Building a Learning community

At Great Expectations School, our vision of "Growing Hearts and Minds, One Child at a Time" comes to life in the development of a learning community that engages students based on their individual strengths, passions, needs, and learning styles.

We offer each student:
  • a safe, nurturing school environment and a culture of mutual respect based on the Responsive Classroom approach to social and emotional development
  • a variety of teaching methods that flow from our understanding that students learn and express themselves in different ways
  • guided reflection on learning experiences in order to develop interactive, authentic assessment of student work
  • multi-age classroom groupings where difference is accepted, collaboration is encouraged, and interdependence is practiced
  • hands-on, relevant learning experiences that help create strong connections between subject areas and deepen student understanding
  • flexible-paced learning and academic differentiation that respond to individual student achievement and ability rather than chronological age
  • inclusive learning environments where students of all abilities are members of a classroom community that supports the needs of each student


Great Expectations School FUNDAMENTALS

The underlying principle of GES's educational program is fostering rich, authentic understanding by connecting students to their learning. We expect our students will learn not only from books and teachers, but from their direct experience of studying the environment and community in which they live. We seek to enhance their inherent curiosity and creativity, develop their abilities to be critical thinkers and effective problem-solvers, and spark their passion for life-long learning.

For example, students studying geology may go to Artist's Point, Pincushion Mountain, or Cut Face Creek to see the rocks that surround Lake Superior and Grand Marais. They may read historical fiction or research primary documents focused on the role of mining in Minnesota.  Local experts may lead field tours or classroom presentations.  Students may use the Internet or other resources to investigate the geology of other places in the world and analyze similarities and differences with this region.  Their work may include updating a nature journal or writing an essay about their insights.  Groups of students may develop presentations to share with other classrooms or the broader community.  We have used all of these methods and more to develop and support hands-on, interdisciplinary, student-centered learning experiences.

Using this approach to teaching, educators guide students through in-depth studies of real world topics.  The goal is to help develop children who are highly motivated, feel actively involved in their own learning, and produce work of a high quality.
 

A Community of Respect and Responsibility


Students will not take the emotional risks necessary to fully engage in these rich learning experiences until they feel safe, supported, and confident in their ability to meet the social and behavioral expectations of school life.  Using the Responsive Classroom approach, we strive to create an environment where clear expectations, consistent follow-through, and personal responsibility are woven into all aspects of our operation.  The goal is not to force compliance to a set of external standards, but to help students develop both an understanding of the value of an interdependent learning community and the skills necessary to be an effective member of it.  This includes allowing students to create the classroom and other school rules necessary for all students to achieve their unique educational hopes and dreams.
 

Multi-age Classrooms


GES has established a stand-alone kindergarten classroom, believing that this is the most developmentally-appropriate environment for helping these students prepare for success in school. Beginning in the fall of 2017, first and second grades will also shift to become stand-alone classrooms. However, all other GES classrooms are multi-age, with the following current grade combinations:  1-2, 3-4, 5-6, and 7-8. Students with differing ability levels and ages are taught in the same classroom without dividing them or the curriculum into grade designations.  Teachers from 3rd grade on have each grade of students for two years, and students alternate between being the "youngers" and "olders" in the classroom.  The corresponding relational and social dynamics provide a powerful framework for maintaining a consistent, supportive, and productive classroom.
 

Integrated Curriculum


With consideration of our accountability for student proficiency, classroom teachers have done extensive work to create curriculum maps that help ensure mandated grade-level academic standards are addressed.  They have also developed units, themes, and projects that incorporate standards from multiple academic disciplines, often blending or resequencing content requirements to create a more cohesive whole.  Students read and write across curriculum areas, and integrate concepts from different disciplines as they work through their assignments.  As a result, students see connections between subjects, invoke a broader range of problem-solving strategies, and begin to develop a sense of life's over-arching themes and enduring understandings.
 

Authentic Assessment


As a public school, GES is required to conduct early literacy assessments for students in kindergarten through third grade and to participate in the annual Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA's) for grades 3-8. The MCA's are required by the state of MN in order to hold all schools accountable for teaching grade level standards.

MCA testing 2016-2017
3rd-8th grade  :  Math and Literacy  :  April 17-27, 2017
5th & 8th grade  :  Science  :  April 26-27, 2017 

GES uses adaptive tests for all other assessments. These computer-based, adaptive assessments respond to student answers by presenting harder questions as students answer correctly and easier ones when students answer incorrectly.  The result is a more precise measurement of an individual's level of understanding.  Measuring against previous tests allows us to gauge the amount of growth a student has shown, so we can determine whether the student is making good progress regardless of their grade-level proficiency. 

To meet the legal requirement of using a normed, standardized assessment to report student achievement, we rely on the Measures of Academic Performance (MAP) tests from Northwest Evaluation Association.

MAPS assessments 2016-2017
6th grade  :  MAPS 6th Math and Literacy :  September 28-30, 2016
6th-8th grade  :  MAPS Math and Literacy  :  May 8-12, 2017

K through 2nd grades are assessed with the STAR adaptive test 3 times a year to measure progress in early literacy and beginning math, fullfilling our state requirement to assess K-2 grade level norms, and providing student information on areas of growth, strengths and weakness. This test is also used to identify struggling readers at early stages.

STAR Early Literacy testing 2016-2017
K-2nd grade  :  Early Literacy  :  October 4-6, 2016 
K-2nd grade  :  Early Literacy  :  January 10-12, 2017
K-2nd grade  :  Early Literacy  :  May 2-4, 2017

GES has opted to trial FastBridge assessments to compare results in reading comprehension for K-5 graders. It is proving a helpful tool for regular assessment of targeted student populations who are struggling with reading, providing accurate feedback with shorter testing times. 

FastBridge assessments 2016-2017
K-5th grade  :  Reading and Literacy  :  September 2016, and as needed
K-5th grade  :  Reading and Literacy  :  January 2017
K-5th grade  :  Reading and Literacy  :  May 2017

While these assessments have some value (and GES students have historically done well on them), we believe there are more meaningful measures of student academic achievement.

The most important assessments at GES begin with teacher observations of a student's process (work ethic, problem-solving strategies, collaboration, etc.) and products (written work, exhibitions, projects, etc.).  These observations and the student's own reflections form the basis for meaningful dialogue about a student's achievement.  This type of assessment is ongoing and frequent, providing the student with clear feedback about their performance-to-date and opportunities to make renewed progress. Our goal is to help students understand not only their real performance, but that assessments of their current abilities are just a snapshot along their learning journey, and they are always capable of continued growth.


Parents as Partners


Parents are partners in all aspects of school life at GES. Ours is a relationship-oriented, small school environment in which students, families, and the broader community are welcomed, valued, and respected. At GES, family and volunteer involvement is a daily occurrence.

Specifically, Great Expectations School:
  • recognizes parents as the primary educators of their children, and supports consistent, open communication with parents
  • believes parents are not only partners in the education of their children, but also in the school's decision making process
  • encourages families to attend school meetings and events, including five unique conference sessions throughout the year
  • encourages parents to volunteer for 24 hours per school year and recognizes volunteers for their contributions
  • sends a weekly newsletter and event calendar home with information from teachers, school administration, and community partners