“The Red Coats Are Coming”: Visualizing and Feeling in Teaching

At LePort, we are always looking to improve ourselves as educators. And that means documenting and learning from each other’s ideas about great teaching practices. Over the years we’ve come to see that a major facet of great teachers is their ability to cultivate strong imaginations in their students and elicit even stronger emotions. Below is an internal paper written for our teachers on a related pedagogical tactic we employ daily. It is called visualization, and it is just one element of our experiential approach to education.


Internal Paper: Experiential Teaching

Everybody has heard the line "The Red Coats are coming", usually at some point in elementary school. But how many of us can see and feel it? How many have a rich visual scene in their heads, with a real emotional connection to go with it?

Too often in school all we hear is words. Disconnected, uninteresting, non-visualized words. At LePort we know that words matter, and we revere them, because they are the means by which we grasp and communicate knowledge. But we also know that for words to actually represent knowledge students must understand them.


An important method by which we ensure that words are understood, that our students connect what we’re talking about with their own personal context, is visualization – the eliciting of images in a individual’s mind. This tactic allows students to see what we’re teaching and to feel the emotional connection that comes only from experiential learning, ultimately making knowledge a student’s own.

To illustrate this idea, let’s travel back in time to our own elementary school, to our 5th-grade History (or Social Studies) class, when most of us first heard the "Red Coats" phrase. But on this occasion, let’s give the presentation the visuals and feeling it deserves, let’s make it a LePort style lesson:

Transport yourself to a cabin in early Colonial times (you know, homespun clothes, dirty hands, farm life). You’re ten, and you’re sitting in the living room around a fireplace reading. Above the fireplace, as in most homes of the time, sits a musket. Your dad is there, maybe a brother or sister if you have one. Mom’s out somewhere, don’t know where. Each of you are enjoying a book, you an exciting novel, though you’re a little tense because you’ve heard that British troops – Red Coats – have landed in your town and are abusing locals, some of whom are your friends’ parents. But the presence of the troops is still not fully real. It is still merely a news story to you.

You’re just reaching the climax of your novel, and your mind is now completely absorbed in your book. All of a sudden you hear shouting from outside the door. The voices are garbled at first, but then you make out the words. "The Red Coats are coming! The Red Coats are coming!!" Your eyes immediately shoot to the fireplace, and then to just a few feet up, where your dad’s musket sits. You see the musket as if it’s for the first time. Everything is quiet, motionless; life itself seems to have stopped. Then you remember that your dad is with you, in the living room. You look over to him. He is completely still, so still that his stillness belies what’s occurring within. In his eyes you see the deepest, most serious agitation you have ever seen in a man. One question then immediately comes to your mind: What is dad going to do?

At this point in the lesson, there is not one boy or girl who is really "in" the classroom. Each is in his own mind, living out his own visual story. And each wants to talk about it, to share his feelings. Hell, I want to share my feelings! This is when the teacher would transition to a class discussion – and boy what a discussion it would become.


As teachers, all of us have experienced those special moments when every child, seemingly without exception, is engaged. In this case, the engagement is accomplished through storytelling. But why is this particular story so compelling? I think it’s because it offers the children a visual and emotional experience. When dramatizing this story in class, there are a few actual visuals a teacher would use – a picture of a British troop (a Red Coat) and a video of a musket being shot – but the real visuals come from within the child’s mind, from his capacity and willingness to use his imagination, to turn the teacher’s words into images … to paint his own unique picture of the story.

Our students have such a capacity in them, if we can provide the spark. Through visual and emotional teaching, we gain huge in our efforts to impart knowledge. And that is why I believe whenever we are speaking in class, our intent should be to help kids see and feel what we’re saying. We’ll succeed if we go in with this underlying objective to make words visual, to transform sounds coming from our mouths into the equivalent of experiential knowledge. This applies throughout subject areas, whether we’re teaching a novel, some math formulas, a grammatical concept, or a species of tree. (No doubt this tactic is most challenging in math, but maybe all the more reason to make it a stretch goal!)

So the takeaway here is simple. Whenever we are prepping what we will teach our kids, or whenever we are up in front of the class ready to say a few words, let’s ask ourselves: Will my students be able to see this, will they be able to feel this? The more we can answer "Yes", the better our classrooms, the better our teaching will be.

5 Ways LePort Is Different: Your Choice, In a Nutshell

Since you are reading this blog post, you are probably researching a private school for your child. Maybe your child is in a private school already; or maybe you are just deciding between public school and private school.

This choice may be one of the most important you’ll ever make for your child – and, if you choose private school, one of the biggest investments you’ll make as a parent. Private schools, after all, need to charge tuition for their services, while public schools don’t require much payment from parents (beyond, of course, the taxes you will be paying, whether or not your child attends public school).

Faced with the choice of “free” public schools and the private school alternatives, parents naturally wonder: is it worth paying for private school?

It’s a very personal question, dependent on your family’s financial circumstances and your other values. In many cases, the answer may well be that private school is not worth it: in some cases the difference just doesn’t make enough of a difference. Yes, private schools usually offer nicer facilities, more extra-curricular options, and smaller class sizes. Beyond these factors, however, many private schools aren’t that different from public schools: Often, they follow the same California Standards and use the same text books as public schools; they hire teachers from the same education colleges; they use the same pedagogical approach in the classroom and prepare students for the same standardized test battery. Sure, class sizes are smaller and there’s more accountability—but is that alone really worth all that money if at root private schools offer the same educational product as the public schools?

If we ask a different question, whether LePort Schools in particular is worth the investment, it won’t surprise you that we believe the answer ought to be yes for many, many more parents. The reason is that LePort Schools offers a truly different education. In our view, we offer a wholly different product, not just a better quality of the same thing offered by public schools.

Here are five fundamental differences between an education at LePort and at many other schools, private or public alike:

  1. A deliberate, carefully thought-out focus on your child’s long-term happiness. What is your goal for your child’s education? How does it line up with what the schools you consider aim for? For many schools the answer is either very specific (“getting children into good colleges”, “achieving proficient scores on API tests”), or very broad (“responsible, global citizenship” or “making meaningful contributions to the world community”). At LePort, our core goal is different: we want to enable your child to achieve his own personal happiness. As we put it in our mission statement, “At LePort, we help our students acquire the essential knowledge, thinking skills, and strength of character required to flourish as joyous children today, and as successful adults tomorrow.” This difference in purpose has many implications; stay tuned for an upcoming post just on this topic!
  2. A carefully sequenced, content-rich curriculum. With the dominance of No Child Left Behind and now Race to the Top, public elementary schools focus excessively on a narrow, test-driven, memorize & regurgitate approach to the basics – reading, writing, arithmetic. Many traditional private schools unfortunately follow a similar approach. Others, identifying themselves as progressive schools, commit a different mistake: worried about the negative impact of rote learning, they throw out an adult-guided, structured curriculum altogether, and rely instead on child-led, project-based exploration, which may leave children with significant skill and knowledge gaps. We reject both these approaches. Instead, we have developed a carefully sequenced, academically challenging curriculum that respects the child’s motivational context. Click here to learn more about five key ways in which LePort’s curriculum differs from what your child would encounter in public school. (In case you are concerned about test scores, we do want to assure you that our students test well – see here for recent scores.)
  3. Motivation by interest and joy, not grades and fear. Here’s a question you should ask of each school you visit, private or public: how do you motivate children to learn? For many schools, the answer relies heavily on extrinsic motivators, which reward “good” behavior and results with stickers, praise, class parties, treasure chests or good grades, and punish “bad” behavior with loss of privileges (recess, independent work time), extra work (more homework!), bad grades or a trip to the principal’s office. Sounds familiar?! LePort is different: we understand that in order to really learn, children have to make a choice to want to learn. We think it is our responsibility to make what we teach so interesting that children can’t wait to learn. Curious how that works? Click here to find out!
  4. Passionate professionals as teachers. A teaching credential: at most schools, public and private alike, this piece of paper is a must-have, do-or-die requirement for becoming a teacher. Not so at LePort. While we do have many credentialed teachers, we didn’t hire them because of their credential—and many of our teachers never attended a teacher’s college. Instead of relying on a credential, we have our own exacting hiring standards. Parent feedback, student comments, and our academic results all bear witness that our hiring approach consistently leads to high quality teachers who connect with their students and motivate them beyond the parents’ wildest dreams. Click here to find out how we manage to consistently hire, train and retain excellent educators, or click here to read bios of our staff at the Irvine Spectrum and Huntington Pier campus.   
  5. A focus on individualization, made possible by small class sizes and low ratios.  At LePort, we limit class size to 16 students for grades 4 – 8. (Our Montessori elementary classrooms typically have 24 students, with two teachers, for a 1:12 ratio.) As impressive as a 16-student class size is, our actual teacher-student ratio is closer to 1:10: each class of 16 has a dedicated homeroom teacher, who usually specialized in language arts. In addition, students receive instruction from subject-matter specialist teachers in history, math, geography and science. Our typical 4th – 8th grade program is staffed by 10-12 full-time teachers, for a 1:7 or 1:8 student teacher ratio. Hiring this many highly-qualified staff members isn’t cheap, but we think it is essential to providing a great education: we expect our teachers to get to know and appreciate each child and family; to motivate the student by understanding his temperament, talents and interests; to provide detailed coaching feedback on each assignment (as against just assigning a letter grade and moving on); to help the child learn personal skills (such as organization, time management, goodwill during competitions), in addition to strictly academic content; to create ample time for questions in class and an opportunity for each student to participate. There is just plainly no way this level of personalized instruction is possible in classes with 25 children in 1st grade, or even 35 or more students by middle school (numbers unfortunately now typical of most public schools, and even many private schools).

These are five of the fundamental differences between an education at LePort and at many other private and public schools, and there are more subtle differences that parents pick up on when they become LePort parents.

In some ways, the process of becoming a LePort parent is like purchasing that very special car you’ve been eyeing. Before choosing the car, you probably first decide what type of car you want: sedan or SUV, roadster or truck. Then, your next step is a test drive.

As you research schools for your child, we encourage you to follow the same process: identify first what type of education you want for your child, then search out schools that offer a program in line with your goals. Next, take a “test drive” by spending a few hours observing at a few different schools you are considering.

Here at LePort, we love to have prospective parents come visit and sit in our classes and see our teachers in action. No matter how much we write about our unique approach, the best way of understanding it is to come in and see for yourself. Feel free to come for a guided tour, ask to meet with our Heads of School, or schedule a time to observe classes in action.

While many private schools and most public schools limit parents to pre-scheduled open houses, we think the decision of which school to send your child to is so important that you should have the opportunity to see for yourself. (Isn’t it ironic that car dealerships will do anything to get you in to look at their cars, while many schools are resistant to having parents even come in for an observation – and this is the education of your child, not just a test drive of a sedan!) So, please contact us and set up a tour: click here to find all campuses phone numbers.

A Sense of History at LePort

Amid the safety and comfort of Orange County, it is hard for us to imagine that living in America once meant risking your life for an uncertain future. Yet this was exactly the challenge early British settlers faced in the untamed New World. Thousands of miles from family, friends, and king, settlers in Jamestown, Virginia, and in the colony at Massachusetts Bay, literally struggled for basic necessities while working to build a future for themselves and their descendants.

This school year, the students in LePort’s 7th-grade history class are studying early America, and last month they completed an assignment allowing them to vicariously experience the life of an early colonist. Writing as a fictional settler in one of the first American colonies, the 7th graders’ mission was to compose a letter to a friend or relative back in England and attempt to convince him or her to travel across the ocean to join the new colony. Within the bounds of what they learned from lectures, assignments and discussions, along with independent historical research, students were left free to determine the details of their letter – of their settler’s life, values, and voice. They completed their research, planning, and initial writing in history class, and received additional feedback on further drafts from their language arts teacher, Mrs. Longley. The results were impressive.

Below is one example student letter. Sidney Bowen – or Sir Terrance Francis Williams XVI – chose to write from the perspective of a settler who came to seek gold in Virginia, and found himself quite unprepared for the rugged life he now leads. In inviting his friend across the Atlantic to join him in America, “Sir Terrance” tries to put a good spin on the challenges he has faced, but does not quite succeed. I hope you enjoy reading Sidney’s letter as much as I did!

January 12th, 1622

Dear Sir Arnold Louis Bennet,

How are you, my old friend? How is your insuperable daughter, Mary? (I am only joking…) I am now living in the “New World” in Jamestown, Virginia. It is quite a lovely place, indeed! The reason I am suddenly speaking to you on such matters is because I wish for you to join the settlers and come to the new land. I know you were a wealthy man, just as I was, and I have heard that you are beginning to lose your fortune, as I had sixteen years ago in 1606. I was running low on gold, but I did not want to work, and why should I? Should a handsome, dashing gentleman be forced to plant crops and pick up foul cow manure? I think not! But before I went to weep in a corner, I heard that the London Company was going to send three ships out to Chesapeake Bay to search for gold. GOLD! In an instant I decided to invest in the London Company and board one of the ships to become a gold hunter, in order to gain back my fortune and possibly receive more. In late August of 1607, we all arrived in Jamestown, named after King James. We faced a few conflicts with illness, as any colony did, because of the lack of food and the swampy atmosphere. But a man named John Smith, whom I happened to abhor, saved some of the other gentleman settlers who were having a miniscule bit of trouble with local natives. The colonists and I were at the time living near the Algonquin Indians, whom John Smith befriended. This friendship allowed us to trade food and crops with the Indians.

After we settled briefly, all of the gentleman settlers, including me, went out to search for gold. After a few days of unenthusiastic rummaging, we all spotted yellow dirt deep in the ground! We brutally and viciously dug, and dug, and dug until we found immense pounds of gold! It was a precious sight…until we sent it back to England. We realized that our riches were not truly riches, but pyrite (fool’s gold). John Smith believed that we spent too much time searching for worthless gold. (But anyone could’ve mistaken it for gold, Smith!) Then—the nerve of the man!—he created a ludicrous law that we needed to plant our own crops or we would not receive food. “He that will not work shall not eat”, he snorted insolently.

In 1609, John Smith fortunately left our colony and went back to England, but then we had a little glitch in our lifestyle. People now call it the “Starving Time”, but that saying is quite exaggerated. We merely had a lower amount of food in our supply, which made us lightly gnaw on wild animals, and dead bodies…but it wasn’t as horrid as you might think. It could’ve happened to any colony without the proper tools for building homes. Luckily, England heard of our inconsequential troubles, and they instantaneously sent over supplies. We were saved…I mean, helped. In 1611, the London Company sent Sir Thomas Dale over to Jamestown to become governor of our little colony. He gave each person a three-acre amount of land, but we were forced to work in order to keep it. Soon after, we discovered that the Indians had found a plant, which they would smoke out of a clay pipe. The plant was named tobacco. After this incredible plant was discovered, everyone was planting tobacco in their land to sell to English merchants at exorbitant prices. And believe me, this plant that is formed into smoke is the most addicting material I have ever tasted.

1619 was one of the most exciting times in Jamestown because a ship of women arrived to enlarge the colony’s population. According to the colony’s laws, I am obligated to work most of the time in order to keep my land, which is a contemptible rule. The arrival of these women was principally exciting for me because I wouldn’t have to work nearly as much with a wife. My dear and charming wife, Jane, is not only beautiful, but labors day and night like a mule for her loving husband. Also, I do not have to pay my mule…I mean wife. Jane helps me through the horrendous pain by making our own clothes, planting crops for food, making soap, candles, and more! My favorite chore to watch is the process of candle making. There is a large iron kettle held on a crane over the fire, and when the fat and grease melt, she dips the cotton in the fat and allows it to dry.

From what I have explained about the colonies, you may not be entirely convinced to join me, considering all I have spoken about is work. If and when you arrive in Virginia, you will recognize that life is not only work, but there are families living in the colony, whose young children are receiving a glorious amount of education. I, for one, despise children, so I do not have any because they whine and cry, run around in dirt, and more things that I don’t wish to share with you. Since you always wanted to raise a family, you might consider having a child here. Although, I’m sure introspection will bring you to a firm decision to NOT have children, since they damage your life greatly.

Well, my dear friend, I have had a longing desire to see you again, for it has been sixteen years, and that is too long, Arnold. I anticipate that you find my letter influential enough that you will perhaps consider joining the colony. It is unlike anything I have experienced my entire life, and I believe you will concur with me. I hope to see you in the new land, Arnie!

Sir Terrance Francis Williams XVI

One of our goals in the LePort history program is that students do not just study history, but are immersed in it — that the past is understood not as a series of names, dates, and events to be memorized, but as flesh and blood. Taking on the role of a historical character is one of the most rewarding ways to immerse oneself in history, but also one of the most demanding, because making such writing realistic and compelling requires a student to integrate a wealth of information. For assignments like the settler letter, students need to know more than the 5 Ws of history (the who, what, where, when, and why); they must have a full-blown sense of the past — of the goals, manners, and values of historical cultures and people. Sidney clearly achieved that in her letter, as did her peers in theirs, and the result is a meaningful understanding of early America that will not be forgotten.

Matt Ballin, History Teacher

Just not good enough: why your child deserves a better curriculum

If you attended Elementary Curriculum Night, you had a sneak-peek into LePort’s unique approach to education. [See the videos at the bottom if you weren’t able to attend.]

In this newsletter, I’d like to offer you further insight into what makes LePort’s curriculum different. How does LePort’s approach, which we call “Knowledge for Life”, compare with the California Standards?

Almost everyone agrees that there’s something wrong with “teaching to the test”, the practice of focusing in school on memorizing and drilling for standardized tests. But this practice is based on the California Standards—the textbooks, lessons and outcome measures approved by State education committees.

Read more

Why Do We Study Science

Science education is a staple of modern schooling. One rarely hears anyone question the value or necessity of teaching our children science. But what is the reason behind this view? Why should a child study science?

Despite today’s focus on standardized test and national content standards, it’s clear that the purpose of science education cannot merely be to ensure that children score well on standardized tests of science. (Why have those tests?) The same is true of any answer of the form that science education is necessary to ensure that a child will succeed in high school science, or be ready for college many years down the road. (Why should science be taught at those levels?)

Read more

Tiger Mom vs. Enjoying Childhood: A Choice you Don’t Have to Make

A recent article excerpting a chapter of Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, has sparked quite a debate on parenting and educational choices.

Ms. Chua and her supporters argue that it takes an authoritarian approach to parenting to prepare children for successful adulthood in today’s competitive world. For instance, Ms. Chua writes “My Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It’s hours two and three that get tough.” Read more

Few question what students are being taught or how.

Memorizing and drilling students, once thought out of fashion, is now back in vogue in schools across the country. In the wake of the “No Child Left Behind” act, the emphasis of teaching has shifted to basic skills, and to increasing performance on state-wide standardized multiple choice tests.  And while many children, especially at middle class public schools, are scoring better on standardized tests, some educators are starting to wonder if these results might not be telling the whole story.

In his book The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need – and What We Can Do About It, Dr. Tony Wagner questions the wisdom of the traditional teaching approach and the apparent excellence of suburban elementary, middle and high schools.  It is an important book to read for parents and educators alike.

Dr. Wagner believes that even the best public schools spend too much class time on memorizing content and drilling on basic skills, and he suggests that this leaves students without the thinking skills and real, meaningful knowledge they need to succeed in life. He writes of his decades of experience as a teacher, researcher and education policy advisor:

What I have seen in some of our best public schools over the past decade is that while Johnny and Juan and Leticia are learning how to read, at least at a basic level, they are not learning how to think or care about what they read; nor are they learning to clearly communicate ideas orally and in writing. They memorize names and dates in history, but they cannot explain the larger significance of historical events. And they may be learning how to add, subtract, and multiply, but they have no understanding of how to think about numbers. Not knowing how to interpret statistics or gauge probability, many students cannot make sense of the graphs and charts they see every day in the newspaper. They are required to memorize (and usually quickly forget) a wide range of scientific facts, but very few know how to apply the scientific method—how to formulate a hypothesis, test it, and analyze the results. Finally, I have observed that the longer our children are in school, the less curious they become.

Dr. Tony Wagner

He quotes a scientist from MIT, who describes his two sons’ experience in science class in 4th grade at one of the most acclaimed public schools in the country:

They went to the same school and had the same teacher. … My eldest son had a great experience. His class went over to the pond at Mount Auburn Cemetery and took samples from the muck. They brought them back to school and studied what they found. They discovered all kinds of creatures there –ones that even I hadn’t seen! It was great, ‘hands-on’ science, and it really motivated my son.

But my second son’s experience was totally different. Now all the kids had to take the MCAS test [annual standardized test required of all Massachusetts schools], and the teachers felt they couldn’t take the time for the ‘fun stuff.’ They felt they couldn’t take the time to collect and study the muck. They had to prepare fall the kids for the tests.

I worry about the future of science in this country… For kids to get passionate about science, they have to get their hands dirty—literally. They have to have labs where they study things in depth and learn to observe, instead of just memorizing facts from a textbook. The kids who take my intro lab courses today have gotten top scores on all the Advanced Placement science courses in their high schools, but they don’t know how to observe. I ask them to describe what they see in the microscopes, and they want to know what they should be looking for—what the right answer is.

Dr. Tony Wagner

In our view, this is one of the best summaries of what is wrong in education today: children memorize words, but don’t learn about the world.

Mr. Wagner continues with an even more alarming observation, namely, that the public education establishment—from educators to policy makers, from researchers to concerned business men—is not even asking the right questions to address the problem: “The only debate taking place about education in America today is simply whether to modify certain provisions of NCLB [the No Child Left Behind education act.] Few question what students are being taught or how.”

Yet these are exactly the questions an intelligent parent ought to ask of potential schools: Why are you teaching—what is the goal of your education? What are you teaching my child? And how are you teaching it? If you share our belief that children need to be engaged at school, that they need to care about what they learn, that the content of education matters (=what children learn), as does the pedagogy (=how children learn), then come and observe in our Montessori elementary school and Montessori middle school programs. You’ll discover an education like no other, and may just decide that it is time to question your own child’s educational options and explore Montessori for your child.

Knowledge for Life

Those readers who have been following LePort for a while may notice a new look: a new tagline, new colors, and a new logo. As we celebrated our 10th Anniversary in Orange County this year, we decided it was a good time to reflect upon what makes us different, and to create a consistent look and feel for our schools.

We are very pleased with the results. Our new tagline of “Knowledge for Life” captures the essence of what we do at LePort: our goal is to help students acquire the essential knowledge, thinking skills, and strength of character required to flourish as joyous children today, and as successful adults tomorrow. We seek to equip them with Knowledge for Life: real knowledge they can act on as they pursue their goals, knowledge that isn’t forgotten when they leave LePort, but lives on in their minds and helps them for a lifetime.

You can read more about the LePort essence—our mission, our guiding principles, and our standard for success—on our redesigned website.

Our new logo goes well with our tagline, and with our name. A boat made of books, three closed ones for the hull, and an open one for the sail. The books represent knowledge, the boat represents the journey of life. And, of course, LePort is French and means “The Harbor”—that is, the place where young minds acquire the knowledge they need to successfully live their lives!

Ray Girn