Lower & Middle Divisions Curriculum Guide

School Mission

Stevenson School has long been committed to three aims:

  • to prepare students for success in school and life beyond school;
  • to foster their passion for learning and achievement;
  • to help them shape a joyful life.

How We Believe Students Learn Best

At Stevenson, method and content are intertwined: how we teach is as important as what we teach. Over the past twelve years we have come to structure our approach to how around a distinctive blend of pedagogical principles we consider “the best of the best” in terms of their authentic impact as students learn and grow and their relationship to our School’s core values of safety, trust, respect, belonging, and inclusion.

  • Inspired by Loris Malaguzzi, the originator of the Reggio Emilia method, we provide our youngest students with recurring opportunities to practice self-directed and experiential learning in a highly relational environment that consistently emphasizes respect for self and others, personal and community responsibility, and discovery through both exploration and play.

  • In helping our students acclimate to the rhythms of school life, we are influenced by the Montessori method, which holds that all children are eager for independence, naturally curious about the world, and ultimately capable of healthy self-sufficiency as learners and community members.

  • As our students develop more advanced academic and social skills, our program is guided by the writings of John Dewey, the 20th century American philosopher and educational reformer who believed that students’ full investment in learning–and in learning how to learn–depends on their engagement in truly meaningful activities in and out of the classroom.

  • Guided by the Harkness method, our middle division teachers facilitate age-appropriate discussions that foreground evidence, inquiry, interpretation, listening, and collaborative problem-solving.

Teachers’ Training

Academics

Math

Through Grade 6, our math teachers use Singapore math, a well-established instructional framework that teaches students to solve problems by learning to think mathematically rather than by simply memorizing methods. 

Building upon the confidence, competence, and sense of purpose they have achieved through Singapore math, students in Grades 7 and 8 become accurate and creative problem solvers of abstract mathematics concepts that integrate pre-algebra, algebra, and geometry. 

English

English in the lower division is known at Stevenson as Literacy and Writing and covers the following key areas:

  • HandwritingHandwriting Without Tears helps students build essential skills for emergent writing and handwriting success. It fosters writing automaticity through direct, explicit instruction along with guided and independent practice. It also incorporates multi-sensory components to appeal to all learning styles.
  • Reading. Based on the research and work of Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, our teachers use ongoing data collection to group students by similar reading skills and strategies. They provide scaffolded guidance to support students’ skill acquisition and promote deep understanding by way of book clubs and literature circles. All teachers are also trained in the Orton-Gillingham Method, a multi-sensory approach to teaching literacy that research demonstrates is effective for readers of all skill levels and abilities.
  • Writing. Our teachers are trained in the writing workshop model developed by Lucy Calkins and her colleagues at Teachers College Columbia University’s Reading and Writing Project . Students learn specific writing skills using a mini-lesson framework; assessment takes place through individual conferences.

Students learn to read analytically and write clearly, coherently, accurately, and persuasively. Readings–which include age-appropriate novels read by all students within a grade and also small group and independent reading–draw from various genres, historical periods, and cultures. In teaching writing, we focus on principles of structure, organization, technique, and evidence that vary by task, purpose, and audience. Over the course of Grades 5-8, assigned reading becomes more complex and writing exercises become more sophisticated. Vocabulary and grammar are taught in the context of narrative and expository writing, as are principles of revision and editing.

Spanish

Our Spanish program introduces students to what it means to live successfully as global citizens in a linguistically and culturally pluralistic world. Scaffolded for each grade, the program focuses on:

  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Speaking, reading, and writing skills
  • Cultural competence and cultural humility
  • Interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational skills
  • Creativity and critical thinking

Teaching methods include dialogue, games, projects, and reading and writing assignments. 

Our middle division program is designed to allow students who are entirely new to Spanish to study alongside those who have already had six consecutive years of Spanish instruction in our lower division program. Students are introduced to progressively more complex vocabulary and grammar through stories and storytelling. By the end of Grade 8, students can read, write, and speak using phrases and detailed sentences in Spanish.

History

Lower division students are introduced to the basic structures of thought considered fundamental to the study of history, such as the concept of the past, political structures (i.e., states and nations), geography, and culture and cultural differences.

The study of history in the middle division helps students acquire the knowledge, research and writing skills, and intellectual tools to thrive academically as their educational journey unfolds and to engage responsibly in civic life. Students deepen their capacity for critical thinking by examining events, periods, patterns, and themes (exploration, growth and change, the individual and society, globalization, etc.) through multiple perspectives, developing strategies to find and synthesize answers, and to sharpen their findings through deliberative discourse and writing.

STEM

Our STEM program is based on The Next Generation Science Standards, well-established national guidelines for K-12 science content that set clear expectations for what students should know and be able to do in the areas of physical science, robotics, coding, life science, earth and space science, and engineering. Hands-on, inquiry-based lessons require students to work collaboratively, brainstorm, design procedures for testing their predictions, carry out investigations, and ask peers thoughtful questions about other conclusions. Students develop a deep understanding of content and develop key skills that will serve them throughout their educational journeys.

Visual Art, Dance, and Music

In both the lower and middle divisions, all students receive regular instruction in:

Students learn how to make art and how to think about art, becoming conversant with artistic concepts and developing art literacy through exposure to a variety of media, artists, and genres.

The music curriculum is designed to foster joy, curiosity, and an appreciation for music’s role in society and their daily lives. In order to develop a foundational understanding of melody, rhythm, harmony, form, and expression, students sing and  play Orff instruments. As they grow, so do opportunities to practice with new and more sophisticated instruments. Seasonal performances provide opportunities to experience the rewarding thrill of making music in front of a live audience.

As a kinesthetic mode of learning, dance helps students develop gross motor skills, coordination, musicality, and creativity. Students are introduced to a wide variety of dance forms including ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop, and contemporary. Age-appropriate challenges are presented in a nurturing and supportive environment. 

Following their broad exposure to the arts between Grades PK-6, students in Grades 7 and 8 may choose from among jazz dance, ballet, sculpture, band, string ensemble, or painting. 

Physical Education

The physical education program takes full account of students’ physical and cognitive development and is based upon State of California standards.

For students in the lower division, these standards emphasize the way they move through space and time in their environment, the way they move through space and time with a partner, continuity and change in their movement, the manipulation of objects in time and through space, and the manipulation of objects with accuracy and speed.

For students in the middle division, these standards emphasize working cooperatively to achieve a common goal, meeting challenges, making decisions, and working as a team to solve problems. Across both divisions, students learn good sportsmanship and resilience while becoming stronger, faster, and more physically confident. Sport-specific curricula for older students align with the middle division’s athletics seasons.

Please feel free to direct your specific questions regarding the program of study to Susan Rymzo, director of admissions for the lower and middle divisions.