Bank Street Curriculum
 

Columbus Magnet School

46 Concord St, Norwalk, CT 06854 ‚óŹ Phone: (203) 899-2840

 

 
 

TEACHING AND LEARNING IN A BANK STREET CLASSROOM

Adapted from The Focus is On Children

Garda Bowman
Elizabeth Gilkeson

Bank Street's approach to learning is predicated on the theory that school can be stimulating, satisfying, sensible, and perceived by each child as an important part of his/her life. School can be a place where children will approach any new experience with wonder, with questioning, with experimentation. It can be a setting in which growing persons exchange ideas and learn ways to express themselves and communicate with others who share in common enterprises - others whose ideas and desires may be different or like their own. Essentially, the classroom is a place where the child can construct - if tentatively and crudely at first - an age-appropriate, interactive world of work, creativity, and social interaction.

For the five, six, seven, and eight year olds, the effective classroom is an organized, efficient workspace where there is opportunity for motor and sensory experiences, for active investigation of what things are and how they work. There are many stimulating options for learning experiences for groups and individuals. The room has a richness of color and vitality to which the response is both conscious and unconscious.

The physical arrangement of the room includes a variety of interest centers, equipped so that children can pursue special projects, utilizing language, artistic creation, math and scientific experiments. There is ample storage space so organized that children have easy access to materials. Flexibility is provided by means of movable room dividers and multipurpose tables. There is a quiet area for reading and a library. Musical instruments and art materials invite active participation in the arts. Children's work is displayed at the child's eye level. Materials include many teacher-made and parent-made items as well as those which the children create themselves, thus relating directly to the child's own world. There is opportunity for the care of plants and/or animals of various kinds. The classroom exemplifies, in itself, the importance of the arts and sciences in the child's development.

Working in this classroom, with its understandable rules and well-defined physical structure, children are helped to control and organize themselves and to develop skills for mastery in their environment. As they go about their work, children move and talk freely. They respond to a highly functional environment of written labels, messages, job charts, and other signals that tell them where things are, the events of the day, the choices that are available to them, and through which the world of symbols becomes meaningful. They make plans and carry them out with a strong sense of responsibility and purpose. They learn how to organize and record information, and how to express their thoughts and feelings. In essence, they learn how to attack problems and how to learn. Thus they bring all of the basic skills into meaningful focus.

The role of the teaching team - teacher and assistant - in this classroom is critical and is more than purely instructional. Adults have high expectations of children in terms of their capacity and desire to learn. The adults relate to each child as a person and as a learner. They express consistently in action and in words a respect for the child, his world, and his communications.

The teaching team introduces central themes of study and activities that extend and deepen the children's understanding of the world around them. First, these themes are elaborated from the planned environment of the classroom, such as organizing chores, caring for pets and plants, cooking, building, and using their library. Then from those aspects of their immediate community in which the children can see relationships, meet challenges and use their mathematical and scientific concepts, they study such topics as food marketing, traffic control, sources of water, and animal and plant life. The adults encourage direct observations of the important aspects of the environment through a wide range of relevant field trips. From the earliest years, the teacher plans in strategic steps the systematic instruction necessary for the development of basic research skills. With each year of development the central themes extend in time and space to other lands and cultures.

Within this classroom world the teaching team helps each child use language to express and fulfill his desires, to formulate his questions and ideas, and to exchange meaning with others. Spoken and written words are presented as enjoyable and immediately useful tools. Children are encouraged to experiment with them as a natural process of communication. Language permeates the whole environment. The learning and teaching of reading is a continuous activity. Books and pictures are discussed freely and frequently. Children not only learn to read but become readers. They not only learn to write, but become writers of their own stories and journals. The children are read to daily as an important demonstration of the pleasures of the printed word. Thus the children are enabled to integrate their thinking, their language use, and their mastery of symbolic skills in a situation in which adults analyze individual learning styles and plan appropriate programs.

Adults listen to the language of play and then provide new opportunities and materials that help children elaborate their ideas. For the young child, play is the medium through which he or she expresses and integrates knowledge, skills, and feelings. Play is, in fact, the child's work. The adults respect and support play by building it into the curriculum. For the older child, ideas are expressed in a more sophisticated use of raw materials, and the concept of play moves toward dramatic expression. For children of all ages, the opportunity to recreate experience is a continuing need.

Scheduling is a major tool for structuring group life. The daily schedule is interpreted by the adults in many ways and is clearly understood by the children. Although the schedule is carefully structured there is a high degree of flexibility that permits response to unexpected opportunities for learning experiences generated by children's explorations and ever-evolving curiosity. Children often work independently or in small groups, with or without adults, with many activities going on simultaneously. The emphasis upon individual development does not preclude concern with the group process. Actually, the reverse is true since one cannot understand the whole child without knowing how he or she functions within a group. Conversely, the small group is often a crucial factor in the individual development of its members. The whole group meets when interests converge or when the nature of the activity calls for full participation.

Transitions from one activity to another, which usually demand a high degree of adult direction, appear more reasonable and flexible in this classroom where children understand their responsibility for their own learning process. In fact, learning appropriate social behavior is part of the curriculum. The adults guide the child in developing inner controls that minimize the need for outer discipline.

In this classroom parents come and go freely, conferencing with the teaching teams, and participating in the ongoing and special activities. Through their understanding of the school world and their contribution to it, parents can provide continuity of learning and life experiences for children. For Bank Street views the classroom as a prototype of society where children may learn early in life those values underlie a free, humanistic culture. Hence, the classroom approximates a rational, democratic life situation in which the child learns to consider alternatives and initiate his or her own course of action. Essentially, it is the vitality of the total classroom life for children and their own investment in it that determine their motivation to learn.