When groups of children generate their own questions to answer and teachers give them space, tools, and encouragement rather pre-packaged solutions, amazing things happen. Mastery of subject matter occurs through discovery of insights and answers that are relevant and meaningful to students. Critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaboration are all developed naturally as part of the process of solving problems in groups. View this slide show to see examples.
A growing body of research supports what progressive thinkers have understood for more than 100 years: Children learn best through hands-on experience rather than passive memorization. One way we incorporate this concept into our approach is by taking frequent trips to visit the people and places that we are learning about. Los Angeles is one of the greatest cities in the world for providing dynamic experiences, surrounded as we are by a uniquely diverse array of ecology, economy, and culture. From mountains, desserts, forests, and oceans to museums, theaters, international culture, world-class universities, and scientific research, L.A. offers a limitless playground for the adventure of learning. View this slide show to see examples.
Progressive education emphasizes teaching many concepts that are integrated into thematic studies. This encourages children to see the connections between things and understand the context for what they are learning. Social studies, used frequently in the Westland curriculum, acts as an integration framework fusing subjects such as math, art, language arts, and science into a single integrated study of a particular people. These studies often focus on a topic over 8 to 12 weeks. Younger students study topics closer to them in time and space, like the local economy and their immediate family. Older students reach further, looking across oceans and back in time to explore ancient worlds. View this slide show to see examples.
We measure students’ success not merely by what they know but by who they are. Children at Westland are expected to become active and responsible citizens in a democratic society. This starts with a strong sense of commitment to the school community, where a warm and supportive environment for emotional growth is the right and responsibility ofevery child. Many activities at Westland are designed to foster these ideals. These include our partnerships, emphasis on group projects, cooperative play, conflict-resolution approach, class jobs, and community service projects. View this slide show to see more.
We honor the idea that each child has a unique learning style and pathway through his or her individual development process. Our school’s low student-to-teacher ratio allows us to customize the learning process to the strengths or challenges of each child. We also adjust the class placement of our students every year to optimize the social, emotional, and intellectual journey for every student. Our flexible grouping system has been refined over the years to allow students to change peer groups periodically without stigma, stress, or falling behind.
The world our children will inherit after they leave school will be very different than ours was. Although schools around the world have traditionally focused on delivering information to students, most educators now believe that information itself is not nearly as important as qualities such as information literacy, creativity, inquisitiveness, resilience, and empathy. Westland founders had this revelation more than 65 years ago, and we’ve been refining our unique educational approach ever since. Our students are exceptionally well educated in the traditional pillars of education: reading, writing, math, and science—but more important, they can use this knowledge in interesting and productive ways. You might say that we’ve been educating children for the 21st century since 1949.