By Lorraine Glowczak
|WPS Student Ambassadors, Issac Bernier and |
“Our brains grow every time we make mistakes,” Windham
Primary School (WPS) Kindergarten Teacher, Jennifer Key, told one of her
students as I walked into the classroom.
Instead of being shamed for an oversight or miscalculation,
students are now encouraged to see their errors as learning opportunities from
which to grow – providing the stepping stone in the discovery process to one’s
eventual educational success. This approach to a child’s learning experience
has not always been the norm.
As a response to an editorial/insight I had written about my
own experience in education, where I didn’t quite fit in and may have fallen
through the cracks of a one size fits all system, I was invited by Dr. Kyle
Rhoads, Principal of WPS, to visit – and see how the educational landscape has
This past Monday, I was given the opportunity to observe and
to speak to the young learners (students) at the primary school, their
relationship to the facilitators (teachers) and the role they play in their own
educational success – thus creating a genuine love of learning.
It began with a tour of the school by two student
ambassadors, third-graders, Isaac Bernier and Nathaniel Plati. Like loyal
diplomats, Bernier and Plati, proudly guided me around the three houses that
make up the school – houses A, B and C. “Every grade is in every house,”
Bernier explained. “This is meant to separate the kids so there is room to
learn. You mostly stay with the same house for the whole year,” Plati added.
Once the tour was completed, I then got to meet other
learners and facilitators. In true professional
fashion, they dropped me off at
my first stop of the day and introduced me to third grade teacher, Jess
It was here that I learned just how much education has
shifted from the more traditional approach to a proficiency-based classroom.
“Regardless of a child’s age or what grade a student is in, we meet students
educationally, where they are,” Melcher explained to me before her students
“Students can and do tell us where they are academically, and they
guide us in their preferred learning style – and as facilitators – we teach
them from there - providing options from which to choose. By having a hand in
their own education, they feel successful and want to participate. They are
invested and want to see their success through.”
Before the students arrived, Melcher provided for me words
and sentences that are used in every day conversations and as learning
tools/guidance to help me get to know and interview the students. Below is the
actual interview of these third-grade students, who are each
on their own individualized academic journey. (Students were given a choice to
be interviewed. A majority were happy to sit on the floor with me and share
their stories without reservation.)
What is growth mindset
and why is it important?
“It’s about how you achieve your goal,” Lauren Valle
explained. She further stated that she works in a “personalized program to help
me get to my goals and I like working with my IXL worksheet.”
Isaiah Ciez added, “Growth mindset is
having confidence in yourself.”
What is a fast runner
versus a slow runner?
“You might be a fast runner at multiplication and a slow
runner at fractions,” began Matty Dickinson.
|Editor and writer, Lorraine Glowczak, interviews|
Mrs. Melcher's third-grade students.
“Being a slow runner means you
don’t catch on right away so you may need more practice.”
Renner Gerrity explained that he was a slow runner at area
and perimeters but was a fast runner in addition. He wasn’t concern about being
a slow runner in one portion of math because, “I know I will get to the finish
What does the word,
“yet”, mean to you?
“When you say, ‘I can’t do it, yet’, what you are actually
saying is you can’t doubt yourself,” Aiden Rinaldi said. Dickinson added, “To
say ‘I can’t do it’
- to saying – ‘I
can’t do it, yet’, changes the whole sentence.”
What does it mean to
go your own pace?
“I don’t compare myself to others because we are learning at
our own pace,” began Jack Mace. “And, I know I will eventually get there. I
like working by myself.”
Arianna Lewis agreed. “In this classroom we have our own targets
– and I know I’ll catch up.”
What keeps you
motivated and to continue learning?
“What motivates me is standing up and giving my body a break
from sitting,” Ciez explained. “I use a bouncing ball when I sit because I like
moving.” (Note: When I explained to him that when I was in school, I would have
gotten in trouble for not remaining at my desk, Ciez was genuinely
flabbergasted, putting his hand over his mouth in shock and asked me, “Why?” I
explained that at that time, it would have been considered disruptive to other
students. He remains baffled.)
More than one student stated that it was Mrs. Melcher
who helped them to remain motivated. “We care what she thinks” and “She does a
lot for us” were two reasons why.
My time ended there – which gave me the opportunity to visit
and observe Jen Key and the Kindergartners who were each working in groups at
various tables (purple, blue, orange, yellow, green and red.) Each student at
each table was working on their individualized programs in literacy.
There - the students taught me that perseverance is the key
to success and that they all are “Lexia” superstars in their own
individual ways. They know that, at times, learning can be hard, but they know
the steps to take to get help when faced with difficulties. One student
explained. “If you don’t know how to build a space ship, then ask a space man
When the students left for recess, Key who has been teaching
for nine years, along with her high school student assistant, Heather Carper
had a few minutes to talk. Carper is attending the Vocational Center in
Westbrook, taking classes in education. She is a senior who plans to attend the
University of Maine at Farmington to become a teacher. It was nine years ago
when she was in elementary school.
Both Key and Carper agreed that they have
witnessed and experienced in their own roles in education (one as a teacher,
the other as a student) that even in the past nine years, the style and method
in education has changed significantly. And, both agree - for the better.
I also had the chance to visit Rebecca Miller and Courtney Espejo,
second-grade teachers who co-teach the social skills class. “We have recognized
that children do not get to play outside in unstructured ways like they used to
in order to resolve issues naturally,” explained Miller. “So, we have created
this social skills program to work on that.”
In this program, students learn about conflict resolution,
gain listening skills that includes examples
on ways to be respectful.
“Conflict resolution means helping to solve a problem or to give ideas and
strategies to solve a problem,” stated Brady Legere. Aubrey McInnis added,
“Once you learn the strategies, you can help solve or prevent future
My last stop of the day was a visit with Julie Young, who is
in her 14th
year as Instructional Leader. “I manage and analyze
academic data and coordinate academic support for both the learners and
As a certified school administrator, Young stated, “We know
more now due to brain research that supports evidence-based learning practices.
As a result, we do our best to make education transparent to the student –
taking the mystery out of their academic learning.”
Ciez, the second-grade student who was one of the first
students to be interviewed, best explains what Young means. “Our education is
like learning how to drive. You learn each step of the way. And these steps
teach us how to drive in school and in life.”
Today’s educational landscape is preparing children to be
the gifted future leaders of America. I, for one, have high hopes for a healthy
and intelligent society that these young people will provide.