Choosing a great School

Every parent wants the best for their child and a large part of that is finding them the best school. As a British school teacher researching pioneering new developments in education in the United States, I came across something called the ‘Carden Method’, practised in around 80 schools in America known as ‘Carden Schools’.  

What is the Carden Method?

The first Carden school was established in 1934 by Mae Carden. Carden schools use the ‘Carden method’ but each school is independently owned as Carden is not a franchise. The Carden method is centred on individualised learning, the concept that learning should be a joyful experience, and concerns itself with the development of the whole child. The interrelation between curriculum subjects is readily realised; so to the relationship between different skills in the same subject.

I am specifically excited and interested in the Carden schools approach towards teaching reading and writing. The Carden approach refers to literacy as ‘the language of arts’ and acknowledges its’ components as listening, speaking, reading, spelling and writing. Their approach towards teaching the subject acknowledges strong links between reading and writing. In the teaching of reading, the Carden approach identifies five channels of learning. These are phonics and word structure, word grouping, identifying the key word, composing a title, and recalling events in sequence.

Carden emphasises the rhythm of a sentence, encouraging children to understand sentences by a process of being able to answer who and what; and more complexly how, and when. Sentence structure is taught to the children by encouraging them to recognize that sentence structure requires a subject (or a who) and a verb. So the teaching of sentence building may look like this:

James has a car … The children are encouraged to think about what kind of car it is and then add words to the sentence e.g. James has a shiny red car. They are then asked to think about what he is doing with his car e.g James is washing a shiny red car.

In the teaching of reading and writing Carden encourages the use of ‘word only’ texts (no pictures) so that children can develop their imagination and feel empowered in their ability to paint their own pictures using their understanding of the words. This also leaves the children in a better position to think more creatively and independently when developing their own writing based upon what they have read.

 The approach is progressive; lessons build upon each other, and children develop their own extended writing from a short simple sentence.

Conclusions for parents and teachers

 An educational system that claims to put your child at the centre of an individualised learning journey is definitely one I would advise taking seriously. I would like to see the Carden method in action, coupled with further research to support its claims of educational success, but none the less its initial prognosis is for me an exciting one.

 Excellent teaching recognises that the process of teaching is a continuous journey where there will always be space for improvement, new ideas, initiative and development. Each year a teacher is exposed to a new class, who belong to a newer generation with consistently new life experiences, and in order to achieve excellence in meeting the needs of these pupils, a teacher must never allow themselves to stagnate but must always strive to adhere to progression in their practice. I therefore would encourage educational practitioners to examine the research indicating the success of the Carden Method for themselves, and decide on its potential relevance in their own classrooms.