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School Stories

Fostering Intellectual Excellence in Lower School Learners

By Nan Remington, Head of Lower School
When Lower School teachers are asked why they love to teach elementary students, the answer is often a child’s unquenchable thirst for learning. While this thirst and the persistent “why” questions can be tiring, teachers recognize this is a key phase of intellectual development in young learners. 

Health professionals define intellectual development as “a child’s ability to think and reason and make sense of the world they live in.” In a school setting, teachers see intellectual development come to life when students can independently analyze and evaluate events and situations around them and share their thinking with others through well-developed communication skills.
To create an environment for students to develop these skills at Graland, teachers develop lessons and experiences that systematically teach how to acquire knowledge, analyze information, and connect to real-world experiences. Some of the strategies teachers utilize to promote and develop intellect are:

Communication: After a new concept is presented, students share their understanding and questions through writing journals or books, turn and talks, and small group discussions. By articulating their thoughts, students develop a deeper understanding of a concept.

Reflection: Students need time for reflection. Providing thinking time allows them to determine strategies to comprehend information, complete a task, or solve a problem.

Connection: Students connect their learning to other applications independently and in small groups. Learners are encouraged to apply their knowledge or thinking processes to different contexts.

Action: Students are asked to do something tangible that requires planning, doing, and sharing their thinking.
When students are engaged in this type of work, it can be messy as they wrestle with new ideas and concepts. But rest assured, research shows that productive struggle empowers students and solidifies their understanding of new learnings. At Graland, this can be seen firsthand through the Grade 1 Bird Study.

Through conversations, field trips to Barr Lake, and research, first graders learn about the characteristics of birds and compare and contrast them with other animal groups. As a reflective piece, students learn how to compile their findings into a full report with informative sentences. To make real-world connections, students consider the benefits of having a healthy bird population on campus and in surrounding areas. And finally, as an active element, students brainstorm ways to raise awareness of the factors that affect birds and actively engage in age-appropriate activities (such as sending letters to local and state officials) to raise awareness of the issues. 

As students continue to have these intellectual experiences every year at Graland, they develop a toolbox of skills to process and synthesize new material, make connections, and apply their thinking to different situations. As educators, we hope these tools will help students foster intellectual excellence throughout their Graland experience, future education, and careers. 

Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1927, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.