Thematic studies allow Heritage students to explore topics such as marine biology, the Middle Ages, Native Americans, physics, and the human body. Weaving together math, science, history, art, music, literature, and writing within thematic studies generates breadth as well as depth in learning. Studies usually last from four to six weeks. Culminating projects, like oral presentations, murals, science expos, festivals, and drama foster innovation, creativity, and confidence as students share what they have learned. At Heritage School, students do not prove what they have learned by regurgitating facts on tests or filling in the blanks on a worksheet. They share what they have learned via the various projects. Every study results in writing as well. Students become the resident “experts” on their research topics; they demonstrate, they teach, they inspire.
An integrated, interdisciplinary approach provides the opportunity for students to exercise choice, for many subtopics branch off of the main area of study, ensuring that we can tap into students’ interests. Thematic studies enable students of a variety of ages and abilities to access information and to move forward at a pace that fits their needs. For example, a six year old girl who is capable of reading books that are three grade levels higher need not be held back; she can zoom right ahead with books that fit her abilities. A ten year old boy who is a tentative reader can read books that match his abilities, and he need not be left behind. We see students make amazing leaps forward in comprehension and overall reading skills when they can immerse themselves in books about topics of genuine interest to them.
Heritage students delve into real nonfiction literature, not dry textbooks. Heritage School’s own 10,000+ volume library of books provides a good launching pad for our thematic studies, but we always check out many library books from the local public library, ensuring that our students can research using abundant, up to date resources. With adult guidance, students may also access the Internet to conduct research. We teach them how to take notes even at a very young age. Modeling by teachers reinforces note-taking techniques. Since every thematic study results in writing, these notes serve to anchor information so that students can compose original sentences, not copy from books. Students learn to distill information, to plan their writing, and to develop engaging published final copies. These final copies are posted throughout the school, becoming “windows” into a wide range of subjects and granting the passerby an opportunity to share the writer's learning process.
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