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Approach to Teaching and Learning

Message from the Director of Learning

Welcome to our website. My role as the Director of Learning at BFIS is to oversee and lead the systematic review, revision, and creation of the BFIS curriculum in line with the mission and strategic initiatives of the school.  The goal of this work is to align our curriculum from Early Childhood through IBDP.  We offer a standards-based curriculum, aligned to American curriculum standards.  Please see more details on our curriculum in the associated teaching and learning pages on our website.

We aim to promote a culture of learning and continuous growth for students and staff alike.  For our staff, we offer extensive professional learning opportunities as we strive for continuous improvement in all areas of teaching and learning.  We focus on the implementation of the instructional program to ensure the highest quality of instruction. When you step inside our classrooms you will find active, curious and creative learners who are able to solve problems individually and collaboratively.  



At BFIS we are committed to a systematic and facilitated process for teams of teachers across the school to affirm, revise, and/or create curriculum. Through a formal curriculum review cycle our teachers explore research and current shifts in their subject areas and look for ways to improve and enhance curriculum, instruction, and assessment. 

Our curriculum is aligned to progressive standards that have been developed for schools in the USA and adopted by international schools around the world. 

  • Early Childhood: Gold Standards
  • English Language Arts K-10: Common Core State Standards
  • Math K-10: Common Core State Standards
  • Social Studies K-10: C3 Framework For Social Studies Standards
  • Science K-10: Next Generation Science Standards
  • Physical Education K-10: SHAPE
  • Arts K-10:CORE Arts
  • International Baccalaureate Program for subject areas in grades 11-12

Teachers are supported by our instructional leaders to create standards-based units of study using the Understanding by Design (UbD) planning process. We ask ourselves these critical questions when carefully designing developmentally appropriate units:

  1. What should students know and be able to do by the end of the unit? (Standards)
  2. How will we know that they have met these objectives/standards? (Assessment)
  3. How will students learn and practice the knowledge and skills throughout the unit? (Lessons, Activities, Formative Assessments) What will we do when they demonstrate mastery? (Differentiation, Enrichment, Extension) What will we do when they are not meeting the standards? (Differentiation, Support)

Philosophy of Assessment: Sound assessment begins with WHY.

Purpose refers to the reasons we assess learners and how we use the information.  At BFIS, we believe that assessment serves multiple purposes. Consistent with educational research, we know that quality assessment practices do more than measure learning; assessment promotes learning.  We use assessment for both summative and formative purposes.   Summative assessments are carefully designed during the planning stages of a unit.  They are intentionally crafted so that learners can demonstrate their ability to meet the learning objectives/standards at the end of the unit.  The information is used to determine a learner's level of achievement. Formative assessments are used to identify where a learner is in relation to where they need to be in order to meet the learning objectives/standards.  This information guides learning and informs daily instructional practices.

It is the shared responsibility between students, teachers and parents to use assessment to support and guide the learning process in the following ways:

Purpose of Assessment


Assessment for Students

Assessment for Teachers Assessment for Parents and Guardians
  • Promotes a classroom culture of growth and continuous learning
  • Involves and motivates students as active participants in the learning and assessment process
  • Serves as a communication tool between student and teacher; student and parent/guardian about progress toward learning objectives
  • Promotes a classroom culture of growth and continuous learning
  • Informs planning and is used as a reflection tool for teachers to improve and modify instruction
  • Serves as a communication tool between parent/guardian and teachers and students about progress toward learning objectives
  • Fosters teacher collaboration and alignment of curriculum within and across grade levels (horizontal and vertical alignment)
  • Shares and celebrates student learning and creates a community that is focused on growth and continuous learning
  • Allows parents and guardians to become active participants in the learning process and fosters a strong school-home partnership
  • Serves as a communication tool between parent/guardian and child at home about progress toward learning objective
Identifying Assessment Criteria
  • Identifies the criteria and expectations for meeting the learning objectives
  • Offers multiple and varied opportunities for students to demonstrate knowledge, understanding and skills
  • Identities the criteria and expectations for meeting the learning objectives

  • Uses a variety of methods to evaluate knowledge, skills, and understandings in order evaluate progress towards learning objectives

  • Identifies the criteria and expectations for meeting the learning objectives
Monitoring of Student Learning & Progress
  • Provides opportunities to analyze and monitor their own progress over time

  • Stimulates reflection and self/peer assessment in order to become independent and self-reliant learners

  • Enables learners to identify strengths, areas of development, and strategies for improvement

  • Builds confidence and a sense of agency for self-reliant and independent learners

  • Provides opportunities for teachers to analyze individual and group progress made on learning objectives/standards
  • Makes clear students´strengths and areas for growth so that interventions may be implemented to support and enhance learning
  • Offers valid and reliable data that can be used to make decisions about curriculum and instruction
  • Informs parents and guardians about progress, areas of strengths, and strategies for growth for their child in relation to the learning objectives/standards

  • Shares evidence of student learning and growth

Providing Feedback
  • Provides prompt feedback on their progress towards learning objectives so that they know what comes next in their learning and how to act on it
  • Allows teachers to provide prompt and regular feedback for students with actionable steps to take in their learning

  • Offers feedback about who their child is as a learner, including effort and behaviors that may support or hinder progress

Assessment Agreements 


  • Student behaviors such as: effort, participation, adherence to class rules, etc. will not be included in grade calculations.  Grades will reflect only student performance toward standards/learning objectives. Student behaviors, or Approaches to Learning, will be assessed throughout the year and reported separately on report cards for each subject area/course.

  • Work submitted late will not result in a lower grade.  The consequence for not submitting work on time, will be through mandatory make-up.  The grade should represent what a learner knows and can do in relation to the standards.  When work is incomplete, there is no way to assess the current level knowledge, skills and understandings.  A lower grade due to work submitted late distorts the reality of where a student is in relation to the standards.

  • Extra credit or bonus points for non-academic work such as bringing in materials, covering books, etc. will not be included in grade determination.

  • Academic dishonesty will not be punished with reduced grades.  Academic dishonesty will carry behavioral consequences.  *For IB students, the IB academic dishonesty policy will be followed.

  • Attendance will not be considered in grade determination.

  • Group scores from work done in cooperative learning groups will not be included in grade determination.  Students will be assessed on collaboration and communication skills, separately from their individual ability to meet the standards for the course/subject. 

Skills Development & The BFIS “Approaches to Learning”

Student behaviors such as effort, participation, timeliness and collaboration are key skills that must be taught and assessed separately from a student's ability to meet the content standards for each course.  Both academic proficiency and how a student approaches learning are important and should be valued. 

In line with the IB Approaches to Learning, we call these learning behaviors, the BFIS Approaches to Learning.  Feedback to students on the BFIS Approaches to Learning gives them a better idea of who they are as learners and the skills that we know are an essential part of academic life and beyond.  To bring cohesion as school, we have developed rubrics for these behaviors of a learner so that teachers, students and parents are all drawing from the same language and expectations from elementary, middle and high schools.

In addition to the academic achievement grade for each subject/course that is presented through our reporting systems, students are assessed on the following Approaches to Learning:

Attitude Toward Learning: Demonstrates a positive disposition toward learning, Seeks/accepts feedback and uses it to improve learning, Demonstrates respect to others within the learning environment, Demonstrates persistence when faced with challenges, Demonstrates self-awareness of own strengths and areas for improvement

Self-Management: Respects timeliness, Uses time efficiently, Arrives to class prepared, Demonstrates organization skills, Demonstrates awareness of own actions and the ability to accept responsibility, Adheres to classroom and school rules and policies, Seek assistance when necessary

Participation & Collaboration: Cooperates and compromises within a group setting, Participates as an engaged, on-task, and focused learner, Demonstrates effective communication and problem solving skills, Works to resolve conflict


Differentiated instruction

Because students have different needs and abilities, our teachers may adjust levels of challenge, learning activities, teaching and learning strategies, and assessments to meet the needs of all learners. This practice is called “differentiation.”  and it is a teacher’s proactive response to students’ needs as defined by their abilities, learning styles, and interests. The goal is to provide challenge and success for all learners.

Integrated Technology

According to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), “Today’s students must be prepared to thrive in a constantly evolving technological landscape.” 

At BFIS, we believe that the meaningful integration of technology can support, enhance and even transform teaching and learning.  We aim to embed technology within and across the curriculum while giving students opportunities to use technology to apply and communicate what they are learning.  Our learners develop digital literacy skills that lead to a student-driven learning environment.

In addition to digital literacy, we teach our learners that to be a digital citizen of the world, they must “recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.” (ISTE)

Class size

Students in smaller classes perform better in all subjects and on all assessment when compared to their peers in larger classes.  Small classes involve students, encourage their participation and it allows teachers to know their students well to guide their growth and development. Small class size fosters sharing, empathy and teamwork.

Average class size is 18 students. 

Social-emotional learning

Social and Emotional Learning is the process through which children and adults acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to recognize and manage their emotions, demonstrate caring and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle challenging situations constructively. These are the skills that allow children to calm themselves down when angry, make friends, resolve conflicts respectfully, and make ethical and safe choices. The BFIS approach to social and emotional learning is a two-fold approach that provides consistency within the educational program and also flexibility to differentiate when needed, developing effective instructional methods that are active, participatory and engaging.

Talent Development

At BFIS, we believe in success for all students and are committed to providing what each student needs to achieve their goals. In the winter of  2019, a “Talent Development” initiative was launched to analyze community needs, craft a talent development vision and create an implementation plan that would lead to sustainable, systemic change in the organization.  The BFIS Talent Development program is connected to all strands of the BFIS strategic plan: Character, Teachers, 21st Century Curriculum and Community Engagement, with specific focus on planning to “Evaluate and refine support systems for all students, specifically high achieving students, to be sure they are appropriately challenged.” 

Talent Development Vision:

At BFIS, we aspire to look at all of our students through a “talent development lens.” Our bold approach to learning is built upon a rock solid belief that all students deserve support and encouragement from family, school and the community to achieve their full potential. When students demonstrate precocious intellectual ability, interests and/or marked potential for high levels of performance in their strength areas, we are committed to challenging them appropriately in the classroom setting. Many schools embrace the work of learning support when students are struggling, and at BFIS, we also believe that students who demonstrate marked aptitudes deserve the same kind of support and attention. To this end, educators at BFIS will continue to engage in professional learning that helps them to recognize capacities in their students that warrant further development. ​

Professional Learning

At BFIS we are a community of learners. Our students are not the only learners on campus. Our approach to teaching and learning involves continuous growth and improvement for teachers as well.

BFIS faculty members are committed to continually improving their skills around the instructional strategies that they use to reach our students.

In order to support a diverse faculty charged with implementing a wide-ranging educational program, our professional development approach consists of four main components:

  1. In house workshops during our weekly Professional And Collaborative Time (PACT) and Professional Development (PD) Days.
  2. Personal PD funds that our teachers can utilise to self-select in order to grow in their professional goals.
  3. American International Schools in Spain (AISIS) learning cohorts and collaboratives.
  4. Instructional Coaching

What is instructional coaching?

Instructional coaching is a common practice in schools around the world. Like in sports, coaching is not just for “some” players.  Even the greatest sports players need coaches.  Everyone can benefit from working with a coach, and ultimately, it is our students who benefit the most.  Instructional coaches provide busy teachers with the time and resources needed to reflect on their teaching practice.  They act as thought partners to teachers as they strive to meet the diverse needs of their students.  A coach has a knowledge of the content and research-based instructional practices in the area that they are coaching.  They share their knowledge and expertise while honoring the knowledge and expertise of teachers.  A coaching relationship is built on trust and is non-judgmental.  Instructional coaches are not in a supervisory role.  Instead, these roles exist in schools to provide objective support and facilitate growth and learning. 

In order to build a culture of coaching at BFIS, we have developed a Teaching & Learning Team, made up of our instructional coaches and the Director of Learning.  Sharing a collaborative work space, called The Collaboratory, this team offers extensive support in leading coaching cycles with teachers, peer observations, labsite classrooms, and school-wide professional learning sessions.  They also offer individual and team co-planning, co-teaching and modeling of instructional strategies.  A fundamental aspect of their work is the use of student data to plan and differentiate instruction around the needs of our learners.  

What does instructional coaching look like at BFIS?

There are many models of coaching that schools can utilize.  At BFIS, we use a research-based model called, “student-centered coaching”.  Our model: 

  • involves in-depth work between coach and a team of teachers, lasting approximately six to eight weeks, as a coaching cycle.
  • is driven by student data.
  • includes regular (weekly) planning sessions, and involves the coach in the classroom one to three times per week for co-teaching, modeling instruction, or observing the teaching and learning. 

In this model, we focus on the needs of our students, rather than the common misconception of “fixing teachers”.  Together, the coach and teacher use student work to identify a goal for students and then work together to co-plan ways to meet these goals.  In this way, our instructional coaches directly impact instructional practice and student achievement.  We measure the success of a coaching cycle based on the results we see in student learning.  To do this, we use pre-assessment data, daily formative assessments, and formal summative assessments at the end of a coaching cycle.  

What is the impact of instructional coaching on student learning?

Diane Sweeney, author and consultant for student-centered coaching says the following:

Since Student-Centered Coaching is an evidence-based model, it aligns with some of the most exciting research in education, the research associated with Visible Learning and the work of John Hattie. A meta-analysis of over 1,500 educational studies, this research base provides evidence of what schools can do to increase student achievement. 

At the top of the list of what schools can do to increase student achievement, are the very coaching practices that we promote at BFIS.  Our own internal action research that our coaches conduct with each coaching cycle supports this wider research. 


Video EF Explore America

Learning in the XXI Century

"One of the things BFIS has given me is he ability to see things from a different point of view. We are taught to look at things from different perspectives and to think as global citizens, questioning what we know. Communication, team work, creativity, innovation, critical thinking are some of the skills I was able to learn and develop at BFIS"  - Ananya Ghemawat, BFIS student


Profile of a BFIS Educator

BFIS educators are: 

  • Risk takers
  • Inquirers
  • Knowledgeable
  • Thinkers
  • Communicators
  • Principled
  • Open-minded
  • Caring
  • Balanced
  • Reflective
  • Internationally-minded
  • Collaborative

BFIS Teachers Believe That:

  • Intelligence and talents can be developed and grown 
  • Technology is an integral component of learning 
  • All students should have the opportunity, instruction, guidance and support necessary to succeed in school and maximize their individual academic, social and emotional potential.
  • Students must be active participants, at the center of the learning process, in an environment that encourages them to pursue their dreams.
  • Joy and wonder are essential elements in the learning process which breed passion and creativity.
  • Effort is more important than talent and should be cultivated in all aspects of school life. Success is earned through hard work and commitment.
  • Responsibility for excellence in education is shared by all members of the school community.  Success is achieved through teamwork and collaboration.
  • Students should cultivate the habits of mind to be curious, independent learners who pursue their passions and understand the beauty and power of knowledge.
  • Students develop compassion, empathy, and insight in an inclusive, culturally diverse community that requires them to consider various perspectives and adapt to different ways of being.
  • All of our actions and decisions should be guided by clear ethical principles. Doing what is right requires honesty, integrity and courage, and it is the school’s responsibility to support students in developing these essential traits.