Foundation Principles

Authentic Assessment

Assessment that measures realistically the knowledge and skills needed for success in adult life. The term is often used as the equivalent of performance assessment, which, rather than asking students to choose a response to a multiple-choice test item, involves having students perform a task, such as serving a volleyball, solving a particular type of mathematics problem, or writing a short business letter. There is a distinction, however.
Specifically, authentic assessments are performance assessments that are not artificial or contrived. Most school tests are necessarily contrived. Writing a letter to an imaginary company only to demonstrate to the teacher that you know how is different from writing a letter to a real person or company in order to achieve a real purpose. One way to make an assessment more authentic is to have students choose the particular task they will use to demonstrate what they have learned. For example, a student might choose to demonstrate her understanding of a unit in chemistry by developing a model that illustrates the problems associated with oil spills.

Balanced Literacy Approach

A curricular methodology that integrates various modalities of reading and writing instruction, with assessment-based planning at the core. The approach is characterized by explicit skill instruction and the use of authentic texts. A comprehensive literacy program reflects a gradual release of control, whereby centricity and responsibility is gradually shifted from the teacher to the students. The overall purpose of balanced literacy instruction is to provide students with a differentiated instructional program which will support the reading and writing skill development of each individual.

Conflict Resolution

The process of attempting to resolve a dispute or a conflict. Successful conflict resolution occurs by listening to and providing opportunities to meet each side’s needs, and adequately address their interests so that they are each satisfied with the outcome. Conflict Practitioners talk about finding the win-win outcome for parties involved, vs. the win-lose dynamic found in most conflicts. While Conflict resolution engages conflict once it has already started conflict prevention aims to end conflicts before they start or lead to verbal, physical, or legal fighting or violence.

Core Curriculum Content Standards

Includes standards for the seven academic and five workshop readiness areas adopted by the State Board of Ed. These standards communicate the common expectations for student achievement throughout the 13 years of public education. The current New Jersey Department of Education Core Curriculum Content Standards are available at

Differentiated Instruction

Instruction that seeks to maximize each student’s growth by meeting each student where he/she is and helping the student to progress. In practice, it involves offering several different learning experiences in response to students’ varied needs. Learning activities and materials may be varied by difficulty to challenge students at different readiness levels, by topic in response to students’ interests, and by students’ preferred ways of learning or expressing themselves.

Earth Literacy, Ecological Literacy

Earth Literacy or ecological literacy is a field of study that explores the unity and relationships binding Earth and the totality of life under the conditions out of which Earth has emerged within a single, unfolding Universe.

Ecological literacy is the ability to understand the natural systems that make life on earth possible. To be ecoliterate means understanding the principles of organization of ecological communities (i.e. ecosystems) and using those principles for creating sustainable human communities. An ecologically literate society is a sustainable society which does not destroy the natural environment on which they depend. Ecological literacy creates a foundation for an integrated approach to environmental problems based on concepts of holism, systematic thinking, sustainability, and complexity.

Ecological literacy concerns understanding the principles of organization of ecosystems, and their potential application to understanding how to build sustainable human society. It combines the sciences of systems and ecology in drawing together elements required to foster learning processes toward a deep appreciation of nature and our role in it. Systems thinking is the recognition of the world as an integrated whole rather than a collection of individual elements. Within systems thinking, basic principles of organization become more important than the analysis of various components of the system in isolation. Ecological literacy and systems thinking implies recognition of the manner in which all phenomenon are part of networks that define the way that element functions. Systems thinking is necessary to understand complex interdependence of ecological systems, social systems and other systems on all levels.

Earth literacy education, therefore, includes not only learning and instruction in attitudes, skills and knowledge in respect to our planet, but also the development of a perspective or worldview that tells the story of the universe, of Earth, life, and the human species centering on the Earth and life as the focus, not the human species.

Experiential Learning

Experiential learning is learning undertaken by students who are given a chance to acquire and apply knowledge, skills and feelings in an immediate and relevant setting. Experiential learning involves a direct encounter with the phenomena being studied rather than merely thinking. It is learning that is achieved through reflection upon experience and is the way that most of us do our learning.

Experiential learning occurs when students are placed in a situation where they think and interact, learn in and from a real-world environment. While traditional teaching and learning is typically teacher-directed, content-driven, text-oriented and classroom-based, experiential learning involves active participation of the student in planning, development and execution of learning activities, is shaped by the problems and pressures arising from the real-world situation and occurs most effectively outside the classroom. For experiential learning to occur within the classroom, the instructor must use strategies that simulate or incorporate real-world situations.

Experiential Education

Experiential education is a philosophy and methodology in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills and clarify values. (Association for Experiential Education)

The principles of experiential education practice are:

  • Experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis.
  • Experiences are structured to require the learner to take initiative, make decisions and be accountable for results.
  • Throughout the experiential learning process, the learner is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
  • Learners are engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially, soulfully and/or physically. This involvement produces a perception that the learning task is authentic.
  • The results of the learning are personal and form the basis for future experience and learning.
  • Relationships are developed and nurtured: learner to self, learner to others and learner to the world at large.
  • The educator and learner may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking and uncertainty, because the outcomes of experience cannot totally be predicted.
  • Opportunities are nurtured for learners and educators to explore and examine their own values.
  • The educator’s primary roles include setting suitable experiences, posing problems, setting boundaries, supporting learners, insuring physical and emotional safety, and facilitating the learning process.
  • The educator recognizes and encourages spontaneous opportunities for learning.
  • Educators strive to be aware of their biases, judgments and pre-conceptions, and how these influence the learner.
  • The design of the learning experience includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes and successes.

(Association for Experiential Education)

Integrated Curriculum

A way of teaching and learning that does not depend on the usual division of knowledge into separate subjects. Topics are studied because they are considered interesting and valuable by the teachers and students concerned, not necessarily because they appear in a required course of study. Both integrated curriculum and interdisciplinary curriculum are intended to help students see connections, but unlike an integrated curriculum, an interdisciplinary curriculum draws its content from two or more identifiable disciplines.

Interdisciplinary Curriculum

A way of organizing an educational program in which content is drawn from two or more subject areas to focus on a particular topic or theme. Rather than studying literature and social studies separately, for example, a class might study a unit called The Sea, reading poems and stories about people who spend their lives on or near the ocean, learning about the geography of coastal areas, and investigating why coastal and inland populations have different livelihoods. Effective interdisciplinary studies have the following elements:

  • A topic that lends itself to study from several points of view.
  • One or more themes (or essential questions) the teacher wants the students to explore.

Activities intended to further students’ understanding by establishing relationships among knowledge from more than one discipline or school subject.

Interdisciplinary curriculum, which draws content from particular disciplines that are ordinarily taught separately, is different from integrated curriculum, which involves investigation of topics without regard to where, or even whether, they appear in the typical school curriculum at all.

Inventive Spelling

Non-conventional spelling of a word by novice readers and writers. Spelling based on the sound of a word (e.g., “brij” for “bridge”).

Learning Styles

Differences in the way students learn more readily. Scholars have devised numerous ways of classifying style differences, including cognitive style (the way a person tends to think about a learning situation), tendency to use particular senses (seeing, hearing, touching), and other characteristics, such as whether the person prefers to work independently or with others.

Advocates interpret research as showing that teaching underachievers in ways that complement their strengths can significantly increase their scores on standardized tests. For example, strongly auditory students learn and recall information when they hear it, whereas kinesthetic youngsters learn best through activities such as role playing or floor games.

Performance Assessment

A form of assessment that is designed to assess what students know through their ability to perform certain tasks. For example, a performance assessment might require a student to serve a volleyball, solve a particular type of mathematics problem, or write a short business letter to inquire about a product as a way of demonstrating that they have acquired new knowledge and skills. Advocates believe such assessments-sometimes called performance-based assessments-provide a more accurate indication of what students can do than traditional assessments, which might require a student to fill in the blank, indicate whether a statement is true or false, or select a right answer from multiple given choices. Evaluating students through task performance can be more time-consuming and therefore more expensive. Most large-scale assessments (such as state testing programs) use this form of assessment sparingly, if at all. But many educators believe it is worth the extra cost because it provides a more accurate and realistic picture of student learning.

A method for teaching speakers of English to read and write that language. Phonics involves teaching how to connect the sounds of spoken English with letters or groups of letters (e.g., that the sound /k/ can be represented by c, k or ck spellings) and teaching them to blend the sounds of letters together to produce approximate pronunciations of unknown words. Phonics instruction requires the teacher to provide students with a core body of information about phonics rules, or patterns.
Problem-Based Learning

An approach to curriculum and teaching that involves students in solution of real-life problems rather than conventional study of terms and information. Developed in leading medical schools, problem-based learning begins with a real problem that connects to the student’s world, such as how to upgrade a local waste treatment plant. Student teams organize their methods and procedures around specifics of the problem, not around subject matter as such. Students explore various avenues before arriving at a solution to present to the class. Teachers report that students using problem-based learning become more interested in their studies, more motivated to explore in-depth, and more likely to see the value of the lesson.

Problems are chosen for their appropriateness and power to illuminate core concepts in the curriculum. They must be carefully selected to ensure that students learn the intended content.


Specific descriptions of performance of a given task at several different levels of quality. Teachers use rubrics to evaluate student performance on performance tasks. Students are often given the rubric, or may even help develop it, so they know in advance what they are expected to do. For example, the content of an oral presentation might be evaluated using the following rubric:

  • Level 4– The main idea is well developed, using important details and anecdotes. The information is accurate and impressive. The topic is thoroughly developed within time constraints.
  • Level 3– The main idea is reasonably clear and supporting details are adequate and relevant. The information is accurate. The topic is adequately developed within time constraints but is not complete.
  • Level 2– The main idea is not clearly indicated. Some information is inaccurate. The topic is supported with few details and is sketchy and incomplete.
  • Level 1– A main idea is not evident. The information has many inaccuracies. The topic is not supported with details
Whole Language

A literacy instructional philosophy which emphasizes that children should focus on meaning in studies of reading and writing. Approaches in whole language include focus on creating meaning in reading and expressing meaning in writing; constructivist approaches to knowledge creation, emphasizing students’ interpretations of text and free expression of ideas in writing (often through daily journal entries); emphasis on high-quality and culturally-diverse literature; integrating literacy skills into other areas of the curriculum, especially math, science, and social studies; frequent reading with, to, and by students, focus on motivational aspects of literacy, emphasizing the love of books and level-appropriate student materials; meaning-based word recognition instruction.