April 12, 2019

New landscapes in education puts the learner in the driver’s seat

WPS Student Ambassadors, Issac Bernier and
Nathaniel Plati
By Lorraine Glowczak

“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 changed.

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.

https://www.facebook.com/Montecito-Market-268078660678470/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 Melcher.

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 arrived. 

“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 line eventually.”

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.

https://www.msspa.orgMy 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 for help.”

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.

https://www.schoolspring.com/search.cfmI 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 conflicts.”

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 teachers.”

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.

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