Aurora’s Approach to K-5 Teaching and Learning
Our students are future citizens of a culturally diverse, interdependent world and the Aurora curriculum is designed to prepare them to be informed, empowered, confident, and active contributors. Our curriculum is guided by national and state standards, and a commitment to academic rigor that’s grounded in the progressive belief that children learn best when they actively construct meaning. That’s why hands-on, student-centered exploration is part of everything we do at Aurora. It’s also why so many of our units of study are integrated across content areas. Our teachers are facilitators of exploration and learning. They create developmentally appropriate, differentiated lessons based on the needs and interests of their students. We believe that multi-grade classes provide a rich context for peer-to-peer interactions. At Aurora we consider adults and children lifelong learners. We share a journey of discovery while nurturing the curiosity, resilience, and unique perspectives of everyone in our community.
Inclusion and Cultural Competence
At Aurora effective learning and independent thinking takes place in a respectful environment that helps everyone in our diverse community feel safe and included. We are mindful about weaving our social-emotional curriculum into the fabric of everything we do at Aurora. This gives students and adults alike plentiful opportunities to get to know themselves and each other as learners, contributing community members, and empowered, authentic human beings. As part of our commitment to diversity and inclusion, faculty and families at Aurora also work together to expose students to multiple perspectives and experiences. As we work with students to develop a healthy understanding of their unique voice and identity, we begin to explore such social conventions as gender, race, class, and family structure.
Across the curriculum, we teach and practice such skills as:
- Collaboration and active inclusion
- Effectively communicating sometimes conflicting and complicated ideas and feelings
- Recognizing and respecting emotions and emotional responses
- Resolving conflict and taking responsibility for personal behavior
- Understanding privilege and how it affects our perspectives
- Identifying and confronting stereotypes and biases.
Throughout this curriculum, we also seek opportunities for engagement with the community beyond our walls. Finally, we get together once a week for an all-school assembly where we sing songs together, build a shared mindfulness practice, and simply take time to be with each other.
At Aurora, we believe all students should learn strategies and skills that lifelong readers use. We do this by taking a balanced literacy approach, which involves a daily variety of reading opportunities across subject areas. Direct instruction in decoding and comprehension, coupled with ongoing assessment allows teachers to cater to the needs of each reader. As Aurora students move from learning to read to reading to learn, some of their goals are to:
- Grow into confident, self-directed, and self reflective readers who love to read
- Read voluntarily and often
- Continue to identify reading interests and increase reading stamina
- Read a wide variety of materials across a range of topics, authors, genres and styles
- Make thoughtful connections to reading
- Talk with others about what they read, how they read, and what they think about what they have read
In our Reading Workshop model, students may experience teacher read-alouds, shared reading, guided reading, independent reading, and literature circles. Decoding, word recognition, vocabulary development, comprehension skills and strategies and literary response and analysis are taught through whole group, small groups, and individual instruction in specific areas of need. We strive to create print-rich environments where students have access to a wide variety of texts to explore and appreciate. We work to ensure that students both see themselves reflected in what they are reading and are also exposed to different worldviews, perspectives and cultures through texts. Reading is also used as a tool to access and develop understanding of various content areas throughout the day.
Aurora’s writing program is designed to nurture independent thinkers who can express themselves clearly and confidently. Using the Writing Workshop model, students build understanding and skill through direct instruction and authentic opportunities for practice across our curriculum. Because writers read and readers write, teachers create print-rich environments and share mentor texts that help students access the big ideas of writing, including:
- Writing is a process: We collect ideas, warm up through pre-writing/planning, and then we draft, revise, and edit before we publish.
- Writing is a form of communication: We must understand the distinctive purposes, audiences, and forms of such genres as picture books, historical fiction, expository texts, personal narrative, etc.
- Writing follows conventions: To make our writing increasingly accessible, we must gradually learn the rules of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and structure. We understand that the journey begins with inventive spelling and it concludes with a fully equipped tool belt that allows students to engage with the world through text.
- Writing is social: Sometimes we glean inspiration from the styles and structures of text around us. We also share our writing to get feedback, to make it better, and to develop our own fresh perspective on the work we create.
- Writing is personal: Reflecting on, and processing our thoughts and feelings through writing can help us discover ourselves.
Because visual, kinesthetic, and auditory expressions often enhance written expression, we include these methods into each phase of students’ writing process from planning to publishing. As they develop their craft and their voice, they understand that their words can be powerful agents of change whether they come in the form of a story, a poem, or a speech. We strive to ensure that every student moving beyond Aurora sees him/herself as an author capable of conveying meaning that matters.
Grounded in a constructivist approach, science at Aurora focuses on helping students develop their own understanding of scientific content and process. We believe that children are natural born scientists who are always inquiring, investigating, formulating, and reformulating their ideas about how the world works. With this in mind, we strive to promote and develop a sense of wonder about the world and a corresponding sense of environmental stewardship.
At Aurora, we supplement the FOSS (Full Option Science System) science curriculum with additional sources to provide students with hands-on, experiential units of study. Using elements of the scientific method as the foundation for inquiry, students are challenged to:
- Make careful observations;
- Ask meaningful questions;
- Conduct deliberate investigations and experiments; and
- Consider the role of variables within their units of study.
Science learning is integrated throughout content areas whenever possible.
Aurora is committed to cultivating effective, flexible, confident and efficient mathematicians. Aurora has adopted Bridges in Mathematics as its K-5 curriculum. This constructivist program initiates student understanding through the use of visual models that propel them towards increasingly abstract and efficient strategies. At Aurora, teachers are committed to nurturing an understanding of math that goes beyond traditional rote memorization and strictly procedural problem solving methods.
Math at Aurora emphasizes number sense, flexibility in reasoning, generalization of concepts, effective communication, and collaboration. Because math is another way that students can access and make sense of the world around them, we strive to keep math learning firmly grounded in real-life, relevant applications. Teachers provide rigorous instruction that stretches to meet the needs of mathematicians at each grade level. Teachers also strive to create a community of math learners who understand and honor a variety of observations, strategies, processes, and representations within a context of respectful collaboration. Much time is spent honoring multiple perspectives while moving students towards efficiency in problem solving.
The curriculum is organized into four major content strands:
- Numbers and computation
- Geometry and measurement
- Data analysis and probability
Social studies at Aurora incorporates everything from anthropology and history to drama and visual arts. Through a variety of explorations, students understand their individual and collective identities, the challenges and opportunities people face as they try to live and work together, and the sometimes unexpected consequences of our choices. Our students are future citizens of a culturally-diverse, interdependent world, and our classwork is designed to prepare them to be informed and active contributors to it. Because young children learn best from direct experience, social studies in the K/1 is primarily focused on their community and the world immediately around them. Over their six years at Aurora, children become increasingly adept at abstract thinking and learn to consider multiple perspectives and experiences. As they do, they gradually move from considering only the “here and now” to considering the interplay of current events with the “long ago” and “far away.”
In each of their six years of social studies at Aurora, children engage in an ongoing, evolving examination of such topics as:
- The various ways people share ideas and traditions
- How natural resources are understood, used, and allocated by different people
- The nature of power, how it’s held and sometimes abused
- How people and communities make decisions
- The rights and responsibilities of citizenship
Whether they’re writing a folk tale about a natural phenomena, researching someone from California’s history, or creating class performances, students have multiple opportunities to practice their reading, writing, and speaking skills. Students at every age level create maps and timelines, evaluate sources, make presentations, consider multiple perspectives, and think critically.