Our Program: Highly Effective Teaching

The main goals that Tongass School has established for its students are:

  • Demonstrate appropriate developmental or age level mastery of the State Performance Standards in core academic areas
  • Gain knowledge and have opportunities to learn through real world connections and experiences
  • Develop personal creative avenues of interest and talent
  • Develop life-long learning skills, social inter-personal skills, and life-skills needed to become responsible conscientious citizens

The Tongass School offers a full day pre-kindergarten through sixth grade program. In addition, the school supports and implements an inclusive model for special needs and gifted students.

The learning program aligns its curriculum, instruction and assessment in a learning environment that emphasizes depth of understanding and focuses on teaching children to think critically and creatively about their world. The school uses the educational tools and training described in the program known Highly Effective Teaching (HET) to guide instruction and development of the school’s curriculum.


Five Curriculum Components of the HET Model

At a Glance

The Highly Effective Teaching (HET) Curriculum is Body-brain-Compatible and designed to enhance the Two-Step Learning Process: pattern-seeking, and program-building while embedding state/educational standards. Effective curriculum is founded in sensory-rich experience, uses a concept to integrate content, knowledge, and skills from multiple subject areas, offers student activity choices, and extends relevant learning beyond the classroom into real-life situations.

Five Components of HET Curriculum

  • Sensory-rich (being there or simulation) Experiences
  • Organizing Concept
  • Key Points:
    – conceptual key points
    – significant knowledge key points
    – skills key points
  • Inquiries
  • Social / Political Action

All decisions about curriculum should be made in response to the findings of current brain research. The curriculum content must be meaningful, mentally and physically engaging, and include a vastly increased amount of sensory input to stretch the learner beyond the worksheets, textbooks, videos, and/or internet searches.

Sensory-Rich Experiences
The trademark of bodybrain-compatible curriculum in the HET Model is based in sensory-rich being there study locations or simulations while using an organizing concept to integrate content and skills from multiple subject areas. The two most convincing findings from brain research which support this are:

1.    The need – the absolute requirement – for full sensory input to the brain through all 20 senses

2.    the importance of emotion and movement in the bodybrain learning partnership

Anchoring curriculum and instruction in sensory-rich being there study locations or simulations meets both requirements. Content should expand and connect relevance to the real world – a backyard, a mall, a park in the neighborhood, or a grocery store. Effective teachers provide connections to real places where real people go to meet their needs. Even selecting locations within the boundaries of the school property provides more opportunity to experience than is provided by remaining in the classroom. Resources are expanded when choosing locations near the school where the student can frequently revisit by walking or when taking a short ride on public transportation. Curriculum should be intriguing and enjoyable to both the teacher and the student. Remember, sensory-rich experience is an effective entry into integrated curriculum.

Organizing Concept
The organizing concept is the big idea; it is the gestalt that guides the overriding lesson content and ties all successive learning into a common purpose.

  • concept: a general notion; an idea of something formed by mentally combining all its characteristics or particulars; a construct.

An organizing concept connects both the state educational standards and the sensory-rich study locations. It is, by itself, a concept powerful enough to jump-start the learning process and help the student learn more quickly and comprehensively so the knowledge is generalized and transferred. Concepts are rich, powerful patterns for the brain – useful in unlocking meaning around us and much easier to store in long-term memory than curriculum fragments and factoids. To learn fragments of information and factoids, students mostly resort to rote memorization; in contrast, concepts allow students to leap from today’s lesson to yesterday’s personal experience to tomorrow’s situations in real life and future learning. Concepts are powerful curriculum builders.

Key Points
The Key Points answer this guiding question: What do I want my students to understand?
Answering this question helps to focus on what should be taught – the concepts and skills. It also requires specific, clearly written statements of what the students should understand. State the Key Points so students can comprehend what is expected of them and feel it’s worth their time and effort (as well as yours). There are three kinds of Key Points:

• A Conceptual Key Point is global; it has the power to be transferable and generalizable to other times and places .
Significant Knowledge Key Points provide knowledge to understand the concept locally where it can be directly experienced throughout the sensory-rich being there location or simulation.
Skill Key Points are those skills (math, language arts, social studies, geography, science, the arts, and others mandated by the state or district) that are needed to complete the inquiry.

Key Points are clear, succinct statements of learning goals describing what students are expected to learn. They are stated exactly the way we want students to remember them. State educational standards are embedded in the content. To make sure these goals are met, each key point has inquiries (activities) for providing various experiences to practice using the information provided. Inquiries provide the opportunities for enabling students to develop mental programs (Step-Two of the Learning Process) to apply each key point to real-world situations. Inquiries make learning active and more memorable.

The Inquiries (activities) are based on this guiding question: What do I want my students to do with what they understand?
In the Highly Effective Teaching (HET) classroom, bodybrain-compatible action is planned and carried out through inquiries. They frame how students will go about deepening their understanding of the concepts and skills identified in the key point. Inquiries are where words become realities, the things talked about become experience, discussions become actions, where reading about historical figures becomes experiencing their problems and dilemmas with the intent of attaining a deeper understanding or attaining mastery. Inquiries provide the necessary practice until a mental program is developed (Step-Two of the Learning Process) and wired into long-term memory. Good inquires ask for action that:

• supports the bodybrain partnership by adding action and evoking emotion
• engages as many of the 20 senses as possible to optimize learning for the brain to grow and wire into long-term memory
• provides interaction with working people at the sensory-rich being there location which activates mimicry neurons
• incorporates educational standards and benchmarks
• addresses all the multiple intelligences

Inquiries are the “doing” part of the lessons where high level learning occurs! They allow students to discover, understand, apply, and extend knowledge.

Social / Political Action
Social/Political Action Projects and celebrations of learning are two culminating features of the Highly Effective Teaching model. They both provide the means to translate brain research into action, while providing guided practice in how to participate in society as an informed, responsible citizen.

Social/Political Action Projects are invitations for students to make a difference in their world – typically through their own community. In doing so, students master personal, social, and academic skills allowing them to succeed as individuals, family members, productive contributors to the economy and to their own financial well being as citizens. These are the relevant, real-life doing elements of curriculum and instruction that launch brain research concepts into action. Social/Political Action Projects:

  • emerge as a natural extension of the curriculum concept, key points, and inquiries
  • are the relevant application if what students want to change or improve
  • validate the student’s learning and passion
  • are chosen, planned, and carried out by the students
  • provide a rich source of topics for yearlong research projects

The overarching goal of HET education is to increase human capacity and create responsible citizens. The learner’s brain function is optimized through opportunities presented in these Five Curriculum Components, making the learning effective, relevant, and memorable while providing the opportunity to make a difference through Highly Effective Teaching and body-brain compatible education.

The HET Model information is copyright protected. © Susan Kovalik/The Center for Effective Learning. All rights reserved