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Student-centered Learning: How Teachers Ensure Students Are Meeting Learning Objectives
Karin Storm Wood, director of communications

One of the ways Nueva faculty members help students meet their potential is through assessments. Just as our approach to learning keeps our gifted students at the center, so too does the process for how teachers assess—and then communicate—how students are meeting the learning objectives and where they have opportunities for growth. With projects that are responsive to students’ curiosity and creativity, our faculty ensures that assessments are both standards-based and flexible so that students feel most engaged.

Over the next three weeks, we invite you to read how a few of our faculty members in each division approach assessments and keep an open feedback loop with their students. We start with our very youngest students in the lower school.


Kasey Wooten, Lower School Science Teacher
Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten science

For the youngest students—preK through first grade—who aren't able to necessarily write out their ideas, we assess their understanding through verbal communication. We also use hands-on projects. 

For instance, we have been studying microbes in preK, and so students created these little microbe models. Through the use of materials and their own creativity, they are able to demonstrate their understanding of the form and function of the microbe.

These models show us how well they understand the microbe’s shape and whether they are thinking about its different parts. The students don't even realize that they are being assessed. For them, it is a fun way for them to show what they've learned, what they are excited about, and what they are proud of. 

In kindergarten, we have a unit on simple machines. We assess their understanding by giving them a challenge. For example, we tell students that an elephant has fallen out of a train and it is too heavy to carry. We ask them to build a solution to get the elephant six feet up and back into the train using at least one simple machine.

They think about their toolbox of simple machines. They might ask themselves, “Could I use an incline plane for it to walk up, or could I design some kind of pulley?” They have different opportunities to apply their understanding in different ways, which keeps it interesting and exciting for them. They can meet me wherever their level is, so there is, as we say, a low floor and a limitless ceiling. 

Students who have a more complex understanding might use multiple simple machines, or they might have other layers to their design that shows more complex understanding. They might devise a ramp that the elephant walks up into a box that's attached to strings that are attached to a pulley. And they have a team of people pulling the pulley, which lifts the elephant up. From there, there's a lever that opens a door that allows the elephant to walk from the box into the train. Students can be creative and come up with multiple steps. And students with a more rudimentary grasp have a simpler, easier access point, such as literally building a ramp. 

If they come up with something simple in five minutes, then I can say, “That's a great solution. Is there anything you can do to make it even more comfortable for the elephant or make it safer?”   

There are a lot of creative access points that get students really excited about it. And it doesn't feel like a test; It feels like a great opportunity for them to play and create. For instance, one student applied his love of animals to the challenge. He offered a treat—a whole branch of leaves—to entice the elephant to climb the ramp!  


Emily Mitchell, First Grade
First grade design thinking

In first grade, we always study a marginalized or misunderstood community. As part of this study, we do a design thinking project in which we pair the students with community members. Using design thinking, the students interview their community members, asking, “Where do you think Nueva is emotionally and physically accessible to you and where do you think it's not?”

Last year, we studied ableism through the lens of accessibility, so a lot of community members shared things that you can't see, such as neurodiversity challenges, an old sports injury, or a hearing impairment. 

Based on their interview [of their partner], the students brainstorm a needs statement for their community member. We have a mad lib-style statement: The user needs [blank] because [blank]. Then they get feedback from the community member to see if they're on track.

We also sit with each student one-on-one and say, “Show me how you came up with this need.” 

We read through their interview: using red highlighting to mark the places where they feel like the accessibility is not going well: “Our campus is really bumpy, so physical accessibility is challenging.” We use green to highlight emotional accessibility: “They have all these new events for new teachers, so I feel welcome into the community in this way.”

From that needs statement, students make a prototype of an idea. 

We use a rubric that asks students: 

  • Was your brainstorm a great idea? Was it a great idea that met your community partner’s needs? 
  • Is it something that will actually change their experience at Nueva? What's the likelihood that that could actually happen? 

This is their first exposure to a rubric with smiley faces. It gets students to think that there are levels to which they are doing something successfully. It’s not just to make something cool. Rather, we are asking them,  “Did it meet a need? By the end of that semester, they are thinking about the way that they solve problems. 

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