Children are naturally curious. Compelled by curiosity, RVC students are excited to delve deep into questions that are important to them. Students are joyfully engaged in their learning and motivated to increase their own knowledge through discovery. With the focus of a guiding question, students are provided with resources, support, and direction while they work to experiment, research, and learn.
Inquiry Arcs: Three Phases
Throughout the school year, RVC students experience several distinct 6-10 week ‘Inquiry Arcs.’ Each arc follows an intentional process that provides students with background knowledge, while igniting each child’s curiosity to develop their own knowledge, culminating in them sharing what they’ve learned.
Phase 1: Exploration
The “exploration” phase includes teacher-led lessons, observations, field trips, talking with experts, and reading informational books, articles and websites. Students wonder, notice, ask questions, make predictions, test hypotheses and become immersed in a topic.
Phase 2: Investigation
In the next phase, called “investigation,” students discuss as a class what further questions they have about the topic. Sometimes, they reach consensus on a guiding question to answer about a subject. Other times, individual students, partners, or small groups work on a question together. As the inquiry progresses, students use a variety of resources to collect and record data, represent and explain results, and develop a meaningful body of work around the inquiry topic.
Phase 3: Exposition
In the final phase, “exposition,” students determine how to share their knowledge with others. This may include performances, written papers, and living museums all guided and produced by students. Students develop skills and strategies to share their understanding with a wider audience, gaining confidence and pride as they demonstrate their accomplishments by teaching others. Following each arc, students follow a guided reflection both on their learning and on the inquiry process.
Core Academics Through Inquiry
RVC teachers design inquiry arcs starting with the Common Core State Standards (English-Language Arts and Mathematics), the Next Generation Science Standards, and the California History/Social Science Standards. In any given arc, students work toward mastery of skills in multiple subject areas. Academic goals are met within the arcs because research, reading, writing, math, and experimentation are naturally incorporated into the exploration of subjects. Teachers explicitly teach academic subjects within the context of the arc.
For example, during a 4th/5th grade unit on Immigration, after learning about various groups who immigrated during different eras in California history, students focused on reading and interpreting informational texts from many sources, took notes, then wrote informational pieces about an immigration-related question they designed.
In one 2nd/3rd grade unit on oceans, individual students conducted thorough research on a particular ocean animal (informational reading, gathering source material, and writing), then wrote narratives from the perspective of that animal.
The Multi-Age Classroom
RVC classrooms are taught in grade spans (typically TK/K/1st, 2nd/3rd, 4th/5th). Students stay with the same teacher for two years, building a deep, trusting relationship with their teacher. Children typically have only three teachers during their elementary school experience, minimizing the anxiety that children often feel as they move into a new school year.
Deep Two-Year Relationships
At the beginning of the second year with the same teacher, there's no need for a “getting to know you” period; students immediately pick up where they left off academically, with teachers knowing what they need to focus on from the start. This second year is especially valuable in terms of academic progress, and RVC teachers enjoy the opportunity to support children’s growth over two full years.
Students also get the opportunity to alternate between being a younger and an older student in their classes. The younger students learn from the older and more experienced students. The older students model behavior and help welcome the younger children, which supports our school culture of students learning from one another and relying upon each other. Teachers encourage students to find answers amongst their peers and children become comfortable with helping each other, regardless of being the younger or older student in the classroom.
Natural Growth Over Time
RVC students become adept at thriving in a community with learners at all stages, and with this exposure, they gain respect for individuals learning at their own pace. They develop a greater appreciation for their own progress when they witness others being introduced to skills they themselves have learned previously, and they can envision where their learning will take them as they see what more experienced students are able to achieve. There tends to be less competition than in a single-grade classroom.
Teachers continually assess and monitor student progress in all academic areas. Because the range of abilities in a multi-age classroom is wide, teachers adapt instruction and expectations to accommodate different learning styles, give extra support when it’s needed, and challenge children to keep them engaged and thriving.
Math is taught as a single grade subject in second through fifth grade. This allows teachers to focus on grade level standards, while differentiating for various abilities. It also gives students a time during most days where they are with the students from just their grade level, so children in different classes get to know each other well.
Upon graduation, RVC students are academically prepared for middle school, have experience collaborating and taking initiative, and have a positive attitude toward learning.
"My favorite part of multi-age is developing a deep and meaningful relationship with my students and their families. The children experience significant academic and social/emotional growth, particularly in the second year, because they feel so safe and comfortable."
- Emily Korrell, 2/3 Classroom Teacher