The Depth of Study Program

What is Depth of Study?
For us it means constantly improving learning by improving teaching. 
At Berkeley Hall, we are committed to a culture of improvement not just for our students but for our teachers, too. We believe we can consistently grow and develop as educators and we put this idea into action through our Depth of Study program. It’s an approach that has been integral to our teaching philosophy for more than a decade. 
In a profession where most teachers work in isolation, Depth of Study is boldly collaborative. It results in better day-to-day instruction and in overall improvements, too – continuity from grade to grade, shared vocabulary and standards among faculty, and an elimination of gaps and redundancies. The result is a more effective learning experience for every student.  
In short, DOS is an intentional practice where teachers become students of their craft, learn from each other, and work together. It enables us to effectively implement our research-based programs, which include Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading & Writing Project, and our K-8th grade Illustrative Math curriculum. 
As part of this process, our teachers meet regularly each week and work with an expert in the field of academics and teaching practices. They focus on a particular educational topic and take what they learned to the classroom.
When we commit to improvement and meet consistently, we build a culture of intentional collaboration. Our focus is on improving student learning outcomes as well as our own teaching practices.

- Dr. Ralph Cordova, BHS Depth of Study Advisor for 2022-23
Faculty Perspectives
“At other schools where I’ve worked, you might see teachers collaborate in a similar way from time to time, but here, it’s in our DNA.”

“It keeps you energized every day so you’re never at risk of slipping into autopilot.” 

“The weekly work challenges me to be a reflective practitioner and to ensure my lessons continue to be refined. It is a constant reminder that I’m a lifelong learner and should always be on the lookout for new and best teaching strategies.”

“We are so grateful for the opportunity to be instructed and guided with enthusiasm, knowledge, and sensitivity. DOS contributes to our own growth and inspires us in our work with our students. It is thrilling to be part of an educational community where every stakeholder is provided multiple opportunities to learn and grow.”

Our integrated depth of study practice of sustained, substantive collaboration is fundamental to our unique, innovative approach.

List of 5 frequently asked questions.

  • Does Berkeley Hall promote a Growth Mindset?

    Berkeley Hall has been promoting a growth mindset for over a century. What does that mean? It means that every opportunity is taken at Berkeley Hall to teach students that their ability to learn is not a static nor a fixed thing. That learning can change and improve with persistent effort over time. Therefore, failure is temporary and is something that can be learned from – and is not a permanent condition that defines a student, but rather an opportunity for that student to expend more effort and to advocate for him or herself to learn something new.

    We have a rigorous academic program, so students are challenged at Berkeley Hall, but they are also made to feel comfortable enough to take intellectual risks and are taught to persist in the face of challenge [not to give up and say, “oh, I guess I’m not a math person.”) (We always interject the word “yet.” – A child says, “I’m not good at fractions.” We say, “yet!”]. Developing a growth mindset –along with a helping of good old-fashioned grit –is a cornerstone of a Berkeley Hall education.

    When I first came to visit the campus and met the students and saw the classrooms, I was impressed with the presence of this growth mindset – students seemed simultaneously intellectually active and yet comfortable making mistakes and going through the learning process. In all my years as an educator, I’d never seen this occur in such an all-encompassing way within one school; I’d seen active thinking and learning, but with a certain level of stress over possible failure, and I’d been in schools with very little stress, but not a lot of active learning on the parts of students. I’d rarely seen active learning with little stress throughout a whole school until I came to Berkeley Hall.

    Now, the presence of this growth mindset is at least partially due to Berkeley Hall’s history, which is both long and unique. Two sisters started BHS 104 years ago, which makes us (by the way) the oldest co-ed independent elementary school in Los Angeles.

    Now, one of these sisters had been a much-beloved teacher at what was then Westlake School for Girls and a large group of the parents there asked her to start her own school. So, she and her sister decided to start Berkeley Hall. They happened to be Christian Scientists (Christian Science is a Christian protestant religion started in the 1800’s in the US and is not at all like Scientology). Because these two founders were Christian Scientists, it meant that their educational approach was grounded in their belief that every child has unlimited God-given potential to learn anything that child needs to learn, so they founded Berkeley Hall with the motto “No limits. No labels. Lots of Love.” The two founders wanted to work with people who also believed in a growth mindset. So, to this day, Berkeley Hall’s faculty and Administrators are all Christian Scientists, who uniformly work from the standpoint that each child comes with unlimited God-given potential to learn. What’s interesting is that Berkeley Hall is a non-sectarian school. So, we don't teach religion to our students and our extended community represents a wide range of religions. However, we also are a community that honors each individual student's spiritual nature and we see each student as inherently good and unique.
  • Why does Berkeley Hall follow a Pre-K through 8th grade model?

    Berkeley Hall is committed to a Pre-K through 8th grade model to prepare students for high school. The younger students are benefited by having the older students on campus as “buddies” and our 6th, 7th and 8th graders are encouraged to take on leadership roles at school. These middle school years are a key time for students to deeply understand who they are and to learn to make mindful, good choices rather than looking to other kids – including the 15-18 year olds that they will find on a high school campus – to do it for them. When they leave us they are fully baked and they have a strong enough sense of who they are to select their high school friends rather than falling in with whatever crowd approaches them first.

    Our Junior High students are role models for the younger students here and work with their younger “buddies” on a regular basis as mentors. And, because the 7th and 8th graders are the oldest on campus, they are protected for a few more precious years from the social pressures typically found on a high school campus. In addition, we get to know our students very well and we do a lot of hand-holding and individual prep work to get each of our 8th graders placed in the very best high school for that student.
  • Academically speaking, how is Berkeley Hall different?

    Well, one key difference is that we have a more cohesive educational plan than do most independent schools. We are in our fifth year of an initiative that we call “Depth of Study” in which our teachers meet regularly in teams to come to a clear and common understanding of exactly what a student being at “grade level” looks like from 8th grade all the way down to Nursery.

    This work has resulted in a clear, commonly shared professional understanding of what each of our students should understand and be able to do both academically and as conscientious citizens in order to be at, or above, grade level. Our classroom doors are, figuratively, open at Berkeley Hall, which means that every teacher of a particular subject matter or within a department sees student work from other classes and grade levels and is collaborating with other teachers to continuously improve classroom lessons to increase student learning – across our entire system. (No longer necessary to “pass the baton.”)

    This professional collaboration among the teachers and administrators means that there is a clear articulation throughout the whole school – from 8th grade all the way down to Nursery – of where each child needs to be academically and as a citizen at each point in his or her school experience in order to be fully prepared when he or she leaves us.

    This professional clarity also means that your child’s educational experience here is relatively seamless, since teachers across disciplines work together to create projects and to approach core concepts in a more unified way. So, if a child is studying the Westward Expansion in his or her homeroom and then goes off to art, these are not totally different experiences. The vocabulary and the core concepts intertwine and the art projects integrate with the social studies curriculum.
  • Is Berkeley Hall diverse?

    BHS is one of the most diverse independent schools in Los Angeles by far at 54%. We are diverse ethnically, religiously, culturally, socio-economically, even internationally (about 5% of our students are international students). Yet, Berkeley Hall families share the same fundamental values. The parents who have brought their children here did so because there is a shared vision throughout our whole school community of the importance of the core values taught at BHS – respect, responsibility, honesty, compassion. There is a specific teaching of and integration of these core values here at school. For grades 1-8, we have weekly assemblies to talk about how it looks to express these core values in one’s daily life.
  • Who are Berkeley Hall graduates?

    The education at each grade level culminates in producing well-rounded BHS graduates. When our graduates leave for high school they are well prepared academically, but they are also well grounded morally and socially. We consistently hear from our receiving independent high schools that our graduates are academically well prepared, are strong contributors to their school communities, and are truly kind, well-spoken individuals.
Located in Los Angeles, CA, Berkeley Hall School is a private, coeducational school for students in preschool through grade 8. Rigorous academics in a supportive atmosphere and grounded character development allow students to become fearless scholars and conscientious citizens - gain a love of learning, leadership with social responsibility, creativity with moral integrity, and self-esteem with compassion for others and the environment.