion of their time and what they are most interested in. We believe strongly that forcing children to learn is counterproductive to their academic growth and overall development. If students feel a sense of excitement and ambition when engaging in an activity, the learning that results is more meaningful, lasting, and has a far greater positive impact on their confidence and overall development. The goal is to have students wanting to learn as opposed to being told how and what to learn.
It is through self directed learning that many people have found their calling and have nurtured their passion into successful careers. In his book, “The Element”, Ken Robinson offers many examples of people who have found their calling in life despite school and not because of it. The examples Ken Robinson discusses are a small fraction of the stories that describe a path to success and fulfillment that is fueled by a passion for learning outside of school. With that said, there are many success stories of people finding their passion through school and traditional academic study. As they pass through school, they typically discover the parts of school they most connect with. Regardless of which group a person falls under, the opportunity to offer students substantial time for self directed learning in the areas they are most interested in would only amplify their future success.
One can argue that the rigours of school itself offers the necessary experience to be successful later in life, regardless of how much of the learning seems like a waste in hindsight. However, the idea that we waste time studying things we will never need and we have no choice in the matter is concerning. Children are taught that they are on the clock and do not have a say in the material they study, the work they are assigned, the projects they have to complete, and the tests they have to write. They are taught that their time is not their own. In a world that emphasizes the importance of time, we are training our children through their most important years of development that their time is not important. They are just kids. They will have plenty of time to make decisions in the “real world” when they grow up. For now, they must study in school whether they like it or not.
At Evergreen, we strive to balance the more formal academic curriculum with a nearly equal amount of self directed learning so that students feel connected to and in control of their learning journey.
Gaining the respect of children, especially in a school environment, is challenging. It is easy to talk of respect as a core value, but true respect can only come when children are appreciative of being a part of the school. If school is seen as a privilege, the attitude of the student body will reflect in the care and focus they put into their work, the way they encourage each other, and the consistency of the results they achieve. In such an atmosphere, the staff will feel more empowered and fulfilled. The creativity and ambition that will flow through such an atmosphere will be contagious and help the school community work together to reach individual and group goals. At it’s core, Evergreen offers an opportunity for all members of the school community to shape, evolve, and benefit from the way we work together and spend our time.