All students will achieve their maximum potential by becoming responsible, productive citizens and life-long learners.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Perspective, Effort, Teamwork, and Differentiation Rule the First Two Days

Seekonk High School opened last week with an excellent display of how prepared its teachers were to give students a challenging yet engaging experience.  I could not help but notice (as I visited classrooms) how many teachers were subtly practicing those things (Common Core, common assignments, differentiation, effort, engagement, and ownership) about which we are not always subtle when talking or pushing about.

It was not just that teachers were:
·         doing the typical “first day housekeeping”
·         telling students the importance of effort
·         explaining that education isn't just about memorization, but understanding
·         having students speaking in target languages
·         reviewing summer reading

Rather, they were taking it further by making their messages meaningful, relevant, and modeling their emotional investment in what they were saying.  By way of example:

While going over class rules, Mr. Winsor addressed the issue of harassing or bullying others by simply stating, “We are here to learn, not give other people a hard time.”  Mr. Censabella took a similar tack when explaining issues pertaining to plagiarism by saying, "Accept responsibility for yourself and your actions."  Other messages on the same topic included positive phrases such as, "put your own work forward so you can improve," and "honesty is what will get you ahead."

Mr. Lancaster was explaining to students that the idea is for them to “learn the material; not memorize it” as he was stressing the importance of completing homework, asking questions, and exercising continuous effort.  While many students might groan at this prospect, it was well received in the context in which it was delivered.  Mr. Lancaster was reviewing his reasoning for not only giving second chances on tests, but hoping the students take advantage of the opportunity.  It was a display of a teacher pushing for mastery and understanding rather than “continuing on whether or not students are lost.”

The only thing that limits us is our own beliefs.  Ms. Lawrence and Mr. Censabella were getting that message across as they discussed perspective and potential.  Ms. Lawrence was reading poetry to students as they guessed the skill level of the author.  There was many a surprised face as students found that poems they thought written by professionals were upperclassmen.  Mr. Censabella stressed the importance of perspective when studying history by showing students double sided pictures and asking for feedback.  The most enlightening moment being when he shared a picture that had sparked an answer from one student compelling enough to make Mr. Censabella adjust his perspective.

In an effort to make summer reading meaningful, Mr. Darren and Mr. Crippen were executing a common assignment designed to increase student engagement and reflection through personal connection.   Students were given quotes from their book and asked to analyze their meaning, select the one that they could relate to the most, and then explain how it was connected to their life.  This assignment was full of students applying their perspective and making meaning out of the text they had read.  Sounds like understanding to me.  Another pair of teachers who were working on something similar to a common assignment was Mrs. Salisbury and Mrs. Yttredahl.  They were both teaching using the historical tool P.R.I.C.E.S.  The shift occurred with the strategies they used to introduce the tool to their students.  Both Mrs. Salisbury and Mrs. Yttredahl differentiated for their students by using either media clips or students personal memory.  Once students selected a significant historical event, they had to place it in one of the categories and defend their position.  Discussion was good and punctuated with phrases such as “building on what ____said” and “I agree with what ____said, but also think this.”  Students backed their answers with what they perceived to be facts which led to questions.  As we know, a person may learn void of explanation, but only understands through the rigorous application of well thought out questions.

Understanding was the required tool in another one of Mrs. Salisbury’s classes as she had students reading the school wide rubrics that they were to be measured against.  Her reasoning was that students, just as professional adults, need to understand what is required and how to meet that objective.  Now those extra scores on their report cards will have more meaning and give them some extra perspective when it comes to their progress as students.

In short:
Yes, Seekonk High School is open and what excites me is that education or what people like to call authentic learning (fostered by a dedicated, talented group of individuals) is occurring.  They are acting on the ideas of:
·         Don’t tell the students; show them.
·         Don’t regulate students into compliance; teach them to be members of a civil society.
·         Don’t force a culture onto students; create one in which they want to join and actively participate.

“Discovery has proven that the power of education lies not in the pages of textbooks or recital of facts and figures, it resides in the mind of the child who is taught how to think, how to learn and how to navigate the world.”
                                    -Teacher, Kenya

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