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December 12, 2014

Why?

    A young couple prepares to celebrate their first Thanksgiving together.  They decide to invite their entire family to enjoy Thanksgiving lunch with them.  Early on Thanksgiving the wife begins preparing the turkey to cook and she takes a piece of string and ties the turkey’s legs together before putting it into the oven.  The husband asks her why.  She stops, looks at him and says, “Well I don’t know, but that is what mom always did.”

    Later, when her mother and grandmother are with her in the kitchen, the wife asks her mom the same question.  The mother replies, “Well, that is what my mother always did.”  They both look to the grandmother and she smiles and says, “Well I always tied the turkey legs together because if I did not, the turkey would not fit into the oven!”.

    It is easy to get caught up in doing things and never reflect on why we are doing them.  At the beginning of the school year, we asked our teachers to take time periodically to reflect on what they are doing and why they are doing it that way.  This gives each teacher the opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of their methods and look for ways to improve them.

    As a school, we are doing the same thing.  We are strategically looking at different areas of the school and determining if the methods and practices that we are using are the “best” at this time.  There's nothing wrong with traditional practices and doing things “Old School” provided that we periodically evaluate the effectiveness of that practice.

    We began last year instituting a reading assessment tool by Fountas and Pinnell in Kindergarten that will allow us to evaluate our students’ reading levels.  This assessment is given  twice each school year to determine the amount of improvement each child has had and determine strategies to help that child continue to improve.  These assessments will be passed from one grade to the next to help give teachers more information about each student's ability.  The assessment will continue to be given throughout lower school or until the student completes all of the assessments.

    This summer our first grade team attended a training course to learn skills to teach reading, phonics and spelling.  This new program is called Orton-Gillingham and has been shown to help students at various ability levels.  These teachers have implemented many of the strategies they learned this year and believe it to be beneficial to all students.  This summer we have made arrangements for all of our reading teachers in lower school to attend similar training so that this becomes a school wide initiative.

    We have begun an initiative this year to help our students become better writers.  Teachers in grades 3-5 have attended some in-house training in Excellence in Writing (EIW), the program that the middle school presently uses to teach students to write. A scope and sequence has been created to introduce and teach the writing skills that our students need in order to become proficient at writing and also to be better prepared for the expectations set in middle school.

    Last January, we began a school wide effort to update continually our curriculum maps for each subject in each grade level.  Teachers were allowed a day last year to begin the process and were given several deadlines beginning last May and continuing throughout this school year.  Our goal is for these maps to be used to identify areas where more time is spent on specific concepts or skills than needed so that we can be assured that we prepare our kids to the best of our ability.

    We are also continuing to systematically review the materials we use to teach our curriculum for our entire school.  We are in a review process of our Mathematics and Bible curriculum now.  We will look for areas that need improvement and then look for materials to use that not only meet those needs but also continue to teach all the concepts that we deem important.

    As a school, we will always be looking for ways to improve every aspect of the education of your child. We do not make changes without carefully considering the reason for the change...the “why.”  Our process will be methodical in an effort to avoiding making decisions that we later regret. Slow change  can be frustrating but know that we always want to do everything we can to ensure that any change results in a more positive learning experience for students.

    A final thought.  We will always strive to keep “The Main Thing” the main thing.  Every decision we make must support our mission -- “ . . to infuse our school community with a Biblical worldview by effectively sharing the gospel and developing fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ through scripturally based discipleship, academics, fine arts, and athletics.”

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September 30, 2014

Success - Now and the Future

"And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men." (‭Luke‬ ‭2‬:‭52‬ NKJV)

 

            Success.  That is all we want for our children... in the classroom, on the playing field, in the fine arts program.   Wherever they are, we just want them to have success.  As a school, that is our goal also.  We want all our students to experience success.  As Academic Dean, success in the academic realm is my primary focus.  So how do we attain that success?

            The simple way to measure success is with grades.  If the grades are good, students are having success, and most everyone is happy.  We must be careful with that thought process.  It is very easy to fall into a trap of “teaching to the test.”  We have all heard that phrase as it relates to achievement test.  However, the same can occur in a classroom as well.  As a teacher, I can, either knowingly or unknowingly, teach students exactly what is going to be on the assessment and thus lead to a false sense of success.  If students are only recalling facts, is that success? How do we verify that students truly attain success?  The answer is not easily defined.  

            Grades alone are not a sign of success.  I am asking our teachers to be sure that students are challenged by increasing the rigor.  The term rigor brings fear to the minds of some because they equate rigor with more - more homework, more projects, more stuff to do.  Rigor is not more.  Rigor is difficult to define, but I believe rigor is enhanced when thinking occurs.  Rigor requires students to take knowledge that they have learned and apply it.  Rigor requires students to spend time assessing a problem, using the tools that they have, and determining a solution for that problem. Rigor requires students to think and apply.

        ​    ​Increasing rigor is not easy. Students have various abilities and talents so tasks that are challenging (rigorous)  for one may be easy for another or impossibly difficult  for another.  Increasing rigor requires a variety of assessment methods, activities, projects that include various types of questions.  As teachers we are working to determine the thinking level of our questions.  Are we asking all recall questions all of the time?  If so, the students are not being challenged.  Are all of our questions asking students to use their knowledge to evaluate a situation?  If so we most likely do not have enough information to determine where those that are struggling need assistance.  It takes a variety of question types.  We are working to be sure that we are asking the right types of questions to challenge students so that they can have both now and in the future.

            ​​As we increase our rigor, there will be some times of frustration and difficulty for students, parents, and teachers.  Students may be faced with questions that require more thought or research than they have had in the past.  That is ok. Through  the struggle of  doing the research or solving the problem, students will learn the value of grit and determination, and if they are really honest with themselves, will realize that the process has led to success.  They will feel empowered to tackle another challenge.  As a parent, our natural tendency is to help when we see our child struggling.  We will be tempted to give too much help which will result in our taking away an opportunity for our child to learn.  An example that many of us can relate to is tieing shoes.  When your child is learning to tie his/her shoes, it would be much easier and faster to just jump in and do it for them.  By doing that, we take away an opportunity for our child to learn.  It takes a while for children to learn that skill.  Some learn it faster than others.  However once they learn that skill, they are ready to tackle other things with the knowledge that they can do this.  We must allow our children that same opportunity in the academic realm.  We must allow them the opportunity to work through difficult tasks and become stronger better prepared students for the future.

            ​Success does not look the same for every student in every subject.  A successful paper to those that thrive in writing may look vastly different than those (like myself) that struggle to put their thoughts on paper.  For some students, success may be completing a college prep course with a grade of B.  For others, that same grade is not a sign of success.  Ultimately success is a very individual goal.  Setting the goal so that it is attainable allows students to have something to strive for.

            ​So as I conclude, expect your child to have some struggles.  Expect there to be times when they have to work extra hard because they are having to think and apply knowledge.  Accept that success for each child may look different.  I believe that you will see your child grow in wisdom over time, much like our Savior did. ("And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men." (‭Luke‬ ‭2‬:‭52‬ NKJV))