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Bank Street College in New York City

AN OUTSTANDING PATHWAY SCHOOL: THE BANKSTREET SCHOOL FOR CHILDREN, PART OF THE BANK STREET COLLEGE OF EDUCATION

By Peter J. Foley, Ed.D. ( reporting from New York City, February 2012)

If you are fortunate enough to study at the Bank Street College Graduate School of Education or even to   visit the Bankstreet School for Children, you don’t have to ask how the children are doing. You can access the students’ achievements and learning by simply looking all around you. Their work, their learning is everywhere: on the walls, the ceiling, the tables and the floors. The students’ work  reflect their interests, their world.

Below is a picture of an early elementary class’s paper Mache representation of the Hudson River and its   present day surroundings. The study of the Hudson River is a three month study of the river that starts with where the second grade students are   developmentally, beginning with the here and now that surrounds them. The representation in the photo is what the student knows about the river through observation and research from a range of sources.

Part of the second grade student exploration of the Hudson River included a visit to the 79th Street Boat Basin. Below is one student’s representation of that visit.

Gradually, the students will go back in time to the Linape Native Americans who lived along the Hudson River   before the explorers from Europe came to North America. Later in fourth grade   students study the Egyptians along the Nile River, a place they have never been before. This is what we mean by Bank Street’s development interaction   approach, as described by Stan Chu, senior faculty member in the Bank Street Graduate School of Education.

This approach to learning enables children   to integrate their world that has meaning and importance to them and eventually moving    back in time and into far- away places. I noted that differentiated learning was going on all around me. So, each child was presented with learning   activities that were within her or his reach, a reflection of Vygotsky’s Proximal Zone. I also saw that teachers   integrated learning so that , for example, when in history the children studied explorers , in art they made puppets representing the explorers. The   teacher, no doubt, continued this integration in English geography and even in science and math  classes( e.g. mapping, navigation and surveying). An art teacher explained to me that they   used art at the beginning of the year when students set about making rules of   etiquette and classroom management. He explained that the teachers asked their students to recall a time when someone had helped them or been very kind to them and then to illustrate that time and event in a picture.

This continually making the child   the center of gravity in the school was impressive. Below, for example, are   student renditions of what they feel about the snow .

I was shown large outdoor space fenced off with many pieces of sanded and varnished pieces of wood and also   what looked like blocks of wood, known as hollow blocks, which were   originally designed by Caroline Pratt, founder of the City and Country   School. Children, ages 5 to 7 play and learn here once a day for an hour and   build all kinds of structures. I watched a couple of four year old boys   building what looked like a miniature house. They had divided up the labor, one boy carrying lumber back to the project for the floors another working on   the side of the miniature house. Another characteristic of the school is teaching collaborative learning. Students here are learning the value and   effectiveness of cooperative efforts that lead to surprising achievements that a single individual could not hope to accomplish, while recreating parts   of their physical world.

I came away from the visit to the school euphoric. When I asked myself why , I realized that it was being in   the company of so many teachers that were interested and happy in their work   was infectious. They loved what they were doing and could see daily that they   were enabling children to understand deeply the world around them and guiding   these children on a journey that included a joy for learning. I met a dozen or so teachers and all were smiling, happy, enthusiastic and bursting with energy. I noted that at the end of the school day the smiles and enthusiasm were still there.

Yes, I can hear a traditional educator asking as they read this, “but do these students at Banksstreet   Children’s School really master the necessary skills to go on to college?”   The proof is that tracking of their students both in high school and college shows the students perform well beyond the norm.

But I wanted to see for myself. I read the essays posted on the bulletin board about Steinbeck’s Of Mice and   Men.

All the essays were masterfully written. Most were of a quality of writing far, far beyond the seventh grade   level.

Nevertheless, the highlight of my observations was the art work of the three year olds.

These are stabiles created out of pipe cleaners and assorted materials. One piece in particular already showed   symmetric and color combination genius. Miro , the celebrated Majorcan   artist, I know ,would have been pleased with this work of art.

This school is an inspiration and   those who are touched by this school will have received the certain knowledge that real education is all about nurturing and meeting children in the world that is meaningful and makes sense to children.  Also realized is that effective teaching is more like  coaching children to expand their worlds and   become a creator of their world in a meaningful way that will bring personal   contentment and confidence. Children education in this way are enabled to  contribute also to the well being of those around them.

4 replies on “Bank Street College in New York City”

It is not how much students are taught, but how much they’re allowed to imagine, to explore the unknown with the assistance from teachers. A student centered learning framework is just providing such a great opportunity.

It’s so encouraging to know there are educational opportunities out there like this. We can only hope that such methodology will be incorporated into classrooms in every public & private school before too long. We are about due for an intellectual renaissance. Who better to lead it than children who already know the best answers are often “outside the box”.

Such an approach to learning, and the examples of student work shown, reminded me of my own primary classroom in the UK in the early 1990s. The connections between subjects and the liveliness of classroom learning spaces:valuing students’ work and using the display space as a way of immersing students in their learning and reinforcing the learning is so valuable.

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