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The exercise made it easy to see the difference in the way children think and learn, a difference A+ addresses. Some children labored hard over writing their names a certain way before getting to the task at hand. One child asked for larger paper because the country (rural) is so big; a symbolic thinker drew just a gravel road to signify that word. A boy drew a messy room and called it urban because it was crowded and disorganized; a big-picture-thinker mapped a town from a bird's eye view. Girls sitting together at one table all made detailed farms pictures amid much giggling. Sprawls moved constantly around the room, giving help when asked, encouragement to all.
It's a little noisy and it's a little messy and that's all right in the A+ method, because ideas are percolating in young minds.
"It's much easier if they turn to page 17 in their book," Sprawls said later about teaching. It's harder on the teacher to devise ways where the kids can create their way to the answer; she spends hours planning. "But the payoff is a lot bigger," she said. Students remember what they've been taught, because they were more engaged in the lesson, she said, having fun. Sprawls said she believes the method could have an even bigger impact on a struggling school, by giving students the stimulation they aren't receiving at home. They might learn a rap song about the number of sides in a pentagon (and then sing it to themselves during their benchmark tests, as one teacher observed), or act out an event in history, or create the parts of a plant cell with cotton pompoms and construction paper. A+ didn't invent teacher creativity; it just allows it, and, teachers say, it meshes beautifully with the new Common Core curriculum that integrates subject matter and promotes critical thinking. ("What did you do today in math?" a teacher asked a younger boy at Hugh Goodwin as a reporter walked down the hall. "Science," he answered.)
You can't credit A+ entirely with Hugh Goodwin's leap in math and literacy scores; it takes good teachers, too, Principal Reed said. "But it has made a huge effect on our scores, climate and attitude of our school."
In 2012, combined benchmark scores for math for Hugh Goodwin's third and fourth graders were 88 percent proficient or advanced; their combined literacy scores were 87 percent proficient or advanced.
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