Active Student Participation
We believe students should be active participants in the creation of knowledge. Teachers assume the role of “expert coach,” guiding students as they construct knowledge, acquire skills, and master new concepts. Students, for their part, are responsible for putting forth the dedicated effort and active participation that is vital to their own learning and growth.
Authentic Learning Experiences
We believe also that students should be engaged to the greatest possible extent in authentic or purposeful acts of learning. In each content area, Unity Prep teachers, acting as coaches and experts, will guide students in acquiring the skills and mastering the essential concepts of each academic discipline through explicit modeling and careful guidance. Moreover, each student will “learn by doing,” as they, for example, solve real-world problems in mathematics, write for real-world audiences and purposes in English language arts, investigate natural phenomena in science, and so on, rather than simply completing rote or isolated academic exercises. In addition, we believe that authentic learning must also be culturally relevant and meaningful to the student. As such, teachers will make curricular choices that affirm the identities and the social and cultural heritage of students and provide them with opportunities to share their cultural knowledge as they expand their understanding of the world around them.
A Rigorous Yet Supportive Learning Environment (or Equal Parts Rigor and Support)
We believes that students should experience a rigorous curriculum and instruction that provides appropriate levels of support and challenge for all ability levels. Teachers will communicate explicit standards for student work, provide frequent constructive feedback, and teach students how to assess, reflect on, and constantly improve their own work in order to engage them as full partners in learning.
Instructional Format and Pedagogy
Unity Prep’s standard instructional format in the four core-content courses will be based on the workshop model with teachers having some flexibility to vary the structure of their lessons to best support student learning. Within this model, teachers will develop and implement carefully planned lessons that are designed around clear and measurable daily objectives. In some cases a lesson may involve a teacher explaining or modeling a particular skill, strategy, or procedure for students upfront in the form of a mini-lesson. During the course of a typical lesson, teachers will utilize methods and techniques typically associated with explicit and differentiated instruction, actively addressing the learning needs of individual students through goal setting, modeling, guiding, facilitating, monitoring, and providing feedback. In other cases it may involve a teacher first introducing a specific question or problem for investigation and then guiding students as they engage in a process of inquiry, generate responses or solutions, and formulate new ideas. Each lesson will also include formative assessments that gauge student understanding, support differentiation, and inform next steps.
In Unity Prep’s enrichment courses, as well as in most co-curricular activities, lessons and class sessions will include the familiar beginning, middle, and end of a typical workshop model format as they do in the core-content courses. However, in these courses and activities, teachers will typically take a more “hands-off” approach to facilitating learning. The nature of the tasks and the way in which students develop new skills will be more student-centered with students, in partnerships or small teams, actively going through “an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge” (Buck Institute for Education, 2011). Our enrichment courses will not be traditional, stand-alone courses but rather will involve interdisciplinary projects as teachers seek out opportunities to challenge students to use world languages, design, and technology as tools to broaden, reinforce, and draw connections across key concepts introduced in core-content .