Curriculum and Instruction

Lunch as Learning: A Commitment to Excellence

Guest post by Lesley Corner

Before the 2016–2017 school year, Camden High School provided after-school tutorials and after-school homework centers for English and math. These methods of academic assistance increased student achievement, but we couldn’t reach some of the students who needed the most help due to their after-school obligations or transportation issues. After extensive research and school visits, we remodeled our schedule to include academic assistance during the school day for all students. Our model includes two types of assistance: Individual Learning Time (ILT) and Structured Learning Time (SLT). (more…)

Just the PiL You Need: Microsoft Partners in Learning Network

Guest post by Wendell B. Sumter:

In the spring of 2012, kindergarten teacher Stephanie Barber and I gave lengthy answers to questions about how our school integrated technology in the classrooms and used it to propel professional development. We then submitted our application to Microsoft to be considered a Microsoft Pathfinder School. At the time, we were very enthused about the possibility of our school being named. We knew that it was a long shot. We were a small rural school in Chester County, South Carolina and a title one school, but we didn’t allow that to deter us from applying for such a great opportunity and honor.

In October 2012, Microsoft named our school a 2012 “Innovative Pathfinder School.” The honor came from The Microsoft Partners in Learning Program, a 10-year, nearly $500 million commitment to transform K12 education around the world by connecting teachers and school leaders in a community of professional development. The program also helps school leaders foster innovative teaching practices and 21st-century learning by providing tools and resources they need to better impact student participation.

Three years ago, when I arrived at Great Falls Elementary, we had a basic computer lab. Some teachers had Promethean whiteboards, and there were two computers in each classroom. Since then, we have increased student access to technology in various ways. Technology doesn’t take the place of authentic teaching; the most important thing to me is that teachers are able to use technology to enhance student achievement.

When we were selected as a Pathfinder School by Microsoft, Mrs. Barber and I had the opportunity to attend Microsoft’s “Partners In Learning Global Forum” in Prague, where administrators convened to share their schools’ tech success stories. We also had the awesome opportunity to form partnerships with other schools and continue professional development with Microsoft’s Virtual University.

We teamed with 11 other schools, including a mentor school from New Zealand, to focus on customizing lessons and training teachers to effectively use technology tools. Through virtual meetings, we continue to brainstorm and share ideas and resources. Collaborating is a big benefit of being a Pathfinder School; I have the ability to say to my colleagues, ‘Did you try this at your school?’ and ‘How did it work?’“

So if you’re looking for a cure to your technology woes; if you’re looking for ways to improve your technology skills or those of your staff; if you’re interested in partnering with other schools across the world; if you’re looking for ways to gain recognition and bring powerful resources and tools to your campus to transform the learning environment through teaching and learning, we have just the PiL you need! Come learn about Microsoft’s Partners in Learning Program and opportunities to be an attendee at the Partners In Learning Global Forum! In this session you will learn about free resources, valuable international networking, and opportunities to become recognized as an Innovative School! Join the network and become an innovative school by visiting www.pil-network.com/schools.

Wendell B. Sumter is Principal of Great Falls Elementary School in South Carolina. Wendell joins Byron Garrett, director of the innovative schools program at Microsoft, to present Partners in Learning! Microsoft Innovative Schools Program on Saturday, February 8 at Ignite ’14 in Dallas. For more information and to register visit www.nasspconference.org.

A Schoolhouse for Today’s Learners

Guest post by Dwight Carter:

In most cases, one of the last places affected by school reform is the schoolhouse itself. It’s expensive to completely redesign an entire school, and we are used to school looking a certain way: long corridors, square classrooms, rows of lockers, trophy cases lining the walls of the lobby, a large bland cafeteria, narrow stairways, and little natural light.

Today’s learners–Millennials and the “iGeneration”–need a new kind of school. They are wired differently than any generation that has come before them, due in part to the integration of technology in everyday life. Millennials include those born between 1977 and 1998 or by some definitions 1982 to 2000.

According to The Learning Café and American Demographics, today’s generation of students are creative and collaborative by nature; they don’t know life without connectivity; they multitask; they want positive relationships with their teacher, administrator, or boss; they want things personalized to their interests; and they want to rewrite the rules. They see institutions as irrelevant, and schools are often seen as institutions to them. Understandably, traditional school design hinders how today’s learner want to interact and engage in school.

At Gahanna Lincoln High School, we were facing a challenge: With 2400 students, we were at capacity and had the opportunity to do something creative to provide more space and, at the same time, meet the needs of today’s learner.

With the vision of former Superintendents Gregg Morris and Mark White, along with a team of curriculum coordinators, business directors, and highly qualified teachers, we built Clark Hall. Clark Hall is a 51,000-square-foot, three-story work of art. It doesn’t resemble a typical American high school at all; rather it’s more like an innovative office building. The goal was to create an open, modern, bright space that evokes creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, choice and fun. It houses fourteen classrooms, each with its own conference room, enterprise strength connectivity, natural light, laptops for every student, and collaborative spaces in hallways so students are able to use the entire space for learning.

We traded in the traditional rows of desks and chairs for soft, brightly colored modular furniture, some exercise balls, a few rocking chairs, and a couple of Adirondack chairs. We created two large commons areas that can be used for just about anything we want: smaller classroom space or large presentation space. A few of the classrooms have colorful carpet squares that make up a soft seating area of the sort you might find in a modern coffee house or redesigned university student union. We abandoned the “bargain-basement beige” paint for splashes of primary colors and bright white. We worked with the architects to include as much natural light as possible to evoke energy and creativity.

With flexibility built into the daily schedule, teachers have more time to interact with students on an individual basis, students feel more relaxed and are more compelled to engage in the learning process, and collaboration among students is the norm. Additionally, collaboration among teachers of different content areas has become a natural part of the day because they are not separated by department. We have an art teacher next to AP psychology and personal finance teachers, for example.

Because today’s learners like and need structure, we work with them at the beginning of each school year to develop expectations for the space; as a result, we have few discipline problems. Teachers no longer hover over students to make sure they are on task. Students appreciate the freedom and understand this freedom is a byproduct of responsible behavior.

Clark Hall has inspired change on our main campus as well. One of the main hubs of most schools and universities is the library. We wanted our library to have the same feel as Clark Hall, so our Librarian, Ann Gleek, dreamt big and made some significant improvements. Changes like removing some of the book shelves, painting the walls, and removing some of the traditional furniture have made for a more social, collaborative and inviting environment for students. There is still a quiet room for study, but the largest part of the space is open and collaborative.

Educational reform must include reforming or transforming the physical learning environment. According to Daniel Pink, design is one of the elements of the right brain that we must tap into. We have to look differently at the space we have now and spruce things up… a lot… for the sake of learning.

I will discuss this in more detail as well as its impact on student learning during my presentation at Ignite 2014!

Be great,
Dwight

Dwight Carter (@Dwight_Carter) is principal of Gahanna Lincoln High School in Ohio. Dwight was named an NASSP Digital Principal in 2013. He will be presenting Digitally Creative Learning Environments on Friday, February 7 at Ignite ’14 in Dallas. For more information and to register visit www.nasspconference.org.

Sources:

  • http://apps.americanbar.org/lpm/lpt/articles/mgt08044.html
  • http://fluency21.com/blog/

Are We All Teachers of Reading? Maybe Yes. Maybe No.

Guest post by Judy Brunner:

The idea that everyone is a ‘teacher of reading’ is nothing new. As a middle and high school principal, I embraced the idea in an attempt to encourage teachers to use specific types of teaching methods. At the time, I believed it was a way to persuade content specialists to routinely use vocabulary and comprehension strategies when the lesson involved print.

Looking back through the lens of experience, I now wonder if my literacy salesmanship was counterproductive. First, let’s acknowledge that middle and high school teachers ARE content specialists. They love their fields of study and work diligently to help their students do the same. So should we really be discouraged when an Advanced Placement chemistry teacher questions the necessity of being a reading teacher, too? Absolutely not.

Instead of asking ‘Are we all teachers of reading?’ why don’t we ask ‘Do we ever quit learning to read?’ The answer to the first question is not definitive, but the answer to the second is most certainly ‘No’. Secondary educators understand – but occasionally need to be reminded – that reading is a skill like any other. We are all getting better or getting worse. The adage ‘practice makes perfect’ fits on every level. Read routinely; read a variety of genres; read for information; read for pleasure. It all contributes to vocabulary acquisition and the ability to gain knowledge from print.

Facilitators of Learning With Print

While I don’t believe we must all be teachers of reading, we MUST all be facilitators of learning with text. Text can be traditional, electronic or multi-media, but it always involves learning from print and images.

Use the salesmanship of the principal’s position to change the paradigm from teaching reading to facilitating learning. The strategies for learning the course content will be the same – vocabulary and comprehension techniques that are research based – but the mindset will be different. As Albert Einstein said, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” Understand the skepticism of the secondary educator, and change the framework.

Judy Brunner (@JudyBrunner) will be presenting at Ignite ’14 on Friday, February 7.  Join her for Are We All Teachers of Reading? Maybe Yes. Maybe No. For more information and to register visit www.nasspconference.org.

School Showcase Feature: Woodbridge Middle School

Creating sustainable, quality education programming is a driving force for all public schools. We all look deeply and rationally at our students, striving to identify their needs. However, with all that is before us, it can seem like an overwhelming task. Here at Woodbridge Middle, we spent some time researching, analyzing, and planning such a program that would benefit students regardless of their achievement level or demographic. With this in mind, we established an opt-in Same Gender Program based on the research of Dr. Leonard Sax.

Currently fifty percent of the students at our public, coed middle school receive their instruction in language arts, math, science, and social studies in an all-boy or all-girl setting. We have multiple learning community structures in place which extend beyond simply building time in the master schedule so that teams and departments can meet. Our structures provide opportunities for teachers to constantly examine how we do business, what impact we have on students, and what we need to consider for improvement as we move forward. Our goal is to continuously search for better ways to meet the academic, emotional, developmental, and social needs of our students. Our Same Gender Program is one example of how we have worked together to meet the needs of our students.

The all-boy program’s objective is to establish an environment in which middle school boys can learn best. Through research and student observations, we have developed an active, kinesthetic-learning environment where boys can succeed. An all-boys lesson modifies the topics, activities, and instructional delivery to increase student engagement. Within the all-boys program, we have developed a House System where students participate in healthy competition in both academics and extra-curricular activities. The House System also serves as our behavior management tool, in which students take ownership of their own behaviors and adjust their social tendencies. At the conclusion of our program, we hope to develop young men with good character and the motivation to succeed.

Similarly, we have developed an all-girls program with the aim of building leadership, integrity, and self-awareness. By excluding the distraction of gender stereotypes and building upon gender differences, we have, as Dr. Sax put it, “got beyond pink and blue.” We see girls as individuals and understand that they do not need to be trapped by certain feminine stereotypes, such as “girls are not good at math and science.” Instead, we create opportunities that allow them to succeed by modifying their environment. For instance, we expose students to female scientists, mathematicians, and authors in the hopes of providing examples of greatness. We also utilize texts with strong girls as major characters who have attributes with which they can identify.

Additionally, we spend a great deal of time providing a safe place where girls can express themselves without the fear of failure or competition. As reporter Sara Rimer of The New York Times explained, “being an amazing girl often doesn’t feel like enough these days when you’re competing with all the other amazing girls.” Our teams seek to reduce the anxiety many girls experience by citing mantras such as Failure Leads to Success, Be Flexible, and Practice Balance. These keys of excellence help the girls release the deep-seated feelings of insecurity many of them have experienced throughout their academic and social careers. It also gives them permission to take risks where they may not historically have done so.

The middle school experience can be isolating and overwhelming for many students.  By understanding how boys and girls learn differently, our school has created a welcoming place where All are Respected  and Achievement is Expected regardless of gender, demographics, and other characteristics. While we have by no means perfected the model, we are confident in its effectiveness and continue to build upon our successes.

Woodbridge Middle School will be one of 22 schools featured at the Breaking RanksSchool Showcase at Ignite 2014. The Woodbridge team will be presenting A Same Gender Option: Boys and Girls are Different! on Thursday, February 6th. For more on Tefft Middle School, check out the article published in the May 2012 issue of Principal Leadership.

School Showcase Feature: Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School

For thirty years, the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) has championed a skills-based approach to secondary education that emphasizes learning to use one’s mind well, solving real problems, and demonstrating mastery of a limited number of essential skills and areas of knowledge. One of the CES’s Ten Common Principles states that “the aphorism “less is more” should dominate: curricular decisions should be guided by the aim of thorough student mastery and achievement rather than by an effort to merely cover content…”

At the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School, demonstration of student mastery and achievement happens daily as students work with their teacher-coaches to complete assessments and projects in interdisciplinary classes. These individual pieces of work are assessed using school-wide standards and rubrics in thirteen different skill areas. Often students engage in revision after receiving feedback; once their work meets standards, it becomes eligible for inclusion in the student’s portfolio. To advance through Parker’s six-year program of studies, students are required to meet the school’s standards for Divisions I, II, and III, though they may do so at the rate appropriate for their individual development. Students demonstrate mastery of curricular standards in each Division through “Gateway Exhibitions” in which they present and defend their academic portfolios. The final Gateway is graduation, for which students complete special Graduation Portfolios and present a year-long senior project.

Gateway Exhibitions are more than milestones—they’re also an opportunity for reflection and for recognizing that not all learning is captured within the portfolio itself. Here’s a Parker parent talking about her daughter’s Gateway Exhibition in Math/Science/Technology last spring:

“During A’s Gateway this spring, she spent time discussing one of her MST pieces that she failed. She said that she was glad that she had failed because she had learned more from failing than she would have learned if she had succeeded. Not only did she speak articulately about drag and flow and volume, she spoke about learning to ask questions, and that how now she asks questions not only to clarify and extend her learning, but because she is curious!”

Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School will be one of 22 schools featured at the Breaking Ranks School Showcase at Ignite 2014. The Parker team will be presenting Common Principles, Uncommon Results: Whole-School Approach to Authentic Assessment and Inquiry-Based on Thursday, February 6th.

School Showcase Feature: Bloomfield High School

Guest post by Chris Jennings:

What happens when you create an opportunity for students to choose where they will go and what they will do during the school day? Chaos? Anarchy? At Bloomfield High School in New Jersey, we discovered that students may surprise you.

During the 2011-12 school year, a group of students and administrators met throughout the year to discuss how we could work within the confines of our existing seven-period day to create more opportunities for students to have independent time for clubs, extra help, and teacher meetings. When I opened the discussion to the staff, one of our teachers recommended we take a look at Princeton High School’s “Wednesday” schedule. We did, and we adopted a similar schedule for the 12-13 school year. We have not looked back.

The basic premise is this: Each Wednesday, we shorten each period by eight minutes to allow for an activity period that runs during normal school hours – in our case, from 1:40-2:35. During this period, every school employee is unencumbered and available for students. Teachers and counselors can meet with students individually, in small groups, or as a whole class. Tests are retaken or made up, labs are completed, homework is done, and questions are answered.

You get the picture – but the catch is that at 1:40 school is dismissed, and students can choose whether or not they participate in the activity period. This is the part that made the grown-ups nervous. What if they all choose to leave? It took a leap of faith, but a year and a half later we consistently have 1,000 students choosing to stay in school and work with teachers. We relax school rules about hats, iPods, and cell phones during this period, and students are allowed stay for just ten minutes or beyond the duration of the period. We trust students to make decisions that are in their best interest, and they genuinely appreciate having the freedom. In my seven years as principal at BHS, I have not been involved in another decision that has been so universally accepted by students, teachers, and parents. The Wednesday Activity Period has become an important component of our approach to differentiate school for our students.

Chris Jennings is the principal of Bloomfield High School. Bloomfield High School will be one of 22 schools featured at the Breaking Ranks School Showcase at Ignite 2014. The Bloomfield team will be presenting Transforming a Title I High School through Culture, Collaboration, and Curriculum on Thursday, February 6th.  For more on Bloomfield High School, check out the article published in the May 2012 issue of Principal Leadership.