The one school vision encompasses a coherent, intentional teaching and learning philosophy for grades PreK-8 that achieves real rigor. The teaching and learning philosophy has these five distinct, yet related tenets:
- Personalization, differentiation, individualization
- Growth mindset
- Thinking skills
- Project approach
- Performance tasks
Far Hills has a long history of personalizing, differentiating, and individualizing instruction, so this tenet builds on past practice even as it becomes a more intentional aspect of the program. In short, personalization, differentiation, and individualization reflect a profound belief that there is no limit to a child’s learning and growth. Rigor in light of this is about providing each student with an appropriate mix of support and challenge; it is not a one-size fits all approach to teaching and learning.
Stanford professor Carol Dweck introduced the concept of a growth mindset in her 2007 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In contrast to a “fixed mindset” that assumes the immutability of character, intelligence, and talent, a “growth mindset” sees brains and talent as the starting point. Existing abilities are stretched through dedication and hard work. Failure is less a setback, or a sign of unintelligence, than a vehicle for growth. Rigor is characterized by a program that emphasizes perseverance, resilience, and effort -- where the process of learning matters as much, if not more, than outcomes.
Far Hills already develops students’ thinking skills through Thinking Maps™ and developing an understanding of scientific methodology, for example. In a coherent, intentional way, Far Hills will identify and develop other thinking skills such as critique, design thinking, quantitative reasoning, and coding from Pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. These thinking skills are the building blocks of disciplinary understanding and the keys to true rigor which develop these higher-order thinking skills in an intentional, sequential manner over years.
The Far Hills program is defined by several signature projects, including the third grade Adventure America and eighth grade Learning Exposition. Research shows that when done well, project-based learning such as these results in deeper learning and engaged, self-directed learners. Project-based learning should not be confused with simply doing projects. Rather, project-based learning involves students acquiring and applying knowledge to tackle problems as they would be solved in the real world and taking increased control of their learning. Project work as such presents opportunities for students’ ideas to be valued, their creativity encouraged, and their interests nurtured. Rigor is not imposed by a teacher, but generated from the students whose teachers serve as coaches or facilitators rather than as sages.
Performance tasks, like the project approach, require students to demonstrate knowledge, skills, and strategies by creating a relevant response or a product. The true measure of learning and understanding, for example, is not a perfect score on a vocabulary test, but selecting and then using those words correctly in denotation and connotation when responding to a novel writing prompt. Performance tasks are authentic, complex, and require application of understanding -- and thus get at the heart of rigor.