To thrive in the 21st century, one cannot be a critical thinker without first developing a strong foundation of knowledge. In the TASIS Elementary School, we build this foundation by following the outstanding Core Knowledge Curriculum Series™, a coherent, cumulative, and content-specific core curriculum grounded in shared knowledge of language arts, history, geography, visual arts, music, mathematics, and science.
The academic program as a whole, which is discussed in greater detail below, has been thoughtfully developed to ensure that all students emerge with an excellent grounding and preparation for the academically rigorous upper-school curricula TASIS employs—most notably the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program and the Advanced Placement (AP) program.
Core Knowledge: An Overview
The Core Knowledge Curriculum Series™—an excellent sequential, content-rich curriculum that also serves as the backbone of academic programs at TASIS Elementary Schools in England, Portugal, and Puerto Rico—provides all children an equal opportunity to learn essential academic knowledge and skills. It is based on a conception presented by Prof. E. D. Hirsch, Jr. in his well-known books Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, The New First Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them, and The Knowledge Deficit. The curriculum was practically developed by Prof. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Foundation—an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan educational foundation founded in 1986—and is now used with great success by hundreds of schools in the United States and abroad.Its positive learning outcomes are well-established by research and have been widely praised and documented in numerous studies.
|“What I appreciate most about TASIS is the excitement my children have for coming to school each day.”|
The curriculum helps children become familiar with the traditions and knowledge commonly shared by educated citizens in a society, enabling them to develop cultural literacy in a way that is systematic while still leaving room for creativity. Teachers are free to teach the subject matter as creatively as they like, but the content is specified and builds from year to year. This approach prevents the gaps and repetition that frequently occur in curricula that are not coordinated across grade levels or within different classrooms at the same grade level.
Because teachers are guided by a detailed outline of content knowledge and skills to be taught at each grade level, they are free to focus on teaching—providing appropriate support and guidance while ensuring that all students are challenged and actively engaged. The high expectations they set for their students are reflected in the challenging content they use as the backbone for their lessons.
Each teacher also works closely with a dedicated Literacy Coordinator to develop a classroom library that supports the content taught each year. The ever-expanding classroom libraries are filled with supplemental teaching materials, read-aloud books, and books students can select for independent reading.
An overview of the major topics covered each year
|"Our children grew more confident, more assertive, and more aware of the world surrounding them. They came out of the Elementary School with a unique ownership of what they studied and the ability to apply it in their everyday lives, be it applying math to real life problems or walking into a church and recognizing architectural features."|
Core Knowledge is a guide to content from grade to grade, designed to encourage steady academic growth and progress as children build their knowledge base, improve their English-language fluency, and develop the skills essential for responsible citizenship from year to year. This cumulative building of knowledge helps ensure that children enter each new grade ready to learn.
The curriculum is organized to build and deepen students’ knowledge grade by grade, and to make cross-curricular connections across subjects. For example, fifth graders studying the Renaissance can confidently build on their prior learning about ancient Greece and Rome (grades 2 and 3) and the Middle Ages (grade 4) while also connecting their historical studies to topics in visual arts, where they study masterworks by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and others.
Studying topics together in the same grade can build a sense of community in much the same way that common knowledge can bind the larger society together. A distinguished scholar of international renown, Prof. Hirsch believes that a diverse society has a special need for commonly shared background knowledge and, further, that everybody has a right to share this civilized res publica—not just a select few. Students come to understand the shared dimensions of knowledge, how subjects relate to one another and build cumulatively over time, and how history influences contemporary events. They can command the necessary vocabulary to comprehend the complex subjects that lie ahead as well as the increasingly complex world around them. Though initially and necessarily oriented to Anglophone culture, students come to share a larger civilizing culture exploring the best that has been thought, said, invented, and discovered in the world—the classic “liberal arts” ideal.
To learn more about the CK Curriculum, please visit www.coreknowledge.org.
While the Core Knowledge Curriculum Series™ serves as the backbone and philosophical underpinning of our Elementary School’s academic program, it is enriched by the world-renowned Singapore Math program, English as an Additional Language support for those who need it, and a robust co-curricular program that includes Visual Arts, Music, and Physical Education. We also offer families the option of enrolling their children in either an American Section or an Italian Section. Specific aspects of our academic program are explored in the ensuing pages.
|“Singapore Math was a very new thing for us, but after we had a look at it with our son, all I can say is that it’s amazing!”|
The Singapore Math program, which correlates with the math objectives outlined in the Core Knowledge Sequence, focuses on building fundamental math skills so that students have a strong foundational base to draw upon when they undertake more advanced studies in the future. It is based on the philosophy that students need to build solid numeracy skills and an understanding of number concepts. Students learn the “why” and “how” behind mathematical concepts through exploration, instruction, hands-on activities, and problem solving. There is an emphasis on continual practice with an effective mix of word problems, drills, and mental calculation.
In particular, we use Math in Focus, an American edition of the Singapore Math curriculum that places problem solving at the center of math learning and introduces concepts in a three-step learning progression: concrete, pictorial, and abstract. The intentional progression of concepts in Math in Focus instills a deep understanding of mathematics, as students learn to think mathematically instead of relying solely upon rote memorization of algorithms. Students are able to master a specific set of skills each year that prepares them for the next grade level. Adaptations and support are provided as needed to ensure all students are successful and appropriately challenged.
This very successful model was first developed in the 1980s by Singapore, a country that consistently ranks among the world’s highest-achieving primary and secondary pupils in both math and science—as measured by the two most recognized international assessments, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
TASIS has seen its own tangible results with the program, as students in grades 3–5 take the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test several times each year and consistently produce scores on the Math section that significantly outpace the worldwide averages for international schools.
A high-quality science education means that students will gain an in-depth understanding of content and develop key skills—communication, collaboration, inquiry, problem-solving, and flexibility—that will serve them throughout their educational and professional lives.
Students in grades K–5 primarily focus on topics in Physical Science, Life Science, and Earth Science with a hands-on approach that includes labs and experiments. In grades 2–5, students visit our Elementary School Science Laboratory twice a week to perform experiments that align with the challenging Core Knowledge science rubrics, employing cutting-edge tools to engineer solutions to challenging problems. The Science curriculum also supports the Elementary School’s Service Learning Program by helping students understand how they can serve as good stewards of the planet.
English Language Arts
Our EnglishLanguage Arts program is inspired by the Core Knowledge Curriculum Sequence™ and is composed of genre-based units of study designed to develop reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills—with reading and writing units integrated so that students write about the same genres they read about. Students study language and grammatical concepts while learning how to write informational, persuasive, and narrative texts in both standard and cursive handwriting and on word processing applications.
Our comprehensive program is designed to provide solid instruction to a variety of reading levels and skills, offering students the challenges needed to mold them into stronger readers. All areas of reading development are covered extensively, including phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency. A robust read-aloud program ensures that students hear and discuss high-interest, high-quality fiction and nonfiction texts on a regular basis.
The Elementary School has two ever-growing libraries (housing more than 8000 titles), and each classroom has its own collection of books that matches the reading level and interests of each student and augments each unit of study. Students are encouraged to read both fictional and factual materials that reinforce cross-curricular topics and themes and help them understand the common humanity of the members of the world community, past and present. All students have specific, ongoing assessments to ensure that they are placed in the appropriate reading group and properly challenged.
Our program is bolstered by a full-time librarian, a literacy coordinator, an instructional book room with more than a thousand level readers, small-group and individualized reading instruction provided in the classroom on a daily basis, two Usborne Book Fairs hosted on campus each year, annual visits from acclaimed children’s authors, and other special events on campus designed to celebrate reading.
It is abundantly clear that our students love to read and that our English Language Arts Program helps them improve their levels at a rapid rate. The empirical data confirms that our methods are working, as TASIS students in grades 3–5 consistently perform well above the worldwide average on the Reading section of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test while demonstrating steady improvement from year to year.
History & Geography
In grades Pre-K through 2, we use the Core Knowledge Curriculum Sequence™ as the basis for the History and Geography modules, which provide rich content in both American and World History at each grade level.
We follow the Core Knowledge History series—a program specifically developed to support the Core Knowledge Curriculum Sequence™—for the American Section (explained on the next page) in grades 3–5. The texts are classical in approach with historical epochs serving as the framework for discussions of art, science, literature, philosophy, and politics. Key vocabulary is reinforced, and students are encouraged to make connections across disciplines using history as a starting point. Students finish Elementary School with a solid base of knowledge in both American and World History that enables them to understand and discuss the causes and effects of historical events and demonstrate an understanding of how historical events have influenced the world.
Students in the Italian Section (explained in the ensuing pages) follow the esteemed Italian national curriculum in grades 3–5.
American and Italian Sections
In 2005, TASIS received an exemption from the Canton of Ticino in order to found the Canton's first English-language primary school. This exemption states that children at TASIS who are 4–15 and have resided in Ticino for no more than six years may be educated primarily in another language, provided that 20 percent of the educational program is in Italian. Those who have resided in Ticino for six or more years must have additional instruction in Italian in order to meet Cantonal requirements.
The solution that the School and the Canton agreed upon was for TASIS to provide two separate offerings—an American Section and an Italian Section—that formally begin in grade 1 and continue through grade 9. All Elementary School students, regardless of which section they are in, have a native English speaker as a homeroom teacher and work together during English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Visual Arts, Music, and Physical Education. This structure deepens each student’s exposure to English and ensures that each grade’s homeroom and Italian Section teachers are able to work together closely to provide an optimum program.
American Section Details
In the American Section, which is primarily designed for students whose families have resided in Ticino for fewer than six years, core academic subjects follow the rigorous Core Knowledge curriculum and are presented in English. Students also take an Italian language course each day, with instruction based on current proficiency level, and receive bilingual instruction in certain specialized courses, such as Visual Arts and Physical Education.
Italian language instruction for American Section students is taught at different levels. Beginner students learn basic Italian that is useful for living in an Italian-speaking environment. At this level the teachers focus on oral communication, and the teaching approach is learning through games. Students in their second year of studying Italian begin learning grammar and start to write small paragraphs and read short stories. The next level is for students who are ready for more advanced studies, including literature, conversation, and writing. Students who are approaching fluency study every aspect of the language—speaking, listening, writing, and reading—as if they were in an Italian-speaking school.
Italian Section Details
Students whose families have resided in Ticino for six or more years must join the Italian Section at the start of their seventh year in the Canton, but many families choose to have their children enter the Italian Section earlier, particularly if they would like to accelerate the pace at which they learn Italian.
In the Italian Section, two of the core academic subjects—Italian Language Arts & Literature and History & Geography—are taught strictly in Italian, based on the best of the traditional Italian curriculum that mirrors much of the rich Core Knowledge curriculum, while the other core courses are taught in English, enabling students to achieve academic proficiency in both languages.Students also receive bilingual instruction in several of their co-curricular classes, including Visual Arts and Physical Education.
In Italian Language Arts & Literature, students are exposed to the morphology, syntax, spelling rules, and grammatical structures of the Italian language beginning in Pre-Kindergarten. In grades 1–2, students begin to learn the basics of the Italian language by working on the four fundamental language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. In grades 3–5, these skills are consolidated and deepened.
The Italian Section reading curriculum emphasizes phonemic awareness, vocabulary, and fluency, with a focus on reading comprehension that helps students reflect on their ability to use the Italian language, anticipate the written text, and recognize the complexity and richness of the language. Italian classics and Italian versions of world literature classics are available in each classroom, and the Elementary School’s two main libraries have a wide collection of Italian books targeted to all age groups.
The Italian Section’s rigorous writing curriculum teaches students to express their thoughts in a structured way, enabling them to write clear and coherent texts related to various genres by the time they finish Elementary School. Classes focus on all steps of the writing process as students learn to communicate their ideas cogently, and these skills are reinforced with cross-curriculum work, particularly in History & Geography.
In History & Geography, students build a foundation of world history and geographic knowledge, with a particular focus on European culture and ancient civilizations. Historical periods are covered sequentially and studied in great detail, creating a close link between different disciplines.
English as an Additional Language
Many students in both the American and Italian Sections do not speak English as their mother tongue. Our goal is to increase these students’ English abilities and confidence as quickly as possible by immersing them into content-area classes that are taught entirely in English while also providing English as an Additional Language classes and support. Highly qualified teachers provide assistance with reading, writing, grammar, and spelling as we help non-native speakers reach grade-level proficiency as quickly as possible so that they can participate fully and independently in their homerooms.
Many students have come to TASIS speaking no English at all and have ultimately graduated from TASIS and gone on to study successfully at prestigious Anglophone universities.
The Whole Child
Core academic instruction is complemented by a strong co-curricular program that includes instruction in Visual Arts, Music, and Physical Education. Students meet regularly with highly trained specialist teachers, who collaborate with core-subject teachers to provide an integrated curriculum that supports the Core Knowledge sequence.
Our Visual Arts program follows the Core Knowledge Curriculum Sequence™, which emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach to Art History, introducing students to the key movements of each period. Students gain an appreciation for art while learning about the styles, influences, and themes in various artworks and the historical and cultural contexts in which these works were generated.
Students also develop increased understanding and skills in the visual elements of art making. Our program aims to give each student a strong, applicable knowledge in the visual fundamentals—line, shape, and color—while they study and apply concepts such as abstraction, balance, form, pattern, space, and texture. Beyond that, art is seen as a true discipline through which an artistically developed person can view the world and understand the different visions and expressions of his or her fellow human beings.
All of our young artists display their work at various events throughout the year, culminating with a sweeping, school-wide Spring Arts Festival each May.
TASIS music classes combine the framework of the Core Knowledge curriculum with additional approaches, including Orff, Kodaly, and Dalcroze. Students learn about music and movement, playing and composing on instruments, singing, and reading and writing traditional notation. They are also introduced to classical composers and their works.
All students have the opportunity to perform at the school-wide Christmas Service, at the Elementary School Christmas Concert, and at various events during the Spring Arts Festival—including conducting a professional orchestra!
Our Physical Education program helps each child progressively develop coordination, body management, and physical stamina, with all activities based on the principles of movement education. In the early grades, students develop an understanding of body control and movement through space. Upper-elementary students apply the basic skills they’ve learned in challenging games and activities that also incorporate lessons in sportsmanship, team play, and strategy.
Health concepts and fitness activities are included in several units throughout the year, and in all grade levels the focus is placed on the development of physical competence and the meeting of personal challenges to build self-esteem—all with the ultimate goal of fostering a life-long enjoyment of physical activity.
Al Focolare: The Early Childhood Center
The TASIS Early Childhood Program (ages 3–7, grades Pre-Kindergarten through 1) approaches learning through hands-on exploration and play. Aiming to create lifelong learners, we encourage our young students to use their natural curiosity to investigate and discover the world with advancing independence in high-quality learning environments. Children work individually and collaboratively on foundational skills in mathematics, science, social studies, language arts, music, movement, and dramatic play. All interrelated aspects of a child’s growth—development of coordination, social and emotional skills, and visual and performing arts—are considered in order to establish a solid and well-rounded basis for learning.
Al Focolare, our Early Childhood Center, comprises six classrooms with dedicated spaces for art, science, library, and physical education. Our playground is a well-cared-for environment filled with nature’s beauty and variety—a place that supports imaginative, social, and gross motor play. Students are served multiple-course, family-style meals for lunch each day and are encouraged to learn to make their own healthy choices and use proper table manners.
Our Pre-Kindergarten program begins at age three (children must turn three before September 1 and be toilet-trained) and consists of two levels: Pre-K 3 and Pre-K 4. These full-day programs are designed to help young children improve their language skills and integrate socially before moving on to Kindergarten. The curriculum for Pre-K 4 classes directly follows the Core Knowledge Preschool Sequence™ in all subject areas and includes weekly visits to our Early Childhood Science Laboratory, whereas the Pre-K 3 program is thematic-based, addressing topics such as colors, shapes, seasons, friendship, the five senses, the alphabet, transportation, holidays, nutrition, habitats, and weather. Children in both levels cover music, art, physical education, and library units with specialist teachers.
Students in Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten are not formally divided into American and Italian Sections until they start grade 1. Kindergarten students do, however, receive their primary instruction in English, have an Italian Language class with a native Italian speaker, and have bilingual instruction woven into various aspects of the program.