February 23, 2012
Last Thursday, during Gillispie’s faculty in-service day, our teachers enjoyed a variety of keynote speakers. Becky Candra, former director of a local nursery school, spoke to early childhood teachers about Deb Curtis’ work on creating joyful classrooms. When children are younger, this is done by encouraging them to investigate and theorize so that they see themselves as learners. It means thoughtfully providing materials at school (and at home) that are accessible–high-quality materials that include real art, building, and science tools. Teachers and parents should provide background information about how the materials might be used, and also frequently rearrange the materials to show how the children might apply them differently based on context. Such efforts are sure to spark children’s curiosity and imagination.
Educational therapist Suzi Feldman and speech and language pathologist Penny Cohen discussed the importance of conversation, both as children initially learn how to speak and also when they later practice how to convey their maturing views. They reminded us that the best discussions are two-way and that the adult should not be the imparter of all knowledge with the child’s role relegated to that of receiver. In addition, the speakers noted that teachers and parents too frequently expect immediate responses rather than giving children time to process what we are asking and to formulate appropriate responses. One way to get a conversation rolling is by reading to your child and asking him or her to predict what might happen next or how a given character might be feeling. In addition, play dates and extracurricular activities such as drama, craft making, and sports encourage social communication, creativity, and collaboration.
Award-winning educator and author Rick Morris spoke on classroom management and student motivation. Many of his suggestions can apply to home situations as well. In order to promote a sense of independence, he advised that teachers and parents not do for children what they can do for themselves–to fight the urge to be the provider of all needs. It starts with the “small stuff” (tying shoes or choosing outfits) and, as children grow older, it’s allowing them to organize their backpacks or take the lead on specific tasks (at dinner, one child sets the table while the other clears at the end of the meal). Assigning authentic, real-life tasks teaches responsibility and independence.
Faculty and administration continue to share what they learned and already are applying best pratices to their work in their classrooms and on the play yards. Days like these remind us as lifelong learners that teaching is a craft, sustained in part by a steady supply of inspiration, experience, and reflection.
Head of School
Monthly Archives: February 2012
February 23, 2012
It’s exciting to start the new year with a book that features new thinking, and so I recently picked up a book released on the third day of 2012: Smart Thinking: Three Essential Keys to Solve Problems, Innovate, and Get Things Done. I’m an easy target for a product that promises to increase my creativity and efficiency!
Written by Art Markman, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and long-time editor of the journal Cognitive Science, the book promises to show readers “how memory works, how to learn effectively, and how to use knowledge to get things done.” While some of the insights are mundane (get enough sleep, pay attention when you meet someone new), we all can learn from the author’s three main points:
Habits of the mind can be changed and harnessed to your advantage,
“High-quality knowledge” is an important requisite for Smart Thinking, and
High-quality knowledge from one field or discipline can be applied to related (and even unrelated) problems to great effect.
I’m especially interested in that second point. In a world that’s shrinking before our eyes (interconnected economies, truly international students who study and then apply their knowledge across multiple continents), it’s refreshing to realize that deeply knowing the technical aspects of a few disciplines can lead to the breakthrough application of ideas to solve tenacious problems.
For example, might someone with a deep understanding of the human cardiovascular system be just the person to consider how best to untangle the traffic-filled arteries of San Diego’s highways? Because one can’t apply deep learning to the multifaceted challenges of modern life unless “high-quality knowledge” is there in the first place, I began wondering:
What varied and rich sets of knowledge are individual Gillispie students already developing for themselves? (I’m thinking of those students who are trying to learn everything they can about: dolphins, robots, bridges, baking, etc.)
How can we help them expand the breadth and deepen the sophistication of what they know?
What captivating and important problems will they solve once they grow up and apply their incredible knowledge as “Smart Thinking?”
Assistant Head of School
Can the success of yesterday’s blood drive be attributed to the laws of physics, mathematical phenomena, or something even greater?
The idea of the drive started as a pebble thrown into a pond by one teacher three years ago as a way to support a Gillispie family whose daughter was battling a recurrence of cancer. The family is healthy and well with children now in middle school, but the inspiration from the first drive caused a ripple effect, much like waves passing through water or air–one good deed so often leads to another, and then another.
Or perhaps a metaphor for this year’s drive should be a mathematics lesson on geometric progression? Now involved are two third grade classes representing twenty-seven ambitious students and two dedicated teachers. Additionally, every third grade family contributed baked goods to the event and seventeen parent volunteers took shifts supervising the student sales force. Parent Kelli F. packaged treats the afternoon before and the day of, showing that everything looks better with a ribbon and cellophane; three families baked delectable raffle prizes.
This year’s undertaking also taught us about flexibility and an open mindset—a half-hour before the drive was to start, the truck carrying all of the equipment broke down, so the event shifted from its intended location of the gym to a re-routed blood bank bus. Quickly, administrators (some in heals and some in ties) moved folding tables and chairs to the south parking lot.
Third graders learned the importance of setting and meeting goals and the thrill of exceeding expectations; every few hours throughout the day I was informed by very excited students of the grand total from the sales of raffle tickets and baked goods. Sixth graders practiced graciousness in greeting donors they knew with, “Hello, Mrs. A. or Mr. Z, thank you for doing this,” and in welcoming strangers to Gillispie with, “Hello, we are glad you are here.”
In all, over $2,000 was raised for the San Diego Blood Bank and 46 pints of blood were drawn, with an additional 12 donors registering for future donations—all record totals for the School. The vast majority of donors represented our own Gillispie parents, teachers, and staff. A huge thank you goes to Mrs. Hurley and Mrs. Davis for bringing us together for a noble cause. More than a science, math, or economics lesson, this annual event proves that the whole of a community is greater than the sum of its parts. Thank you to all who participated in whatever way to the success of this drive.
Head of School
As educators, we aspire to extend children’s ability to think critically. In order to do that, we must be critical thinkers ourselves, able to find our own way through difficult questions. On Thursday, January 5, a number of Gillispie’s teachers took the opportunity to be challenged in their own thinking by a master in the educational field, Alfie Kohn, who spoke at the University of San Diego.
Mr. Kohn has for many years been a sometimes controversial, always provocative leader in education. He asks us to think critically about our practices and reminds us that our children are not products, but human beings who should have a voice in their own education.
His first and perhaps most well-known book is Punished By Rewards, in which he pointed out the dangers of dangling rewards in front of children for simply doing what is expected of them. Today, he echoes the wisdom from Nurture Shock, the Gillispie faculty’s summer reading selection, that discusses the tendency of adults to constantly—and meaninglessly—tell children they are doing a “good job” upon completion of any activity. Such practices, which Kohn refers to as “verbal doggie biscuits,” are actually detrimental to the acquisition of qualities such as perseverance that will be most helpful to children as they grow up.
Alfie Kohn reminds us that children naturally possess a desire to learn and an excitement about learning; therefore, the ultimate benchmark is whether children love to figure things out (at Gillispie, we ask the children to ask themselves, “What do I do when I get stuck?”). Rather than focusing on rigor and grades, Kohn believes the school’s the focus should be on meaning, engagement, and understanding, with curriculum that encompasses problems, projects, and questions.
At Gillispie, teachers hold many of Kohn’s ideas in high regard. In the early childhood program, projects often emerge from children’s ideas. In the elementary school, teachers often begin a unit of study with essential questions. Both divisions of the school agree that the old model, where teachers are the sole purveyors of all knowledge to students, is ineffective in the 21st century.
Although most teachers have read Alfie Kohn’s work, his books and essays don’t compare to seeing him in person. Thanks to the Gillispie Endowment for Excellence in Teaching, eight of Gillispie’s teachers, joined by Ms. Fleming and Mr. Bunyak, were able to do just that.
Director of Curriculum
At this week’s Grades K-2 and 3-6 assemblies, educators from PlayIt Safe visited to discuss “stranger danger” with the younger children and bullying behaviors with the older ones.
Some of the advice for K-2 students included:
–Your biggest weapon is your voice, because noise attracts attention. The best phrase to call out is not “Fire,” which can cause people to run away from you, but “Stranger, Stranger, 9-1-1!”
–Your secret weapon is confidence, which the speakers compared to the way in which tiny Chihuahuas can outbark and fend off much larger dogs with their mighty confidence.
–Your strongest weapon is your legs, so use them to run to a safe place where people gather (your home, your school, a store or cafe). Children may know not to talk to strangers, but shouldn’t even stop to listen to them.
Older children reviewed the W.I.N.N.E.R. technique for handling anti-social behavior (from PlayItSafe materials):
• W–Walk away from the bully and say nothing; keep moving and don’t look back!
• I–Ignore the comment.
• N–No Attitude: Deflect the power of the bully’s words. Saying “Whatever,” or “So what,” aren’t effective. Attitude only attracts attitude.
• N–Nice: Change the subject and say something nice to the bully. Then keep walking.
• E–ESCAPE! Refuse to fight. Just say, “Back off! Leave me alone!” Attract attention with your voice.
• R Report it. If you see someone being bullied, go tell the adult who needs to help. If you are in a group, go with your group to remove the target from the bully–there’s strength in numbers.
Teachers and administration will be looping back on these lessons during the weeks ahead. Parents may access more information on the PlayItSafe website: http://www.playitsafedefense.com/.
Head of School
Because schools exercise a co-parenting role each day, safety is always a top priority. With this in mind and based on parent input from fall coffees, The Gillispie School has arranged for a visit by Tracie Arlington of PlayItSafe. Next Wednesday, January 18, she’ll be speaking to students during the Grades K-2 and 3-6 assemblies. Ms. Arlington and her organization come highly recommended and with much experience working with children.
For K-2 students, the PlayItSafe team will present their “Stranger Awareness” assembly which, as the organization describes, is “designed to teach children through role-play the importance of awareness and setting appropriate boundaries. Students will learn to recognize inappropriate behavior and to trust their instincts when someone or something doesn’t feel right. Students learn the importance of reacting quickly, using their voices to attract attention, and that escaping a bad situation should be their #1 goal.” During the interactive assembly, PlayItSafe will involve students in role-playing scenarios in age-appropriate, entertaining ways.
For Grades 3-6, the PlayItSafe team will present the “Keep Your Power” bully-proofing assembly where “children will learn through role-play to recognize the different types of bullying behaviors: teasing, excluding, name calling, etc. Verbal self-defense, zero tolerance, and several “Power Protectors” will be discussed and demonstrated, along with what ‘normal conflict’ is. Students will also learn the importance of displaying confidence, remaining calm, reacting quickly, and using their voices to attract attention if necessary. [They also] will demonstrate how children can help each other when experiencing bullying.” Students will participate in role-playing to “demonstrate their ‘power protectors.’”
For more information, such as assembly overviews and guidance on reinforcing lessons at home, visit the PlayIt Safe website.
Head of School
“As we watch the children’s interest in letters and writing grow, we look for ways to encourage and support that interest in an organic and meaningful way. When the children turned our imaginary play area into a coffee shop, we encouraged them to create a menu. A group of children drew pictures to represent the menu items while another group wrote the words. The menu is now hanging in the coffee shop area and “read” by all of the children when they order.”
Mrs. Binder and Ms. Thompson
Preschool Rm. 3
Last Friday, Mrs. Long’s fifth graders held a Read-In: an entire day devoted to the love of reading. The day began with a poem by Wallace Stevens: “The House was Quiet and the World was Calm,” an ode to the stillness of reading. Students then spread out around the room to read books of their choice. During the day, the class discussed their most recent class novel, The Sign of the Beaver, watched a film of the book, and compared the two versions. Finally, the group began a new class novel, Kate DiCamillo’s The Magician’s Elephant. The Read-In supports the primary goal of the reader’s workshop: to help students develop as critical and enthusiastic readers.
Ms. Blake introduced her second graders to writing in India ink with real quill “pens” this week. Students practiced writing letters in their normal style and then graduated to copying fancy script letters off a modeling sheet. The exploration of antique penmanship flowed from a piece of literature Ms. Blake had shared with the class.
Today Gillispie’s two kindergarten classrooms celebrated Australia Day to highlight their study of the country that’s also a continent (and island!). Students presented songs of Australia during the morning K-2 assembly while also sharing their growing knowledge of the continent through an A-Z book about the country; in the afternoon they enjoyed activities (such as the mapping experience, below). As part of their their social studies lessons, each elementary classroom studies one of the seven continents, ensuring that children have “traveled the globe” by the time they graduate as sixth graders.
Grade 1 students enjoy their time in the spotlight as they parade around campus during the annual Chinese New Year Parade. All early childhood and elementary students came outside on this beautiful day to enjoy the spectacle.
During yesterday’s Grades 3-6 assembly on how students can take back the power from those who would use bullying behaviors, PlayItSafe instructor Hank Jennat demonstrates how to use “confident defense hands” when speaking with an aggressor.
Activists in Mrs. Shieh’s Grade 4 classroom respectfully asked the head of school for the return of cheddar bunnies as a morning snack item:
“Dear Ms. Fleming,
We appreciate the snack that we get, but we would really appreciate it if you would bring back cheddar bunnies.”
Their heartfelt request was granted.