Intermediate Aims

Last year we began a series of articles on curricular design, considering some of the big, generative ideas and fundamental concepts we hope all our students will have grappled with by the time they leave Arbor School. We wrote about the thematic curriculum that has emerged to offer up those experiences. Each year, as we plan the particular course our thematic studies will take to engage and challenge a new and unique cohort of learners, we turn back to our fixed and overarching aims for their age group. What do we want every child to achieve in the realms of inquiry and expression, and what habits and attitudes do we hope she will evince? This article reveals our broad aims for the Intermediate student, grade 4-5, 9-11 years old.

The Intermediate child is exciting to teach. She has new intellectual scope and a skill set that allows her to build, model, and measure with accuracy. She is a natural historian and scientist, keen to investigate why the world is as it is and to predict what might happen next. She is able to understand how parts form a whole and how causes and effects can ripple out through a large system. She is capable of realistically imagining the past, the future, and the perspectives of others. Deep history becomes accessible; personal time management is becoming possible. We ask Arbor Intermediates to reach further in terms of content and the sophistication of their synthesis of new information, but also in terms of their independence and agency over their own learning.

The richness of the topics in our curriculum helps buoy two of our main goals for the Intermediate years.  Firstly, we challenge students to ask questions.  Their natural curiosity quickly brews new and exciting ruminations.  Over the course of two years, one centered on Environments and the other on Inventions & Discoveries, our projects attempt to hone such queries into focused and helpful questions that spur research forward and tease out the most salient pieces of information.  Secondly, we challenge students to make claims about the topics they study. By the fourth and fifth grade, students can be quite opinionated.  We ask them not just to make claims but also to select the most relevant findings from their research to support their stance. The increasing complexity of our curricular material raises the level of challenge and demands growing sophistication in the students’ work.  In addition to these two overarching goals, we also strive toward the following aims over the course of each year:


  • Students will hone research skills as they distill non-fiction in various forms, with particular focus on capturing facts in their own words.  Students need to scour works of non-fiction that may contain only a few pertinent bits of information and sort that data to draw connections and conclusions.
  • Students should develop focused questioning through the pursuit of complex research topics as well as self-guided experiments in science.
  •  Students will begin to formulate questions, predictions, and reasonable inferences during fiction reading through reading groups and reading conferences
  • Students will continue to engage in and relish generative, open-ended wondering



  • Students move from simply gathering ideas to linking those ideas into a cohesive whole.  Fourth and fifth graders are learning to synthesize facts they read and use them to scaffold new ideas.
  • Students apply the abstract concepts they study, experimenting with the power of the lever, for instance, rather than taking for granted the formula that it exchanges force for distance. Conversely, they are able to think and talk about forcewithout pushing on something.
  • Developing claims and supporting them with evidence is a particular focus in writing.  Students must show their ability to synthesize information by connecting disparate facts and linking them to create a unified argument in favor of the point they are trying to make. Learning to craft clear topic sentences and support them with logically ordered information in a paragraph is a crucial step in this developmental process.
  • We aim for clarity, precision, and inventiveness in creative writing.
  • Revision is one of the most difficult tasks we ask students to undertake. Intermediates are developing the ability to self-assess and know that their best work will emerge from many drafts.
  • Students develop an appreciation for language and the writing craft through poetry recitation, weekly creative writing exercises, and group read-alouds.
  • Students gain skills and learn new techniques for creative work in Design and Music


Habits and Attitudes

  • Fourth and fifth graders are developing the stamina for sustained attention.  Students work toward focusing for an hour at a time on research, math, writing, reading, or design.
  • Students practice careful observation as the basis for strong work across the curriculum.
  • As students get older we expect them to be more independent and better able to manage their time.  In the Intermediate level they are particularly primed for a leap in ability to work on their own at school and at home, starting work periods quickly and asking questions that help them move forward. Through open-ended projects, students learn to decide for themselves when they have accomplished their best work.
  • Students should be able to determine when they are confused and should possess strategies to move forward in the midst of such confusion, both independently and through thoughtful questions put to teachers or peers.
  • Students can actively participate in group work and ensure that their voice is heard while developing the flexibility to accept others’ ideas and build upon them.
  • As students develop tenacity, stamina, and skills, they become more comfortable with hard work.  They become more confident that they can solve tough problems.
  • Students should engage in frequent reflection to inform independent goal-setting and begin to develop agency in directing their own learning.

Arbor’s mixed grades dictate that a rising sixth grader must be prepared for full participation in classes with Sevens and Eights. She must be ready to speak her mind and respond sensitively in Seminar discussions of great books, world events, and the essences and vagaries of human nature. She must propel herself through a challenging math curriculum, working both independently and collaboratively. She must design her own science experiments, learn a new language, assume leadership in interactions with younger students, navigate a new adolescent social landscape, and greet a panoply of new ideas and high expectations with an open mind and a will to work. The Intermediate years lay the tracks and light the way for these leaps forward, and we relish the journey with each of our students.

The Intermediate Team