By Matthew A. Gould, Ph.D.
Excerpted from the Norwood Magazine, Fall 2017
At Norwood School, we believe that families shouldn’t have to choose between challenging academics and a joyful community. It begins with a simple promise: Your child will be known.
Our school founder, Frances Marsh, believed that a learning environment, curriculum, and pedagogy should be developmentally appropriate and responsive to individual children’s strengths, interests, and learning styles. “We began with a concept,” she wrote in 1995, “to organize a primary school based on a curriculum which would be right for young people….which would allow them to achieve their fullest potential.”
Today, 66 years later, we remain firmly committed to the child-centered school community established by Mrs. Marsh. We believe that our warm, caring, and family-like environment enhances learning and helps children reach their full potential. We recognize its power in helping children develop the ability to observe, reflect, and formulate questions; the motivation to learn, create, and act upon personal initiative; and the practice of democratic leadership and collaboration within groups – an essential skillset for success in today’s world.
So, how do we do this? The answer may sound simple, but it is actually quite complex. We do this by making sure every child is truly known and respected and that they feel connected to a large group of trusted adults. Specifically, we accomplish this by:
- Providing small group and individual instruction. A low student-teacher ratio (6:1) allows for differentiation and creates a “just-right” learning environment where students are stretched but not stressed. This is particularly important in the early elementary grades when a child’s learning style is emerging, which is why Norwood utilizes a team-teaching approach (link to team teaching page) in grades PK-2.
- Making learning active. Children learn best by doing things themselves, when they can bring their full personalities, strengths, and weaknesses to a project. Active learning means students engage with materials, participate in lessons, and collaborate with one another. It means they don’t sit passively memorizing content. Instead, children can open their minds and personalities, bringing their natural curiosity, wonder, and joy to a lesson.
- Engaging the whole child. Children have emotional, social, moral, physical, intellectual, and creative needs. As our founder Frances Marsh write in 1973, “The education of an individual involves his entire life.” Norwood’s program focuses on the whole child, embracing the full scope of children’s lives and encouraging them to grow in every area. That means knowing more than a child’s learning style and academic strengths and challenges; it means knowing their interests, hobbies, family, and, yes, even their pet’s name.
- Helping children own their learning. Norwood teachers guide children in understanding how they learn best. They encourage students to ask themselves questions: Did I do my best? Did I include everything that was required? Did I seek, listen to, accept, and use peer/teacher feedback? Is there anything I can improve? Is there a way for me to go above and beyond? We believe that students learn best when they know how they learn.
- Giving students a purpose. By keeping the purpose or goal at the forefront of a lesson, teachers are better able to observe how individual children respond and learn. Some children may approach a lesson step-by-step, while others jump around. Some take a circuitous route; others more direct. Purposeful learning also helps children master the skills of analysis, problem solving, and communication, as well as those of living and working with others.
The result? A vibrant community of students who love coming to school each day; lifelong learners who are confident, curious, and creative; ethical and compassionate leaders who have the skills and values necessary to actively engage in high school and in the wider world.