South Portland School Department believes that all students can and will learn when provided with a quality instructional environment. To achieve such conditions, we subscribe to the Rigor, Relevance and Relationships (3Rs) framework developed by Bill Daggett at the International Center for Leadership in Education.
South Portland Schools has created a proficiency-based learning system of Essential Learning Targets (ELTs) aligned to graduation standards as a means for promoting rigorous learning. All of the ELTs are either targets focused on conceptual understanding or skills application, therefore instruction and learning is focused on either conceptual rigor (a.k.a. cognitive) or skill rigor (a.k.a. application). Conceptual rigor is about the reasoning required from students, and is defined as how much students are having to “hold” in their brain while juxtaposing learned information to it, all to answer a question or accomplish a task. Skill rigor is about the level of independent exhibition of a skill, the amount of time passed since instruction, and/or the complexity and degree of involved parts or steps. Each target has been assigned a specific level of rigor on a taxonomy, which designates the level of thinking or application that students must do in order to be considered proficient. Using best instructional practices, teachers then focus lessons and activities on getting students to work from the lower levels of rigor up to the designated level of rigor. One such effective instructional strategy is providing students with descriptive feedback about where they are on the pathway to the achieving the target, and what they need to do next.
Engaging students is requisite to ensuring rigorous, proficient learning. Teachers in South Portland work to provide tasks and activities to students that are meaningful and purposeful to students. To do this we encourage and support the creation of units of study that are integrated across content areas and/or pose real-world problems and situations to students. Our teachers get to know the interests and goals of their students, and work to incorporate those into lessons to further engage students and make their learning feel relevant to them.
Our staff focus on creating strong, caring relationships with students. The district employs Responsive Classroom techniques and Restorative Practices as two ways to build and promote strong inter-personal interactions in our schools. In addition, the district continually finds new ways to communicate with students and parents about student progress through electronic access to student grade information, regular newsletters from principals, and updated websites complete with notice of events and other important information. South Portland Schools values its relationship to the community and consequently seeks partnerships with local businesses and organizations to enrich learning experiences. One example is our working relationship with Maine Medical Center and Tufts Medical School that allows all of our grade 3 students to attend a Human Body Fair to engage in hands-on learning as part of their learning about the systems of the body. Similarly, each year many students are able to intern at local businesses as a way of promoting engagement in their own relevant learning.