Setting Students Up for Exam Success at KCS

Imagine you are sitting in a rowboat all by yourself. You’ve been told you need to get to an island in the middle of a lake. But there’s one small problem – you have no oars. So, you struggle to travel in the water, splash aimlessly, and ultimately end up frustrated with your goal still out of reach. Having the right tools can make all the difference in feeling prepared and in control of working toward our goals. This was just one analogy shared during out exam preparation sessions with Study Spot, one of our many learning partners, this fall.

At KCS, we want to ensure that we have done everything possible to set our students up for success. This means we don’t just teach students what will be on an exam – we also teach them how to prepare for an exam.

It begins by embedding backwards planning into our grade 6-8 program as a way to build and develop exam preparation skills long before anyone sits down to write an exam. This year it also began by having the grade 6 and 7 students work with one of Study Spot’s academic coaches, where students and parents learned that preparing for a big test such as an exam begins with establishing study and organization routines that stick.

During these coaching sessions, the students are introduced to many exam prep strategies, such as making a plan, sticking to a schedule, self-testing, and maximizing the “spacing effect” (the phenomenon whereby information is remembered longer when studying is spaced out over time). They also talk about the importance of work/life management, the importance of sleep, and managing screens and distractions. Finally, they are provided with a wealth of planning materials, including study schedule templates, an action priority matrix, weekly planners, and guides to the pros and cons of different visual organizers and information capturing tools. (FYI – all of these materials are available for download on the Parenting Resource tile on the KCS website.)

Continued throughout the year, our teachers design their program in a thoughtful and intentional manner, as we know that it takes careful planning to teach kids how to thrive at school and in life. Our students will be writing exams throughout high school and university, so we know that now is the time to teach them these essential study skills and organizational habits. And even though exams aren’t a regular part of adult life, those skills and habits carry over in different ways. Exams teach you to be organized, deal with pressure, persist, ask for help, identify key points, and sift through large amounts of information – all useful lessons for adulthood.

We know that even after all this preparation, exams can still be scary. But that’s okay. When we’re scared, we rethink our habits and apply them in ways that make us better equipped to handle the unexpected. Every time we try something new or challenging, we get better at handling it. The exam experience helps our students become more organized, pay closer attention to their homework, and learn to prepare for future challenges. Many students feel a great sense of accomplishment as exams wrap up.

Our hope is that by the time our students leave us for high school and beyond, they will have learned new habits and had many opportunities to put those habits to work. We also hope that because there will be elements of frustration and challenge along the way, they will also leave us with a deep and genuine sense of empowerment and confidence. In the end, we don’t want anyone to feel stranded in a rowboat with no oars. We want them to have the skills and tools they need to take their boat and navigate toward any destination they choose.

-Dr. Matina Mosun

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Reconciliation and Land Acknowledgements in Grade 3

In this blog, our KCS Grade 3 homeform teachers – Meghan Hurley and Kerrie Robins – talk about the ways in which they and their students are evolving the Grade 3 Social Studies curriculum to better reflect the ongoing dialogue around Indigenous peoples and reconciliation.

Social Studies is a wonderful subject to teach – because it’s all about learning how to explore our shared history and experiences in a thoughtful and meaningful way. In Grade 3, a large part of the Social Studies curriculum is built around the experiences of different communities in Canada between the late 1700s to the mid-1800s.

When we were kids, that mostly meant learning about European pioneers. But over the past number of years, schools have made a real effort to incorporate into the curriculum the experiences of Indigenous communities during this time period. Here at KCS, we’ve been making the same effort for many years. But this year, we decided to begin our Social Studies program by focusing on those Indigenous experiences, in order to help our students better understand the need for an active and engaged approach towards reconciliation.

We began with some introductory events around Indigenous peoples in Canada, during which the students developed their own initial questions and identified areas they wanted to learn more about. This was followed by lessons around the ideas of apologies and reconciliation, out of which came a few key questions. What does it mean to apologize? What does reconciliation mean? How do we make things right when we’ve made a mistake? These open-ended questions led us to one core driving question: Why should our government be apologizing to Indigenous people?

Using techniques we learned during our professional development at the PBLWorks Institute this summer, we helped the students develop a series of questions that grew organically out of our driving question. We then used their questions to inform our planning for the remainder of the unit.

Throughout the unit, we explored this topic from a number of different angles. We talked about the legacy of residential schools and learned about the purpose behind the Orange Shirt Day initiative. We invited a guest speaker – Talitha Tolles from the TASSC (Toronto Aboriginal Support Services Council) – to come and speak about her culture and language. She shared stories about her own family’s experience with residential schools, and she worked with the students to build an Indigenous history timeline.

After that, the students took part in a group project where each group studied an Indigenous nation from a historical perspective. We also learned about treaties, what traditional land KCS is on, the Toronto Purchase/Treaty 13 (the treaty that governs the western half of Toronto), and the land acknowledgments that are currently taking place at other local schools.

Obviously, this was a significant amount of new information for our students to process. We gave them time to think about all they had learned, and we began to use this information to answer our driving question: Why should our government be apologizing to Indigenous peoples? Once we had some answers to this question, we asked the students, “What do you want to do?” After much discussion, the Grade 3s decided that they wanted to make a difference by starting a land acknowledgement at KCS.

Both classes sent letters to Mr. Logan and Dr. Mosun asking permission to create a land acknowledgement for KCS. These letters were received with enthusiasm, and they encouraged the students to work with our current artist-in-residence – Lindy Kinoshameg from Wiikwemkoong Unceded First Nation – to develop and write an acknowledgement. This process has begun and will continue to evolve over the next month or so. Our hope is that the students will be ready to present our KCS land acknowledgement during an assembly in January.

For us, the most powerful piece of this journey can be summed up with two of our Habits of Mind, Body and Action – “Lead to Make a Difference” and “Make the World Better”. When we began the year, some of the students felt like this was a problem that couldn’t be solved. As one student said in September, “We can’t do anything, we’re just a bunch of kids.” But now, that same student is saying, “We’re doing one thing, and it’s making a difference!”

We are so proud of this group of students and the ways in which they have opened their minds to new perspectives and taken on the challenge of making the world better. We look forward to sharing their land acknowledgement with the entire school community in the new year!

Meghan Hurley & Kerrie Robins

Learning Partners Come in All Sizes

At KCS, we’re deeply committed to looking outside our school walls in order to connect with a range of learning partners in our city and beyond. But sometimes you don’t have to look that far to find experts who are ready and willing to share their knowledge and experiences.

At the end of the last school year, Madame Fanjoy heard about a young boy named Ethan in grade 1 who wanted to start a rock club at KCS. She supported the idea wholeheartedly, but it just couldn’t get rolling in the short time left before summer. The first week back in grade 2 she asked about his plan to start a rock club, and discovered that he was still very determined to share his love of rocks with his community.

Madame Fanjoy said that the grade 4’s were about to start studying rocks and minerals, and asked if he would visit the class as an expert. He immediately embraced the idea and started explaining what he would do to prepare. It was amazing to see his passion and commitment, and hear him speak about his “process” and “Plan Bs”! He quickly reached out to me (the grade 4 science teacher) to lock down a visit. He also let me know that his Uncle Ben was a geologist who travelled all over the country exploring potential mine sites, and that he might want to come and visit as well. This was going to be an exciting opportunity for both Ethan and the grade 4s!

A few weeks later, both Ethan and Ben ended up sharing their collective wisdom and knowledge with both the grade 4 classes. Ethan shared his rock collection and talked about how he learned so much about rocks, while his uncle talked about mining engineering, mine safety, and ways in which we can minimize the environmental impact of mining.

What was striking to me was the way in which the grade 4 students treated both their guests. They treated the “grown-up” guest with great respect and manners, and peppered him with a number of insightful questions and interesting facts. How did Ethan fare with this group of students? They listened attentively, spoke to him as an equal, and treated the entire experience with great gravitas and sincerity.

We take it for granted that we learn from those older and more experienced than us. And yes, in this case, we learned a lot about mining and engineering from a professional geologist with an impressive resume filled with university degrees and real-world experiences. But we also learned another valuable lesson from a grade 2 who just happened to love rocks. Namely, some of the best teachers and learning partners come from the most unexpected places, and that everyone who walks into a KCS classroom deserves our respect, attention, and willingness to learn from them.

KCS Engages in CAIS Green Schools National Student Discussion

KCS students are taking climate action seriously. On November 5, six students from Grades 7 & 8 connected with 20 other CAIS Green School students from across the country in the first national online discussion forum. The students thoroughly enjoyed connecting and sharing their sustainability work, while learning a lot and having fun collaborating with other environmentally responsible fellow students from other schools, nation-wide.

“I got lots of notes and it was fun to learn. I’m glad I participated in it. The best idea I heard was that one of the schools has a green roof,” KCS Grade 7 student, Robert expressed enthusiastically.

Fellow Grade 7 student Sophia really enjoyed taking part in the forum as well, “I thought it was very fun. I liked the idea that we got to say what was happening in the school. It was very informative. There were a lot of schools in the meeting and they did lots of different things, which was cool to learn about.”

One of the ideas the KCS students liked and wish to initiate is a KCS “Sweater Day”, in collaboration with National Sweater Day held in February – where the entire KCS community would participate by sporting a sweater and turning down the heat, wear another layer and save some energy for a day, and perhaps even a week!

Other green initiatives discussed that generated excitement were:

  • Set up proper recycling and compost bins in each classroom
  • Conduct food waste competition, grade vs grade or house vs house
  • Grow plants in the science lab in the winter
  • Install solar panels
  • Run Trash-less Tuesdays
  • Remove plastic utensils
  • Help clean up Humbertown Park
  • And more…

Grade 7 and 8 students from across the country were invited to participate in these national conversations about sustainability with independent schools. This was the first for independent schools, and it’s a great way to share what other schools are doing. The CAIS Green Schools project is interested to hear and share what student are doing at their schools to advance sustainability goals.

Our thanks to the following students for their sharing their time and wisdom to help make our school a greener place!

Grade 8: Maya, Maia & Jack

Grade 7: Sienna, Sophia & Robert

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Putting the “Home” in Homework

Homework is often seen as a thankless job, but when it’s approached in the right way, homework can be an amazing opportunity to build relationships, make connections, develop healthy routines, and cultivate a positive sense of ownership over one’s own learning. Because it’s not about getting homework done. It’s about how you get it done.

Teamwork & Support

While we want our students to be independent, that doesn’t mean homework should be a solitary endeavour. Start by sitting down with your child and have them pull out their agenda or log on to Edmodo. Ask them to walk you through their upcoming assignments and projects, and then have them explain their homework timeline for the next few days or week. This ensures that your child is learning to plan and manage their own responsibilities, but in a way that allows you to provide them with advice and feedback before the work piles up and becomes unmanageable.

Making Connections

One of the benefits of homework is that it can help you learn a bit more about what your child is working on in school. Once you know what they are discussing and exploring in class, you can help them make connections between their learning at school and the wider world. If you are aware of what your child is working on at home, you can use that as a jumping-off point to initiate and extend conversations that will help them take their learning to the next level. Parents who do this often tell me that a quick homework chat can end up sparking deep and wide-ranging family conversations over dinner.

Healthy Routines

Homework will be a part of your child’s life for many years, so now is the time to develop a consistent set of homework routines and habits. Start by having them block off time that is just for homework – the earlier in the evening, the better! Adjust the schedule to accommodate personal and family commitments such as sports teams or activities. Have them set up a space where they will always do their homework. They may want to retreat to their bedroom, but you should encourage them to work in an area that has fewer distractions and better access to help. While the dining room table may be a slightly noisier workspace, it is a location that ensures you can keep an eye on them and redirect their attention as necessary. Sticking to a consistent time and space will help make homework a more calm and focused experience.

Staying Positive

Helping your child develop a positive attitude towards their homework is probably the single most important piece of this puzzle. If you stay positive in the way you talk about homework, you can help your child understand that there is value in the experience. If you talk about homework as a way to develop and improve upon their skills, then you help your child create and foster a growth mindset. If you talk about homework as a way to become more independent, then they learn to have confidence in their abilities. And if you talk about the ways in which you can use homework as a way to learn from each other, then they learn to both share their knowledge and seek out help when needed.

The School’s Role

Of course, teachers have a big role to play in making homework a positive and healthy experience. Faculty at KCS follow a set of homework guidelines to ensure that homework expectations are clearly communicated, flexible, relevant, and motivating. Of course, they also strive to ensure that the amount of homework given is appropriate and reasonable. For more information on KCS’s homework policies and guidelines, please consult the Parent Handbook and the Homework at KCS document.

At the end of the day, homework is something that kids need to learn to manage. And if they learn to manage it in a positive and proactive way, it will end up being a rich and rewarding experience. Homework is like most things in life – the more you put into it, the more you get back.

Connecting KCS with the World

How do you connect elementary students with the world?

You rethink elementary school.

At least that’s how we’re doing it at KCS, and it has led to relationships with experts from an unlimited array of fields, many of whom with a global reach, including journalists, artists, social entrepreneurs, edtech developers, and many more. Rethinking school includes stepping outside our walls (literally and figuratively), welcoming external experts in, and seizing opportunities when they appear to enrich student learning. Here’s a current example.

KCS has recently partnered with engineering.com, a GTA-based business that shares a newsfeed for “the global community of engineering minds who make a difference” (modelling the KCS Habits!). How big is this community? The site enjoys 2.6 million unique visitors each month, and its social media following includes 1.4 million on Facebook and 44,000 on Twitter. Eight thousand have gone one step further to embrace their newest initiative, ProjectBoard, where they can share the problems they’re solving and get feedback in return.

How did we meet?

Part of my role as Head of Senior School is to notably increase our KCS community of learning partners – individuals and organisations who bring learning to our students, in ways beyond what field trips and guest speakers usually provide. A significant learning partner we established over a year ago is the Centre for Social Innovation, a multi-thousand strong community of entrepreneurs, agencies, and charities sharing coworking and co-learning space in Toronto, New York, and London, Ontario. Engineering.com, like KCS, is a member.

The problem-solvers engaging with ProjectBoard form a community where we believe students belong. KCS is now the first school to join this global network of engineers who are using the online platform. This beautiful tool allows our StEP and Makerspace students to share their creative work, engage in dialogue in our KCS “Makerchat”, and receive comments on their creative process. As a desirable feature, ProjectBoard also allows us to share our student initiatives with the global engineering.com community and through our social media.

KCS is an amazing place to be. The world outside KCS is also amazing. Rethinking school is bringing the two together. What follows, we’re finding, is the unlimited learning students deserve.

Knowing Our Place

“Wisdom sits in places.” – Apache proverb

Six years ago, KCS grew younger. In a fervent commitment to best teach our youngest learners, the teachers of our 3, 4 and 5-year-olds have created learning environments they consider the “third teacher”. Beautiful, nature-rich spaces both inside and out that inspire, provoke, engage, and support important learning.

At the same time, the rest of the school embraced similar principles of intentional classroom design. It started with comfy nooks, soft lighting, floor cushions, and wobbly stools. Then we began upgrading student chairs so they could support all kinds of positions and movement, and added desks tall enough for standing.

This summer, a transformation of our outdoor greenspace has yielded a striking play structure that all of our students from grades 1 to 8 can enjoy. It’s as delightful to the eye as it is inviting to the child in all of us. Complicated to navigate, students are using their minds and bodies at recess as they never have before.

And as we increasingly welcome and embrace external experts to help enrich student learning, the wisdom connected to our KCS space expands. It’s in fact, limitless.

We are committed to making KCS a limitless place. Wisdom is nurtured in the physical environment the KCS staff have created to convey respect, consideration, and confidence in our students. It is being developed when imagination and curiosity are inspired through invitations to question, lead, and pursue learning for the love of it. And it is found in a community that includes people from KCS and beyond, sharing experiences from their respective places with our students.

Knowing what matters includes knowing one’s place. Teaching what matters includes a place that is both right here and limitless. Designed with intention and limitless in reach, learning, and even wisdom, sit here.

Unleashing Potential

“The best plans are those that liberate other people’s plans” – Jane Jacobs (1916-2006)

Jane Jacobs understood potential. An urbanist icon, she saw how cities, and in particular how they were designed, could have profound impact on the lives within them, for better or worse. Even the humble neighborhood had power and potential beyond what most in her time realized.

I spent much of my summer learning from and about Torontonians who are making (or helped make) this city remarkable. My classroom was Toronto, and my textbook was the diverse voices, sights, and activity of Torontonians making a difference. I watched what happens when plans liberate other people’s plans.

There are many reasons to appreciate Jacobs. What I most appreciate is her ability to see potential in people where others didn’t. And this is why she belongs in a school blog.

To what extent do we see the potential in children and youth? To what extent is education set up to unleash it? How might childhood, youth, and even the world, be better if we could confidently say, “Yes, we see it, and by design it will be unleashed!”.

Greta Thunburg, 16, just finished crossing the ocean on her international mission to get adults to adequately act on climate change. Many other youth this past year (and years past!) demonstrated impressive abilities to make a difference through activism, service, innovation, entrepreneurship, leadership, and more. While their schools have no doubt contributed to their abilities, their unleashed potential often had little to do with systematic efforts at school.

At KCS, we’re committed to unleashing student potential by design, and we’re committed to nurturing the intrinsic motivation needed to fuel it. The foundation set in our junior school will align with unprecedented opportunity in our senior school. We see their potential already, and look forward to seeing it blossom and fuel exceptional learning in grades 9 to 12.

If this post leaves you unconvinced, let this TED Talk by 12-year-old Adora Svitak do the job. She’s one of those remarkable children, and she speaks on behalf of the many others who want to be listened to, believed in, and challenged more.

We’re listening and looking forward to watching plans unfold.

P.S. Adora shares the difficulty she faced to get her books published as a child, because she was a child. KCS has been publishing student books through our YAKCS program since 2013. We have since published 11 books that sit in our library plus the Library and Archives Canada, in addition to those in various homes.

Building a strong foundation in grade 1

Grade 1 is an essential year for academics. It’s the year when students develop a set of core skills that lay the foundation for future success in the elementary grades.

Throughout their time in Grade 1, students are given direct instruction in reading, writing, and mathematics, to ensure that they have a strong understanding of fundamental academic concepts. These lessons are supported by a number of daily routines that give the students opportunities to regularly practice their skills and solidify new concepts.

Reading is a huge priority in Grade 1. Every student participates in their own ability-leveled reading group for 50 minutes a day. For some students, this means a strong focus on phonics and decoding words, to help build their ability to read longer texts independently. For those needing more enriched work, this means more challenging books with a focus on comprehension, basic research skills, and responding to texts with detailed writing tasks.

The Grade 1 students also participate in weekly “writer’s workshops”, where they are taught the conventions of writing, ranging from spelling to grammar to punctuation. To build on those lessons, the students take part in daily journal writing. After they have written their journal, they work with a teacher to edit and correct their writing. This editing process not only reinforces key lessons, it also consistently raises the bar for each individual student’s writing.

When it comes to mathematics, our Grade 1 teachers blend hands-on exploration work with direct instruction in addition, subtraction, word problems, and place value. These lessons are supported by follow-up assignments that are designed to help students practice their basic facts and develop their problem-solving skills.

Any engineer will tell you that the strength of a structure depends on the strength of the foundation. In Grade 1 at KCS, we build the strongest foundation possible!

KCS Faculty are Lifelong Learners Too!

At KCS, we focus on developing lifelong learners. It makes sense that each year our faculty embrace new and challenging learning opportunities so that they can continue to support each student in this goal. With the goal of each student becoming lifelong learners, each faculty member is also actively involved in learning that is relevant not only to their teaching practice, but also their ongoing commitment to learning. Many teachers choose to take courses, read, share, and attend conferences to support their professional learning and their students’ needs. KCS’s commitment to lifelong learning is not only evident at the student level, but at the teacher level as well.

One particularly relevant professional learning experience is offered each year through CIS Ontario. Now in its seventh season, Cohort 21 brings CIS Ontario educators together for a year-long professional learning opportunity. Working collaboratively with some of the most passionate educators in the province, participants share innovative ideas, connect with experts in the field, plan for change in their schools, and engage in Design Thinking workshops to help develop a focus of a personal project called an Action Plan.

As a veteran of Season 4 in 2014-2015, I can honestly say that my learning experiences through Cohort 21 played a role in my decision to continue to research learning for six more years. Having a good understanding of student learning, I wanted to better understand teacher learning, and of course as a lifelong learner I am still figuring it out. Since then, KCS has supported three more faculty members throughout their own Cohort 21 experience. Last year, Season 6 involved our grade 2 team. Lisa Woon ventured out to discover new technology and Keri Davis went on a ride through project based learning. This year, Bob Hayes is exploring how to solve the world’s greatest problem and I’m back as a coach, still learning about learning.

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Lifelong learners tend to be those who are well supported in their learning efforts and this is something that KCS models across the entire school community. We’ll never stop learning because we are supported in both our efforts and our passions. We know from experience that this is what drives us to learn along with our students and our students know from experience that no matter what we are along for the ride.