Over the past few weeks, I have been able to visit the classrooms on both North and South Campus, and I have been so impressed at the level of learning that is taking place across the board. Students are motivated, engaged, and excelling by leaps and bounds. Being a student is hard work, and from kindergarten through eighth grade, our students are not shying away from the challenge.
Last week I visited two classrooms that had completed their first Units of Study, and they were celebrating their accomplishments. In K1, students were sharing their personal narratives – not just one writing assignment, but FOUR. When I visited, the children were sprawled out on the floor in pairs, eagerly reading their stories to classmates, teachers, parent volunteers, and ME. They were proud of the work they had done, and their joy was certainly justified. In 2A, students had completed their neighborhood projects, and were excited to display their models and read their written descriptions to peers. Other students were able to ask questions and offer positive feedback. What a self-affirming experience, and one that will boost their confidence for many years. (My 26-year-old son participated in this same project when he was in 2A at SMS!)
Over the past several years, in our journey to becoming a Visible Learning Associate School, we have reflected on the projects and assignments used to effectively teach the standards for the subject and grade level. Our time is limited, so we strive to ensure that every moment is a valuable one – its purpose is to propel students toward the knowledge and understanding necessary for the next level. We have tried to include parents in this process by providing Unit Overviews so you clearly understand what students are learning and how they are learning it.
Now we are taking a closer look at how we assess student growth so that we can accurately determine where each student is developmentally and determine what holes or misconceptions they might have that prevent them from moving forward. Some assessments must focus on sheer memorization, because no one can move into deeper levels of understanding and critical thinking without having the basic building blocks. That includes a solid understanding of math facts and vocabulary. Other content level facts are also important if students are going to be able to engage in meaningful discussions on the topic. However, assessing basic facts is not enough. We also must push students be able to use the knowledge they posses and apply it to new and unfamiliar concepts. It is a balancing act, to be sure. Our plan is to infuse Unit Celebrations into the calendar, such as the ones I witnessed last week, to remind students of their successes, but also challenge them by asking questions that require them to use what they already know in a deeper and more critical way. Just as we aim to be clear about what and how we are teaching, we also strive to ensure we are able to accurately capture where students are on the learning continuum.
This Friday is the end of the first quarter. This arbitrary date is merely a snapshot in time, and the grades that will be reported should serve as a means for conversations between parents and children about future goals and strategies. It should also be a time for celebration, because every student at St. Michael’s School has learned and grown in very significant ways. And the best part is, the learning continues!