Frequently Asked Questions About Soundings
Soundings is different from conventional classes because it is designed specifically to be as student-directed as possible. This means we ask students to play an active role in deciding many parts of their program. Rather than having teachers predetermine everything, the students help select the questions they would really like to answer and the themes they would like to study. Then the students help plan the activities they will use to learn about those themes. With guidance from the two Soundings teachers, students also decide how they want to present what they've learned and how they want to assess their learning. This includes creating the rubrics to describe everything they accomplish and then designing methods for communicating their progress and their achievements to their parents and other adults.
In the world beyond the classroom walls, significant questions, issues, and situations are not neatly defined or answered in terms of single, separated academic subject areas. Ideas and concepts, information and strategies come from multiple fields to crisscross and merge into new learning and progress. In Soundings, we believe that school should reflect this reality and that students should have a chance to practice working and thinking in this fashion. So after we select our themes, we always examine them through many lenses. We look at the historic, the scientific, and the artistic aspects of each theme; and we apply skills and information pulled from the subject areas to find new solutions and new learning about our world.
But will I be ready for high school if I choose Soundings and don't have the traditional subject are
Learning to think more effectively, learning to ask good questions and then find the resources to help answer those questions, and learning to communicate ideas clearly and persuasively to others; these are the keys to academic success in the high school and beyond. They are also the keys to success in any future career. By focusing our attention on these essential learning skills in Soundings, we provide full preparation for the rigors of ninth grade. Indeed, over the years, Soundings students, as a group, have proven themselves as successful in freshman courses as their peers who chose the conventional curriculum. Standardized test scores, freshman grades, data on student participation in all types of high school activities, and anecdotal evidence from students, parents and high school teachers all demonstrate that Soundings students do at least as well in high school as their classmates. What is more, many Soundings alumni have gone on to be leaders at high school by becoming class officers, student representatives on the school board, star athletes, noted artistic performers, and award-winning scholars.
In Soundings, we believe every student is gifted in some way, and we treat everyone in ways that encourage the development of each student's talents and improvement in areas of less strength. Soundings, however, does NOT restrict participation to those identified by the state as having a certain IQ.
The Soundings program accounts for just about two thirds of a student's day. Soundings is its own Advisory, so the 40 Soundings students start together each morning. While any given year may see a different arrangement or order of class periods in the master schedule, Soundings always uses four of the regular class periods. Like all other 8th graders, Soundings students have a regular math class and a world language class every day. They also have gym and health on alternating days, each for half of the year, just like everyone else in eighth grade. Alternating with the required gym and health classes.
Soundings students do receive a report card, but it has grades on it only for math, world language, and elective/specials classes. In Soundings we are interested in learning and in progress, not in assigning a grade or a ranking to students. So we do not give grades, per se, on anything we do.
We do, however, assess everything we do. That means we are always analyzing what students are doing and looking for ways to help them improve their skills. All work turned in or presented receives careful attention by the teachers, who then give the student verbal and written comments. In the case of presentations, the entire class always discusses every presentation, describes what went well, and then suggests what could be improved in the future.
Students also design a self-assessment document that they fill out and take home on a regularly scheduled basis all year, usually every three weeks. This keeps parents well informed about the students' performance and progress. In January and June students complete a very lengthy and detailed self-assessment; the teachers comment on it and also write their own narrative description of each student's progress. One copy of this document goes home to the parents/guardians, and one copy goes in the student?s permanent record in place of a report card for Soundings.
Soundings students also conduct a student-led conference in November, at which they share their goals, their work, and their progress with their parents and teachers. Many opt to do an optional second student-led conference in the spring. The Soundings teachers are always available to parents and to students who wish to have a special conference.
Yes, Soundings students each receive a locker located near the Soundings room. Each also has a small, personal cubby in the Soundings classroom to store materials we use frequently and a personal "mailbox" in the room to receive messages and returned papers.
There was a time in the old building when it seemed that Soundings students were more isolated than the rest of the 8th grade. The set up of the new building has changed this. One large team is located at each far end of the long academic wing, Soundings and Gateways are side-by-side in the middle. Thus all teams are evenly distributed.
Additionally, as described in the daily schedule section, Soundings students go to world language, gym, health, an elective, and usually math with students from other teams. Of course Soundings students eat lunch with the rest of the eighth grade, too.
We think every student can be successful in Soundings, and it is designed specifically to help each student be successful and achieve his or her best, regardless of individual strengths or weaknesses.
So if you . . .
- Want to have a real say in what you study and how you learn
- Are curious about your world and have questions school doesn't usually address
- Want to have your opinions and ideas be heard by people around the world
- Like working with groups to solve real problems and to help other people
- Want to learn and to improve your skills and abilities
- Enjoy hands-on projects, discussions, and debates
- Are ready and willing to accept responsibility
- Want to be ready for the 21st century
- Are looking for something different
Then Soundings is right for you.