HLA’S Curricular Approach
HLA Curriculum Guide
Learn about HLA's unique curriculum by downloading the HLA Curriculum Guide now!
The Workshop Model
At HLA, we believe that the child must be the center of all learning. What this means for us as educators is that we have to give up traditional instructional models such as lecturing and skill drilling. Instead, our teachers use the “workshop model” in order to make sure that each and every student is highly engaged and is working on materials appropriate to their specific proficiency level. Over the past decade, the workshop model has been documented as one of the most effective instructional models. For our kindergarten and first grade students, this approach begins with the design of our classrooms: no desks in rows facing a blackboard! Instead, you will find a series of small tables with 4 to 6 students at each, and the teachers circulate throughout the room to work with students in these small groups and individually.
The workshop model is designed to access the range of ways that children learn and acquire knowledge—from listening to the teacher model a skill to hands-on learning opportunities. It is a rigorous and challenging, yet affirming, educational model that generally consists of the following components:
- Teacher leads a mini-lesson in which s/he models the skill or strategy that is being taught.
- Students practice the skill or strategy together with the teacher.
- Students break out into groups that are formed based on similar needs as identified by teacher observation and assessment. The teacher works with each group in guided instruction addressing their needs.
- Students work independently or collaboratively on a project/assignment that allows them to employ and develop the particular skill or strategy.
- Students have an opportunity to share their work with the class and teacher and engage in class-wide discussion.
The workshop model only works well if the teacher fully understands and meets the needs of every student. In traditional educational models, students are assessed at the end of units and their overall score or grade indicates their “skill level.” This big picture approach does not help the student or teacher to improve student learning. Instead, HLA uses ongoing assessments to identify precisely how our students are performing. Think of it this way. In the past, at the end of a math unit on addition, “Johnny” scores a 60% on the test, indicating that he mastered 60% of the unit. “Johnny” is behind, but all we can tell him is to “work harder.” At HLA, teachers review student work daily to identify what the challenges are for students as they work to master skills and strategies. During a workshop, the teacher may observe that “Johnny” is able to count to 20 and add single digit numbers with great mastery but has trouble adding double-digit numbers. The teacher can focus Johnny’s work on mastering the double-digit addition instead of repeating work in the area he has already mastered.
We call this approach “differentiated instruction” because the teacher provides different—targeted—instruction to each student based on the student’s skills and needs.
Support For Our Teachers
Teachers at HLA are committed, intelligent, hard-working educators who must focus all of their energies on the children in their classrooms. But they need support as well in order to continually hone their teaching skills. In a traditional school setting, teachers would get this support by enrolling in what we describe as “drive-through” professional development through workshops, seminars and courses that either take them out of the classroom and/or consume their preparation time during after-school and weekend hours. At HLA, we want to keep teachers focused on their primary purpose: teaching in the classroom. So, we provide on-the-job training and support directly within the classrooms. Our Directors of Curriculum and Instruction work directly with teachers in their classrooms to bring leading edge curricular and instructional approaches to them. We also bring in experts in specific educational practices such as use of Critical Friends Groups and data-driven decision making to provide additional embedded professional development to both our Directors and teachers.