Active Ingredients


This new section of the Lowell Handbook is shared here to help website visitors as well as parents and staff understand the phrases, concepts and individuals who are fundamental to Lowell's progressive education learning environment.

Click on the concepts, phrases, and names at left to learn more about Lowell's learning environment.

Active Working Memory

Active working memory acknowledges that school success is dependent on being able to retrieve information in a timely fashion and put it to use on demand. It is at the heart of productive learning. Active working memory is essential for communicating ideas and producing quality work. It is the ability to hold information in your mind while working on a task. This is required when recalling the steps of a process or the attributes of a concept. Mel Levine writes eloquently about memory in general and the importance of developing an active working memory in children.


Formative assessment occurs during a period of instruction. The results allow the teacher to identify skills that have and have not been mastered and inform future lessons. Summative assessment occurs at the conclusion of a unit of instruction to evaluate the student's acquired skills and knowledge. It can be in many forms including a written report, a project, or an oral presentation. Summative assessment can also be individual or collaborative with a peer or peers. Summative assessment falls into two categories — authentic and traditional. Authentic assessment is a task that allows a student to demonstrate mastery; it requires a student to perform real world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of skills mastery. For example, 4th graders build bridge models after studying the criteria for different bridge types. Traditional assessment is generally in the form of a written test that typically includes multiple choice, fill in or essay questions.

Concrete to Abstract

see Manipulatives Learning

Constructivist Learning

Constructivist Learning is a philosophy of learning first described by John Dewey that describes how, by reflecting on our experiences, we construct our own understanding of the world in which we live. Each of us generates our own "rules" and "mental models," which we use to make sense of our experiences. Learning, therefore, is the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences.

Descriptive Praise

Analyzing and describing behavior is the way adults can help children learn to understand and monitor themselves. Descriptive, rather than judgmental praise uses words to describe actions to affirm a child's belief in him or herself. Examples: " That was hard work; you put a lot of effort into it." "You figured it out!" "You remembered!"

John Dewey

John Dewey developed educational theory in the 20th century that continues to profoundly affect how teaching at Lowell engages students as they expand their experience and understanding. Dewey's research demonstrated the significant part interactive learning and the environment in which children work play in education. Going beyond thinking about education as a way to acquire skills, Dewey stressed the importance of thinking and reflection in all learning.

Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction is the adaptation of instruction to reflect student differences in learning in a number of ways including readiness, interests, and personal style, learning style and family circumstances. These differences are significant and have an impact on what and how much children need to know at one time, their pace of learning and the support they need from teachers. DI enables teaching for success by respecting who children are.


Diversity has many dimensions including but not limited to eight categories: gender, race, ability, family make up, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, religion, and ethnicity. Other aspects of diversity include body image, educational background, language, learning style, age, globalism, regional background, and family make-up. Sensitivity to diversity permeates curriculum and emotional/social understanding at Lowell. All perspectives are honored and respected in direct and indirect ways.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence is knowing what your feelings are and using your feelings to make wise decisions in life. It is a learned set of skills and a valuable predictor of future success in life. Emotional intelligence includes motivation, regulation, empathy and a host of social skills. Daniel Goleman, a major researcher/author in this field, describes four areas of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relational management.

Expressive & Receptive Language

Expressive and Receptive Language is critical currency for success in school and in friendship. Expressive language allows children to translate thoughts into words and phrases orally or in written code. Receptive language is the ability to take in oral or written language, have it make sense, and keep it stored in memory to be accessed as needed.

Field Trips

Field Trips enable Primary and Middle School students to take advantage of the wealth of opportunities there are in the Washington area to further classroom conceptual learning for children. Visiting museums, galleries, parks and neighborhoods all further a child's understanding. Starting in third grade, students also participate in overnight trips that apply and extend the learning of their central subject and/or further individual confidence building.

Flexible Groupings

Flexible groupings refers to the ways we organize students...including, but not limited to concept mastery, skill level and interest.


Primary and Middle School Gathering is a way of building community among students at different grade levels. It is a time of singing, learning about diverse cultures and traditions, sharing achievements and project work among classes, and honoring the birthdays of children throughout the year.

Haim Ginott

Haim Ginott was a clinical psychologist, child therapist, parent educator, and author whose work, Between Parent and Child highly influenced the founders of Lowell School and continues to guide the way we work with children. Essential to Ginott was the importance of respecting children's feelings while setting limits on their behavior. At the heart of Ginott's method is the recognition that denying feelings makes children more intense and confused. By contrast, the acknowledgment of feelings allows both children and adults to heal and consequently become better problem solvers.

Ginott's thinking is the essence of "The Lowell Way."

Integrated Curriculum

Integrated curriculum acknowledges that all learning is connected. When teaching threads its way through different areas including linguistic, artistic and kinesthetic, children learn with greater understanding and ownership. Specialists and group teachers collaborate so that the various areas of the curriculum represent a cooperative effort for each year of learning.

Mel Levine

Mel Levine is a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of North Carolina Medical School at Chapel Hill and Director of the University Clinical Center for the Study of Development and Learning. He is the co-founder of All Kinds of Minds and author of several books including A Mind at a Time, highly recommended reading for all parents. Dr. Levine developed a framework for evaluating the learning, behavioral and developmental profiles of students. By understanding the variations in how students learn and teaching to their strengths, educational programs can be developed to provide a successful school experience.

The Lowell Way

The way we communicate with one another in a respectful and direct fashion. It is embodied in the words of Haim Ginott:

" The goal for all of us who work with children is to respect and guide them in such a way that we can discipline without humiliating, criticize without destroying self-worth, praise without judging, express anger without hurting, acknowledge not argue with feelings, respond so that children will learn to trust their inner reality and develop self-confidence."

Manipulatives Learning

Manipulatives Learning goes from the concrete to the abstract. Manipulatives are sets of 3-dimensional objects or expanding material like playdough and clay that enable children to explore ideas and concepts and literally feel ideas. As learners use manipulatives, they internalize the knowledge that three dimensionality gives them thus setting the stage for abstract knowledge. Typically children under the age of 9 are more concrete learners. After that, their ability to understand more abstract concepts develops.


The awareness of our own mental processing in learning. It is the ability to know how to learn, including which strategies work and why. It is a critical ingredient to successful learning.

Morning Meeting

Morning Meeting takes place every morning in each classroom or group meeting place. It consists of four parts: a greeting that enables every child to feel welcomed and valued; the sharing of ideas, a group activity; news and announcements pertinent to the day. Morning Meeting provides a bridge between home and school and builds a sense of community and a climate of trust for all children. It contributes to increased confidence and engagement among learners and the development of receptive and expressive language.


Bringing together and celebrating of the many distinctive cultures and backgrounds within the Lowell community and metropolitan Washington through our curriculum and our board, staff and parent Diversity Committees. Our commitment to multiculturalism is imbedded in Lowell's Philosophy and Mission statements. The objective of multicultural education is to help our students learn how to live in an ethnically and culturally rich, diverse and inclusive world.

Multisensory Instruction

The coordination of input from all the senses allowing the hands, eyes, ears, and voices working together to help each student organize and retain their learning. Teachers' awareness of children's individual learning styles results in their employing a range of situation- specific visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile techniques to enhance learning.

Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist whose goal was to discover how knowledge grows. His answer through voluminous research over many decades is that the growth of knowledge is a logical progression of stages from childhood to adulthood. He was among the first scientists to look seriously and respectfully at how children learn. He had a great influence on John Dewey.


Playdough is a versitile material basic to concrete learning. Beginning in the Pre-Primary, it is used to help children explore ideas of shape and possibility. Kneading gives users valuable fine muscle development work and encourages patience and extended focus. Its forgiving nature enables children to easily remedy "mistakes." Playdough also encourages socializing; children who work together with this material often build complex imaginary structures and in the process, enrich and practice language, including conversation and idea-building. As children get older, playdough is useful for relaxation, continued fine motor development and three-dimensional projects.

Progressive Education

Progressive education is experiential, active learning that honors the developmental ages and stages of physical, social and cognitive development. A progressive approach to education facilitates deep conceptual understanding and, for this reason, is rigorous in the best sense of the word.

Receptive Language

See Expressive Language

Sensory Motor Integration

Sensory Motor Integration describes the way the brain takes in information externally and internally and subsequently classifies, organizes, stores, and recalls it for learning. Jean Ayers pioneered efforts to identify and describe sensory motor integration which involves both fine and gross motor systems and utilizes all five senses. Praxis is the term used to describe the ability to plan and sequence the "traffic flow" of information that translates into action in a coordinated way. The proprioceptive system provides information about special awareness through muscle tension, body position, and the movement of our joints. The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and provides information about gravity, balance, and movement.

Singing Meeting

Singing Meeting is a Lowell tradition that creates community through learning a shared body of songs. Music allows for the development of rhythm, vocabulary, rhyming, and a different dimension of learning. In the Pre-Primary School, Singing Meeting occurs at the end of the morning each day. In the upper grades, a K - 2nd Grade and 3rd - 5th Grade Singing Meeting are each held on a weekly basis.


Sleep is essential for learning; a well-rested child can manage social and cognitive demands far better than one who is sleep-deprived. Sleep has a direct impact on a child's temperament and behavior. Most children need more sleep than they are getting. When a child has poor sleep habits or refuses to nap or go to bed, parents assume erroneously that he/she just doesn't need much sleep. In fact, it's likely that such a child is sleep-deprived, hence the overtired, hyper behavior at nap/bedtime. Below are the guidelines that pediatric sleep experts recommend. Parent attention to these guidelines is of utmost importance in the parent/school partnership.

Ages 3 - 5 need 11 - 13 hours of sleep per night.
Ages 5 - 12 need 10 - 11 hours of sleep per night.
Teens need 8.5 - 9.5 hours of sleep per night.
(Recommendations from the National Sleep Association)

Social Curriculum

Social curriculum is the social and emotional context for Lowell’s intellectual curriculum. It is the set of deliberate pro-active structures that give students the chance to learn and practice the work of creating and maintaining community. True traction in learning can only take place when children trust the community and feel free to take risks. The many deliberate ways to support the emotional and social growth of children at Lowell include Morning Meeting and Differentiated Instruction all of which honor and respect who children are.

Understanding by Design

Understanding by Design is a framework for designing curriculum, assessments, and instruction. This framework leads teachers through a process which causes them to ask questions such as: How can I better teach for understanding? How can I cull fom content standards to the important big ideas that I want students to understand? How can I know students truly understand and can apply what they have learned? Developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, this curriculum design framework is very compatible with a progressive approach to teaching and learning and is utilized by Lowell teachers to design engaging and effective units. The key components of this design process are generating the essential questions and enduring understandings that are to be outcomes of the unit, determining what we actually want students to know and be able to do, planning what activities will lead to these outcomes, and determining how to assess the effectiveness of the teaching.

Zone of Proximal Development

Zone of Proximal Development is a term developed by Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky, which describes a theory of child development. Children have "comfort zones" in the mastery of a skill or concept, allowing them to be at ease with practicing it independently. Books taken home to read with parents are at this level. When at school, teachers work in the zone of proximal development providing the necessary support students need to achieve mastery in the next level of achievement. Students are challenged as teachers strive to keep a balance of comfort/practice and ZPD learning for each.