On Learning: Continua

The Earth School staff has created learning continua for reading, writing, math, core (social studies and science), and handwriting to articulate our set of beliefs about how children learn. These continua are based on research about child development as well as learning standards. The descriptors in each continuum are based on child development theory and observation of the learning phases children move through. These descriptors provide information about what the learners know and are able to do across a range of ages. A child’s phase of development is determined when the child is exhibiting most of the descriptors in a phase, but most children will also display descriptors from other phases.

To create these learning continua, Earth School staff members worked over the course of several years during professional development sessions. They looked at student work throughout the grades, read professional articles, studied academic standards, and discussed both observations of children and theoretical frameworks.

One purpose of these continua is to help teachers determine what individual children understand and are able to do. Descriptors are used to place children within a specific phase, so that links can be made to appropriate learning experiences. With that information, teachers can plan curriculum that will support children’s overall development. The other primary purpose of these continua is to inform families about what their child knows and understands, as well as the projected development of their child in particular content areas.

It is important to note that not all learners will attain skills at the same time and rate. Learning does not occur in set stages but is a continually evolving process; the same concepts are acquired and then elaborated over time, and many complex understandings take years to develop. A developmental approach to learning emphasizes these shifts and changes over time, and the fact that children seldom progress in a neat and predictably-sequenced manner; instead they may remain in one phase for some length of time and move rapidly through other phases. Because of this, each child needs to be “met” on their own terms in their particular developmental pathway.