Mrs. Cohen’s Area Enrichment Class
Many parents and new students wonder, what is the difference between area enrichment class and (what most of my students call) “normal” school? Every day in area enrichment class is quite different, and it varies between grades. Therefore, I will try to give the ‘big picture’ answer and then give some specifics.
Big Picture: The overall goal of the Area Class Enrichment Program is to provide a nurturing, accepting environment where the unique intellectual, creative, social and emotional needs of students who require enrichment programming are fulfilled. The focus of area class is the development of skills and techniques that teach the processes of thinking. The class offers students the opportunity to work directly with like-minded peers who come together to spark each other’s thinking. Some tasks we do are independent, and others require collaboration with classmates. We engage in research and project-based tasks throughout the year. Tasks are often open-ended in nature, allowing student choice, and requiring students to develop independent work habits.
Learning experiences are based on characteristics, needs, abilities and interests of students, rather than on predetermined curricula or sequence of instruction. Activities require more abstract thought and higher level thinking processes. There are many opportunities for students to demonstrate what they have learned in a wide variety of forms that reflect knowledge, excellence and the ability to generate new ideas. There is time given for in-depth inquiry, as well as active exploration and discovery. There are higher expectations for independence and task persistence.
Daily focus on Higher Order Thinking: Daily work includes a variety of whole group, small group and individual tasks. All activities focus on higher order thinking and there are often opportunities for students to explore issues and topics of high personal interest. The main models that are used to teach thinking are deBono’s Six Thinking Hats and Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Cognitive, Creative and Affective Skills: I work at all grade levels on the skills of creative thinking (fluency, flexibility, originality, elaboration), creative problem solving, critical thinking (analogies, and deductive thinking skills), debate, and information and communication technology skills. Throughout the program I also address the affective skills (social and emotional needs) as they arise. Common issues include how to work with perfectionism, navigating relationships with peers, and gaining knowledge of one’s own strengths, learning styles and areas for individual goal setting. Time management, work habits, motivation and task commitment are also encompassed in lessons and project work.
Specific Challenges: The program includes tasks that engage students in logic challenges, vocabulary and language challenges, writing tasks and contests (Polar Expressions, World Literacy Canada, Loving to Learn), cooperative math and math contests (Caribou for Grade 4, Gauss for Grades 6-8), debate, inquiry and research, and the independent study process.
Project Work: projects require students to work through the process of:
- brainstorming, topic selection
- organizing and taking jot notes to answer research questions
- locating, organizing, tracking and citing sources
- using a variety of sources
- incorporating visual, auditory and kinesthetic components into final products
- creation of a final product
- creating talking notes and practicing an oral presentation
- creating an engaging and informative final presentation
- self, peer and teacher assessment according to learning goals and success criteria
Issues, Field Trips, Special Guests: The topics we explore tend to be more ‘issue’ driven and sometimes student-selected, rather than subject specific. We also address current events and global issues through lessons, field trips, and guest speakers. Depending upon our focus we have had field trips and workshops related to chess, computer programming, math and problem solving, engineering, environmental issues, social justice issues, science, drama and art.
Technology as a Learning Tool: I incorporate technology into all aspects of learning. Our main focus is the use of Google Apps for Education and Chromebooks. We also work with a wide variety of software applications and iPad apps.
Overall, the instructional methods and strategies used in Area Class Enrichment emphasize the belief that gifted students must be active participants in their own learning. The teacher functions as a facilitator and guide, incorporating group and individual strategies that involve students in educational decision making.