To provide a learning environment in which active and meaningful learning could take place, Horace Mann teachers developed curriculum in which elements of traditional content areas (mathematics, science, social studies, and language arts) were integrated into thematic units based on topics relevant to the students' lives. Student work often took the form of cooperative projects. For example, in one activity heterogeneous groups of students worked on projects requiring them to apply principles of natural science and mathematics to meaningful social issues. The application of core academic subjects to real-life problems engaged students in learning that was not decontextualized from their experiences; this experience-based curriculum validated the students as individuals, and as members of the community. The use of project-based learning as a pedagogical tool allowed students to do in-depth, sustained work which fostered a deeper understanding of sophisticated concepts, required problem-solving and critical thinking, and contributed to oral and written language development. Projects were also conducive to hands-on, activity-oriented learning and to learning in and from groups. Heterogeneous student groupings, which were typical at Horace Mann, let all students share their unique strengths, interests, and experiences, while learning to work cooperatively with their peers.
Horace Mann at a Glance
Location--San Francisco, CA
The implementation of these innovative pedagogical strategies was reinforced by an assessment system based on the premise that meaningful assessment of student progress and achievement is integral to their education. Teachers used assessment tools that measure students' ability to construct and apply knowledge, not just reproduce it. Faculty were also beginning assess and evaluate their own teaching through a process of review and reflection aimed at identifying what works and what does not in their curriculum and instruction. The result of their effort was twofold: first, it encouraged teachers to act as thoughtful researchers and as part of an active community of learners. Second, it effected a dynamic curriculum that was continually being refined and perfected.
The use of powerful curricular and instructional strategies at Horace Mann was made possible by the design of the program for limited English proficient (LEP) students and the overall school structure, as explained below.
The LEP student program at Horace Mann was intricately connected to the school's organizational structure. All Horace Mann students were placed in one of six "families," two at each grade level, of approximately 100 students and four core teachers each. Students took all of their core classes (language arts, social studies, science, and mathematics) and some of their electives with the family; other electives and PE were offered outside of the family structure. All families were composed of heterogeneous student populations ranging from "gifted" to "resource"; there was no student tracking at Horace Mann. The family structure allowed teachers to develop close relationships with students and it gave the students a sense of belonging to a group. It particularly benefited LEP students because teachers had a deeper understanding of their language development.
Within the family, the students were clustered into "strands" of approximately 25 students with whom they typically took their core-content courses. Spanish-speaking LEP students were served within the family structure via Spanish bilingual strands. Non-Spanish-speaking LEP students were also clustered in strands; they were taught in English by teachers trained in second language acquisition. While newcomer Spanish-speaking students were placed directly in the Spanish bilingual program, newcomer Chinese LEP students were served in a self-contained class that was outside of the family structure. All programs for LEP students were supported by bilingual and Language Development Specialist-credentialed teachers and aides.
The Spanish bilingual program promoted English language development and Spanish language maintenance for LEP and bilingual students; the goal was biliteracy for all students. Students enrolled in the bilingual program received half of their core course instruction (science and social studies) in Spanish, half in English (language arts and mathematics). The program served newcomers, LEP students, bilingual students whose parents wanted them to maintain Spanish, and English-dominant students who had proficiency in Spanish because they had attended a nearby Spanish-English developmental bilingual elementary school.
The program for Chinese LEP students employed a transitional approach. Only newcomer Chinese LEP students with very little English fluency received primary language instruction, and maintenance of literacy in Cantonese and Mandarin was not supported. Newcomers entered a small, self-contained class in which they received instruction in either Cantonese or Mandarin and English. After one to two years in the self-contained class, students were partially and then fully moved into a family via the strands designated for non-Spanish-speaking LEP students. Teachers in these strands were trained in and experienced with the language acquisition process; their students were English-only, bilingual, and LEP. Primary language support was available from Cantonese-speaking aides.
Site-based management at Horace Mann was the task of faculty committees and community advisory bodies. The faculty Curriculum and Staff Development Committee made decisions about spending grant money and staff development offerings. Horace Mann staff had been entrepreneurial, seeking out supplemental funds and in-kind support. Two of the most prominent examples of their entrepreneurialism include their state-supported restructuring grant and their involvement with Project 2061--a national effort aimed at reforming science education. Both of these programs led to considerable professional development for Horace Mann faculty. Professional development activities supported by the restructuring grant and Project 2061, among other grants and partnerships, focused on bicultural awareness, writing across the curriculum, math across the curriculum, language acquisition, and alternative assessment.