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Foundational Skills – A New Approach

The concept of ‘Foundational Skills’, as a subset of Scholarship in Roycemore’s Portrait of a Graduate, embraces the idea that possessing key core competencies is necessary as a prerequisite for higher-order thinking.

Foundational skills are what many of us commonly think of as the traditional stereotype of what and how we learned in school. Think: multiplication tables, spelling and grammar tests, memorizing the three branches of government, learning the steps of the scientific method, and the like.

However, the experiences that many of us had of ‘school’ and how we learned these skills should be reimagined to align with the lives of young people today. A new approach also serves our growing understanding of how students learn best based on extensive new brain research over the last couple of decades.

While there are situations in which memorization is helpful, such as learning the “times tables,” in a world where there is instantaneous access to ‘Siri’ or ‘Alexa’, the need for memorization in many disciplines has waned. A rigorous education must go beyond rote memorization to focus on student understanding. At Roycemore, core content is embedded in lessons that are created with opportunities for students to demonstrate their understanding in ways that go beyond the traditional approaches.

The days of purchasing a ‘curricula’ from one of the large educational publishers and letting that alone serve as the framework for a course are long gone. Teachers and their Division Heads work collaboratively to design an environment so that students learn key content in a variety of ways, providing authentic, consistent, and deep learning opportunities. Teachers may or may not utilize a commercial textbook. Across all divisions of the School, teachers draw upon resources from the Internet, curricula created by other teachers – both inside and outside Roycemore – first-hand expertise from parents, alumni, or other experts, and even from students themselves.

Regardless of the resource, the course framework will include various units and objectives to ensure that students master key skills and concepts that are developmentally appropriate. To ensure that students are learning what is intended, they are offered a variety of opportunities to demonstrate their understanding, including formal and informal assessments, oral presentations, group work, projects, challenges, performances, and even competitions.

As John Dewey, the father of progressive education once wrote, “We never educate directly, but indirectly by means of the environment. Whether we permit chance environments to do the work, or whether we design environments for the purpose, makes a great difference.” The design of the environment at Roycemore supports the acquisition of foundational skills while embracing progressive approaches to acquiring these skills. This design is intended to meet the needs of all kinds of learners with diverse backgrounds, supporting our equally intentioned diverse community of students.