As a school composed of students who are from very different cultural backgrounds and have varying levels of English fluency, we believe that it is critical to employ a coherent, cumulative, and content-specific core curriculum that is grounded in shared knowledge of History, Science, Art, and Music. The Core Knowledge (CK) Curriculum—an excellent sequential, content-rich curriculum that also serves as the backbone of academic programs at TASIS Elementary Schools in England and Puerto Rico and in hundreds of schools in the US and other countries—is a great equalizer, closing the opportunity gap by giving all children an equal opportunity to learn essential academic knowledge and skills.
|"Our children grew more confident, more assertive, and more aware of the world surrounding them. They came out of the Elementary School with a unique ownership of what they studied and the ability to apply it in their everyday lives, be it applying math to real life problems or walking into a church and recognizing architectural features."|
The CK Curriculum is based on a conception presented by Prof. E. D. Hirsch, Jr. in his well-known books Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, The New First Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (a valuable resource for elementary school parents and students), The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them, and The Knowledge Deficit. The curriculum was practically developed by Professor Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Foundation, which he established in 1986, and is now used with outstanding success by more than 1200 schools in the United States and abroad.
To learn more about Professor Hirsch, who has been called "the most important educational reformer of the past half-century," refer to Dr. Michael Aeschliman's essay “The Heroism of E.D. Hirsch," which was recently published in National Review Online (New York). Dr. Aeschliman, who writes a regular monthly column for National Review, has been associated with TASIS since 1971 and serves on the TASIS SA Board Academic Committee and the TASIS Foundation.
The CK Curriculum helps children become culturally literate or familiar with the traditions and knowledge commonly shared by educated citizens in a society. Information is acquired in informal ways as well as by formal study. CK develops cultural literacy in a way that is systematic while leaving room for creativity. Teachers are free to teach the subject matter as creatively as they like, but the content is specified and builds from year to year.
The curriculum eliminates the gaps and repetitions that characterize most elementary curricula, in which textbooks and learning units are selected more or less at random and are not coordinated across grade levels or even within a grade level in different classrooms.
Parents are pleased to see how enthusiastic their children are about learning as the curriculum unfolds. No matter what level of ability students start with, they experience a sense of achievement as knowledge and skills are mastered. At TASIS, we recommend the series that starts with What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know and continues with volumes through grade 6. One book is available for each of the first seven years of schooling to enable parents to both share and reinforce what their child is learning in the classroom. The Core Knowledge Preschool Sequence guides the planning of studies, experiences, and activities for children in Pre-Kindergarten by offering a coherent progression of knowledge and skills in all areas.
As opposed to fine-sounding but non-specific elementary curricula, which have proven to be very ineffective in the English-speaking world, the CK Curriculum can be described as solid, specific, sequenced, and shared.
Studying topics together in the same grade can build a sense of community in much the same way that common knowledge can bind the larger society together. A distinguished scholar of international renown, Prof. Hirsch believes that a diverse society has a special need for commonly shared background knowledge and, further, that everybody has a right to share this civilized res publica—not just a select few. Students come to understand the shared dimensions of knowledge, how subjects relate to one another and build cumulatively over time, and how history influences contemporary events. They can command the necessary vocabulary to comprehend the complex subjects that lie ahead as well as the increasingly complex world around them. Though initially and necessarily oriented to Anglophone culture, students come to share a larger civilizing culture exploring the best that has been thought, said, invented, and discovered in the world—the classic “liberal arts” ideal.
The Singapore Math program, which correlates with the math objectives outlined in the Core Knowledge Sequence, focuses on building fundamental math skills so that students have a strong foundational base to draw upon when they undertake more advanced studies in the future. In particular, we use Math in Focus, an authentic Singapore Math curriculum that places problem solving at the center of math learning and uses a three-step learning model—concrete, pictorial, and abstract—that introduces concepts in a progression. By focusing on fewer topics but covering them in greater detail, students are able to master a specific set of skills each year and do not need to relearn these skills at the next grade level.
This very successful model, which was first developed in the 1980s by Singapore—a country that now has the world’s highest-achieving primary and secondary pupils in both math and science—is directly inverse to much current, ineffective practice in the US, where many concepts are taught during the early years, progressing to just a few by the upper-elementary and middle-school levels.
|"It is unusual to have the opportunity, as a child, to gain a truly global perspective by simply attending class. Coming home with considerations of different perspectives, snippets of words and phrases from lots of friends’ languages, and a general sense of being part of a world (versus a country) provide a foundation for finding empathy and consonance: traits that are of necessity and have great value, especially in today’s world."|
The Core Knowledge Curriculum covers Language Arts, History and Geography, Mathematics, Science, Art, Art History, and Music. Because we believe in developing well-rounded individuals, core academic instruction is complemented by a strong Supplementary Studies program that includes instruction in Technology and Physical Education and sessions in the library and science laboratory. Students meet regularly with highly trained specialist teachers, who collaborate with core-subject teachers to provide an integrated curriculum that supports the Core Knowledge sequence.
American and Italian Section
In 2005, TASIS received an exemption from the Canton of Ticino in order to found the Canton's first English-language primary school. This exemption states that children at TASIS who are 4–15 and have resided in Ticino for no more than six years may be educated primarily in another language, provided that 20 percent of the educational program is in Italian. Those who have resided in Ticino for six or more years must have additional instruction in Italian in order to meet Cantonal requirements.
The solution that the School and the Canton agreed upon was for TASIS to offer two separate tracks—an American Section and an Italian Section—for students in grades 1–9. (Note that students in Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten are assigned to a designated section for the future but are not formally divided into American and Italian Sections until they start first grade. These students receive their primary instruction in English, have an Italian Language class with a native Italian speaker, and have bilingual instruction woven into various aspects of the program.)
In the American Section, which is primarily designed for students whose families have resided in Ticino for fewer than six years, core academic subjects follow the rigorous Core Knowledge Curriculum and are presented in English. Students also take an Italian Language course each day, with instruction based on current proficiency level, and receive bilingual instruction in certain specialized courses, such as Art and Physical Education.
Students whose families have resided in Ticino for six or more years must join the Italian Section at the start of their seventh year in the Canton, but many families choose to have their children enter the Italian Section earlier, particularly if they would like to accelerate the pace at which they learn Italian. As it was originally envisioned, in the Italian Section, many of the core academic subjects were to be taught in Italian, based on the best of the traditional Italian curriculum that mirrors much of the rich Core Knowledge Curriculum, while several would be taught in English, enabling students to achieve academic proficiency in both languages.
English as an Additional Language
For students whose English-language skills range from beginner to intermediate, we offer English as an Additional Language classes and support. Highly qualified teachers work with these students to help bring them to grade-level proficiency as quickly as possible so that they can participate fully and independently in their homeroom.
To improve the students' skills in academic and colloquial English, the School combines reading, writing, grammar, spelling, and literature lessons with immersion in core content-area classes. (Note that research indicates that the average beginning-level student in an immersion program will learn social English in 3–5 years and academic English in 5–7 years.)