Philosophy and Methodologies
We believe that children learn best when their natural curiosity is satisfied through a balance of purposeful play and teacher guided content learning time. At our core is a belief that there is no standard approach to learning and that every individual has his/her best way of learning. Children need time to explore their world on their own but also need guidance from teachers to fully grasp the concepts behind things that peak their curiosity. Our teacher's role is to introduce, guide, probe and encourage further inquiry and understanding. We place the same emphasis on the traditional academics like language, math and science as we do on the creative arts, physical development and age appropriate life skills. A rigorous academic curriculum with time for purposeful play and discovery in a safe and fun atmosphere develops a well-rounded child, a true global citizen!
The balanced approach is a big trend in early childhood education and is not an entirely new concept - very few schools follow their advertised methodology strictly and often incorporate other elements. We are very open about the elements that we value from certain methodologies and have picked the best of the best in developing our approach. Here’s a sample:
Much of the philosophy behind a balanced approach comes from the “whole child” Waldorf methodology which combines play-based learning with a predictable structure in a setting that focuses heavily on nature. We incorporate Waldorf’s philosophies in our approach but add a much larger exposure to technology in the classroom and work on reading skills much earlier than the methodology suggests. We also steer clear of the all-weather philosophy as the severe weather and occasional air quality issues in Vietnam occasionally mean that outdoor play time be moved to our indoor gym room.
We incorporate the project-based collaborative approach and the emphasis on the importance of parents taking an active role in their child’s education, especially in the form of assessment, from the Reggio Emilia school of thought. However, at GPA we shift away from child-originated approach to lesson planning, our very detailed curriculum ensures that all students cover the necessary content, while leaving room in the day for further exploration. Despite being more structured, our students still learn a lot of the same soft concepts in our life skills section.
Montessori classrooms are world-renowned for their use of natural lights and learning stations to enhance learning in a “classroom meets playroom and toy workshop” type of setting full of carefully designed learning materials. At GPA, we incorporate elements of the classroom layout and some Montessori learning tools in the classroom, but tighten up an otherwise loose curriculum with more of a focus on collaboration than independence. While we value independence and allow for many individualized activities in our curriculum, the world is increasingly global and collaboration is an increasingly valued skill.
We base our Vietnamese education on the guidelines set forth by the MOET. We are constantly striving to build on the standards of national education while implementing the very best aspects of an international approach. Our community embraces Vietnamese elements and our entire community feels that this is necessary so that students don't lose sight of their foundation and traditional cultural roots.
GP Academy benchmarks its approach to the US Common CORE standards because they stress critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills that are required for success at all stages of life. Upon their implementation nation wide, early childhood programs improved due to the increased rigor and higher level thinking skills that they encourage and the implementation of technology-based learning aides. The biggest issue with a national set of educational standards, student performance has to be measured in a standardized test format. We do not believe in standardized tests at GPA and follow an observation based assessment process.
The content of the curriculum as a whole at is STEM focused. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics and is an educational approach to helping students achieve critical thinking through inquiry and dialogue in math and science. The concepts taught in the Vietnamese and English content areas closely mirror the discussion in our STEM content areas so that students can expand on them into daily life applications and to have the same base level of context in a bilingual format.
Impact on Children
GP Academy takes a very progressive approach to our early childhood education curriculum. The implementation of totally integrated and balanced instructional approaches is one of the biggest and most current trends in education. There’s more of a trend towards quality and trying to define high quality in early childhood no matter what curriculums or programs schools are using. Research in the field presents us countless opportunities to improve on our quality and we are constantly looking for content that would benefit our community.
In 2016, groundbreaking research from Nobel Laureate economist James Heckman from the University of Chicago, found that high quality birth-to-age-5 early childhood programs produced higher economic returns through better outcomes in education, health, social behaviors, and employment - ultimately, better preparing a country for a more competitive future. Since then, many business leaders, government officials and corporations, have taken a bigger interest in education, understanding the importance of a solid foundation and emphasising early learning. This is especially true in Vietnam, where many recent education reforms have been proposed to advance human capital development, boost enrollments in schools and modernize education to meet the needs of the country’s industrialization in a global environment.
Kindergarten, which is German for “children’s garden,” is serious stuff these days. Globally, the curriculum once saved for first and second grade has been pushed down to 5- and 6-year-olds. Our approach to this is to start student earlier but with the appropriate foundation. We build their language, math and science skills within a context of experiences so that they have an understanding of certain topics when they come up. A lot of schools have a curriculum in place, but may not be be implementing it in an efficient way, reducing its effectiveness. GPA focuses on a system of internal checks and balances to make sure that every member of our learning community is staying on track.
Unfortunately, at times this rush to improve education, has a negative impact on our youngest learners. In many schools, 5 and 6 year old children now spend hours in their seats doing academic work, often with little or no free play time or fine art content. Children are tested early and often and expected to do things by the time they graduate from kindergarten that may not be developmentally appropriate. Statistically, the amount of time spent on math, language and other academic instruction increases, particularly on skills that were previously considered advanced for kindergarten.
Setting a high standard of content knowledge and understanding does not mean that students need to do worksheets at a desk every day. We must give them experiences that are more open ended and not that extremely structured. That's what GPA is about, finding a balance that offers both. Research clearly demonstrates that children learn best through play like experiences and through having fun. Since children naturally want to learn, we must help them nurture their curiosity.
Our goal as educators is to eliminate all barriers for all students in order to achieve learning, regardless of their style - so we blend traditional methods and new research in a way that creates an opportune learning environment for every student and takes their learning to a high level. Our goal is to constantly evaluate ourselves to make sure that we are incorporating new research from credible sources.
GP Academy uses its partnership with the Association for Childhood Education International
) as a primary source of developments in early childhood development. However, we stay up to date with publications and research on issues in early childhood education from the American Academy of Pediatrics
), the Zero to Three Organization
), the National Association for the Education of Young Children
), and Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child
). These are the most respected organizations in early childhood education that shape philosophy in the United States, internationally and here at GPA.
Impact on Teachers
Children don’t learn at the same pace or in the same way. Our curriculum offers a balance of structure and flexibility, and enables teachers to individualize instruction to accommodate the interests and learning styles of each student. A Montessori approach can be great for independent children who strive to learn on their own but there are children who need more structure and need to be scaffolded like Vygotsky. We built our curriculum to ensure success for each learning style.
In our daily schedule we have a structured time where the teacher introduces a concept, then incorporates age appropriate language, experiences and context in a way that the child cannot learn on his/her own. We deliver our content in an integrated, hands-on approach because children learn best when they're actively involved in something. Each lesson blends some element of electronic media, the arts, physical movement and mathematics, where appropriate. We encourage discussion and inquiry through deep probing questions that allow students to understand topics and ask questions. Although this is done in a lesson format, we make sure to have fun while learning because it is so fun to learn.
We have aspects of dual readiness skills like math, reading, and writing and are able to effectively work them into our program while also maintaining opportunities for play based learning and exploring. We further encourage learning through children’s choice of in-class learning centers, where they can move freely between the art corner, the reading nook, a building block center, a dramatic play kitchen area and other learning stations. It helps to encourage their imagination, curiosity, confidence and compassion. Each student also spends one class per week in each of our 5 external learnings areas - the Library, Computer Room, Multi-Purpose Room, Music Room and our Indoor Pool. We also incorporate daily outdoor play time on our playground or our nature-scape roof. These areas allow students to expand on the academic interests that they develop in our classrooms. There is something for everyone!
At GPA, there is a big focus on internal assessments of where our children stand and how our teachers are performing. Assessments are built into our program and are done observationally, where the teachers frequently observe the children throughout the year and record how well the children are learning our curriculum. This allows use to understand how well the children are applying what they learning to the general expectations of their age group and to make sure they are where they should be, and if not, where they are lacking and what can be done to help. We then communicate progress updates to parents of what their children are able to do and suggestions for what can be improved.
In order for our balanced method of instruction to work, we ask that our teachers be very observant of children in the classroom. They look to see how students approach certain situations, react to unfamiliar content, their inquisitiveness, level of social, emotional and physical skill and to see if they are seeking guidance or are more independent. Teachers then adapt their approach to our curriculum and the strengths of the children in the classroom, so that they can all learn best based on those strengths. We enable our educators to be able to allow children to explore on their own while posing probing/guiding questions and teaching content effectively in the classroom.
During our daily content delivery, teachers structure learning to introduce concepts and experiences that children might not understand independently. For example, students may not fully grasp vocabulary or the context of an interesting topic unless presented by someone who has more experience. As part of the curriculum at GPA, all teachers are provided engaging lesson plans that are complete with all of the resources that they need. These lesson plans include many teaching tips, examples of effective probing questions, suggestions for further exploration and methods on how to best deliver content. This creates an instant professional development opportunity for teachers to learn on the job, making them more effective teachers.
In order to encourage inquiry-based learning, we train our teachers to ask open ended questions that encourage thought, curiosity and a desire for further exploration of a topic in a safe environment where there is no right answer. We also do a lot of probing to reinforce topics - once the fundamentals of numbers, colors and language are introduced - we are constantly asking students to apply them. These questions lead to amazing student/teacher interactions and discussions which open their learning, allow for discovery, answer their questions and let them reach the next level of understanding.
Much of our teacher training is focused on best practices of creating a healthy and safe learning environment and methods for enhancing learning. The leadership team constantly mentors and helps the teachers develop appropriate strategies for knowing when when to identify windows where learning is happening and can be enhanced. We use a combination of in-person staff meetings, professional development workshops, suggested readings and one on one meetings as part of our teacher training program. We have frequent assessment of teacher performance to make sure that their experience and training is best applied to real life situations in the classroom.
At GPA, we focus on internal assessments of where our children stand and how our teachers are performing. Assessments are built into our program and are done observationally, where the teachers frequently observe the children throughout the year and record how well the children are learning our curriculum. This allows use to understand how well the children are applying what they learning to the general expectations of their age group and to make sure they are where they should be, and if not, where they are lacking and what can be done to help. We then communicate progress updates to parents of what their children are able to do and suggestions for what can be improved.