Lower School Matters

Lauren Roberts

Susan Kovalik, an elementary education guru, developed the Highly Effective Teaching (HET) model. HET is research based. Simply put, HET is a way of conceptualizing and implementing a “brain compatible” learning environment and organization of curriculum. It is also the basis of the LifeSkills and Lifelong Guidelines you see and hear about throughout our school.

Classroom teachers utilize the following brain compatible elements to help create the ideal learning environment:

  • absence of threat

  • sensory rich experiences

  • meaningful content

  • choices

  • adequate time

  • enriched environment

  • collaboration

  • immediate feedback

  • mastery

  • movement

We embrace these elements and they are reflected in what students see, hear, and experience in classrooms and across our campus. Here are a few concrete examples of strategies we use at the Lower School, to help provide context for some of these elements.


Our Lower School teachers provide "brain breaks" or movement breaks between lesson segments. In this photo, a kindergarten class participates in some yoga moves when transitioning from one subject to the next.


This photo is a good example of leveraging students' own knowledge to help cement the connections they make with new knowledge at school. Here, a first grade teacher uses a foldable activity to have a student represent the five senses they studied in science. Inside, students illustrated their senses in action and wrote sentences describing how they enjoy using each of their senses.

More and more studies are proving the power of drawing in improving retention of information and problem solving. This foldable activity on the senses is also a good example of an activity that is cross-curricular, affording an opportunity to practice writing and grammar skills while reinforcing science concepts.


Kindergarten students work on both fine motor skills and math skills in this activity. Beginning with their names written in black marker, students are asked to cover the lines with tiny mosaic paper squares as much as possible, with limited overlap of mosaic pieces. The fine muscles in the hand allowing students to control a pencil with accuracy are still developing in 5 year olds. These types of activities require students to use these fine motor skills essential to developing handwriting. Next, each child records the number of letters in his or her name. The class graphs how many students have names with 3 letters, 4 letters, 5 letters, etc. Counting, numeral formation, and graphing are all kindergarten math skills. (All cleverly disguised as part of an art project.) Compare this, from the child's engagement perspective, and from a sensory-rich perspective, to a fill-in-the-blank math worksheet. I've had parents ask why they don't see more worksheets coming home. This is why!


Consider the quality of this activity completed collaboratively in a second grade classroom. In teams, students organized these cards based not only on what they learned in their grammar lessons about synonyms, adverbs and adjectives, but also what they learned in a recent science lesson! The teacher added much-needed movement to the activity by allowing students to complete the activity anywhere in the room they wished. Many chose to spread out on the floor and work while lying on their stomachs.


I loved this activity as much as the students did! Second grade students demonstrated their mastery of the different characteristics of clouds by creating these books. Students listed each of the cloud types on the front of the book, then created a representation of each type of cloud using cotton balls, glue, and markers. Inside each page they described the distinctive characteristics of each cloud. What a great way for a child to apply what they know and demonstrate mastery! While it is not possible for every assessment to be a hands-on art project, teachers try to include as many of these as possible.