Archive for November, 2016

Using all of our Minutes

On Monday our School Improvement Team did what we call our Quarterly Review. The school improvement team is composed of representatives of all grade levels and perspectives in our building as well as a parent representative. Our goal is all about how we, as a school, continue to improve and grow. Each quarter, we pull our academic data and go through protocols to look for patterns and trends. We discuss the reasons we believe data looks the way it does. These conversations can be difficult but always incredible in encouraging our work in student achievement for all students.

On Monday, we talked about the many ways we can approach student achievement. And it was interesting how one idea that our families can help us with seemed so simple and yet so critical and that is the idea of time. As educators, we use each minute of the day. In fact, I know many teachers that begin teaching individual groups even while students enter the building and others that keep on teaching long past that last bell. We discussed the fact that we have two days next week of school. We also noted the three days before the winter break. We expressed our concern that put together, this is an entire week of instruction that could be potentially lost through extended family vacations.

We recognize the incredible opportunity educational leave can be. But we also are concerned that our days and minutes of instruction can be lost when students come late to school or leave early. I have always shared that only in the teaching world do we look at 3 minutes left before a transition and a teacher uses those three minutes to grow students’ minds.

Throughout my observations yesterday in multiple classrooms, I again noted the use of each precious moment with students. Our kindergarten students note the minutes they reach with their stamina in reading. As students enter after recess in third grade, the teacher immediately engages students in reflecting on the day before and learning. Fifth grade teachers capture moments before students transition to Spanish to check questions from homework. An intervention teacher skip counts with her small group of students on the way down hallways to their learning space. Our Lawyers Read program starts at 8:00 on the dot to read with some of our first grade students. Parents come for Book and Bite and help students enjoy lunch and the gift of reading. Even as I move around the building, I talk about learning with students and try to engage in what they are doing in the classroom.

Each minute counts every day. We encourage our families to try to make appointments after hours and look ahead at our school calendar. Our teachers truly want every minute to teach. And we look forward to every minute of our students learning. We are thankful to our families who also take seriously these moments of the day. Together we want to see each of our students grow in learning.

 

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Our Student Writers

As I visited classrooms and connected with students and staff today, I walked into Mr. Del’s 5th grade classroom. He was sitting in the midst of his students working with a group as they were writing. Laptops were all over the classroom and on each screen, there were words about each student. Fifth grade fingers typing away on the keyboards. I moved around the classroom to read. This is one of my favorite 5th grade projects, and I have a lot of favorites. But in this written work, our students are asked to express themselves in such a way that captures incredible imagery in who they see they are. They reflect on important people in their world, important things including a favorite fruit. They share powerful moments and how they view themselves.

I walked around today, taking my time to read entries. Students were quick to engage me in conversation about the moment they were capturing. I enjoyed sharing other stories of when I might have noticed them brave or what strength I observe. These memoirs allow our students to use the written word to express how they view themselves. As I walked over towards Mr. Del’s group, he mentioned to me how powerful this writing opportunity has been in the relationship building he has had with students. He expressed that although the number of times he reads and edits and revises with students in conferencing appears daunting, the product of greater connections and understanding with students is the most important celebration.

When I visit classrooms during writing, I am grateful to the relationships with students. I appreciate their willingness to open up conversation about their story. As an IB school, we encourage our students to continue to reflect each year how they express themselves. We allow them to grow in their understanding of who they are. And I celebrate their ability to capture this understanding into words.

Students Lead Their Learning

This afternoon, Ms. Sherrow’s third grade class was given the opportunity to develop their ideas on several concepts that then lead to the central idea of their next unit of inquiry. These are some large IB terms to put into a sentence. But what Ms. Sherrow asked her students to do was to engage in developing the central focus of learning from their next unit of study. They discussed terms like location, natural resources and economic development. It was a powerful moment of learning for the students. And it was something that we see as important, allowing students to lead in their learning. This connection to content with purpose really allows students to feel more involved.

Ms. McNeils’ Pre K students were working in different areas of the room. Students were engaged in interactive play areas. As I walked in, three students were using puppets to perform stories. Other groups were working in small group with adults and others were cooking and building. Ms. McNeil moved to the door of the classroom and turned off the lights. All of these little four years old lifted their hands in the air. And then one student quietly stated that centers were over, he directed the students to clean up and move to the circle to sit. All of his classmates offered him a thumbs up and moved to their clean up task.

Walking into second grade literacy block, I hear teachers sitting in small groups with students asking questions that engage students in expressing their own ideas and explaining their thinking about books. Kindergarten teachers ask mathematicians to express their ideas of work, asking to agree or question. I hear many times as I walk into classrooms, “explain your ideas”, “express yourself”, “make a choice” and “what do you think”. I don’t remember this type of learning when I grew up. But I also see how important this type of learning is to our students. As an adult learner, these are the options I give myself. I choose books that engage me. I find people to engage in conversation about different topics. I visit museums that interest me. Why not ask our students to also own their own learning? And through this engagement, perhaps deeper learning will happen.

At Joyner, we develop students to begin to see what type of learner they can be. We ask students to be metacognitive in their learning. We want them to think about their thinking. We do this through developing questions or welcoming their own questions. We also give them the opportunity to own their learning. They have choice in producing their work through multiple avenues. Our teachers consider multiple ways for students to express themselves.

I enjoy seeing the movement of learning that happens at Joyner. I am impressed with the work that our teachers do with students and even more impressed by how our students engage in learning, calling it their own.