As the first-ever public charter school in West Virginia, we are frequently asked how we are different from traditional public schools and why our award-winning programs are so successful. One significant piece of the puzzle is our individualized instruction model that starts for all students beginning in Kindergarten.
Every single academic day we place our children at their individualized level of instruction in each of the topics of reading, language, and math. Class assignments are made based on the need of the scholar without regard to their grade level, so each of these classes has a combination of students from different grade levels. Also, there are 10-13 different classes in each of these three topics across the six primary grades, which provides for smaller class sizes and permits differentiation not only based on each child's level of knowledge, but also based on the child's pace of learning.
In order to accomplish this, we coordinate across the entire elementary school on when these three topics are taught so that no child's academic growth is inhibited by their grade level. We also have a uniform design for not only the curriculum taught, but also for the specific methods of delivering instruction all the way down to the setup at the front of the classroom. We've adopted the Direct Instruction (or DI) method for these classes and all of our teachers receive training in this methodology. This means children are able to spend more time on learning the content and less time learning the specific practices and teaching styles of each different teacher. We can then seamlessly adjust a child's level or pace of learning as appropriate both at the beginning of the school year and at any time during the year to optimize each child's learning. This approach raises the bar for academic progress and places our scholars in the best position to learn each day.
In general, our instructional model has not been successfully deployed in traditional public schools because of the level of coordination it requires across different classes and grade levels. Also, charter schools can require teachers to follow specific curriculum and teaching methodologies as a condition of employment, but traditional public schools do not even attempt to hold teachers to such a high standard, nor does the regulatory framework permit it. Meaningful differentiated instruction does not begin in traditional public schools until middle school, but we believe this approach is antiquated as students are ready to learn at their individualized pace from the day they arrive in school. Because parents prefer individualized instruction for their children we know we will need to continue expanding our programs going forward to keep up with demand and we welcome that challenge.