Layers for Learning

I often think of the show Wipeout, and its unconquerable obstacle course, as a metaphor for what we do. The more appropriate way to describe how KCS works, I suppose, is to talk of layers. Whichever works for you, it speaks to the big back story of what happens at KCS and it’s what needs to happen in any school striving to reach all students.

Every school has objectives, many dozens in fact. We have academic objectives in every subject and grade. At KCS, we have equally significant arts, athletics and citizenship objectives, though that doesn’t necessarily set us far apart from numerous other schools. Our Habits of Mind, Body and Action are a further set of objectives, but having them is not what matters. What matters are the layers of effort designed to achieve them – the number, the variation among each, and the ongoing commitment to keep adding layers to make sure no student leaves before our objectives are achieved.

I’m regularly reminded of this. The other week, I popped by one of our grade 5 classes. They were in the midst of an impromptu speech-giving activity, where students volunteered to pick a topic from a bag and give a 45-second speech in front of their classmates. Having already done this previously, some students assumed a semi-Rex Murphy polish, naming their moments in the spotlight “Nonsense with Noah” or “Yapping with Yarema”. Tomorrow we will experience our monthly “Wake Up With the Arts” showcase, where students volunteer to perform in the lobby. Friday mornings are typically spectacular student-led assemblies that have students from SK to grade 8 speaking to the school, including everything from reading a brick to leading school-wide contests such as “Minute to Win It”. This month was the impressive Primary Project Fair. French plays in most grades are around the corner and we just recently enjoyed the annual Café Couguar, our French café for the KCS community hosted by grade 8 students. I could go on at great length. Let this suffice as a peek into a few of the many layers that go into just public-speaking, one of many key objectives that we work endlessly to achieve with every student.

Too often, discussion on the topic of education centres on one practice over another. It supposes, erroneously, that one approach could be enough. In reality, education that makes a difference with every student needs a multitude of approaches, layers if you will, so if one layer doesn’t work for one child then the next one might, and if not that one then the next. Anything less than that will likely reach some students but be insufficient to reach all.

Wipeout isn’t my go-to program for professional development, but I’ve joined my boys at the TV often enough to see how, by design, no contestant can make it from start to finish without being “caught” somewhere along the way. That’s where the metaphor works. School has to accomplish many things with each and every student, and must ensure it does so before those students move on.  It’s no easy task, and something the profession continues to struggle with. The answer won’t be found in one approach, or two or even three. It’s in the multiple various layers of intervention, and the ongoing commitment by teachers to never end in their quest to find the layers that work for each of their students.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Reaching Readers with Reading Mastery

It’s not sexy and we know it.

Reading Mastery in Grade 1Three years ago KCS introduced Reading Mastery to our primary and junior grades. Our pilot followed a year’s worth of exploring the programs of multiple publishers and looking for hard data to show that the chosen program would meet our needs. Our teachers have always been following professional dialogue and delivering a program designed to develop engaged, competent readers. Never ones to shy away from problems, they weren’t satisfied, and so began a quest that led to the pilot of Reading Mastery.

Reading Mastery is a teacher-led, prescriptive program that ensures mastery of all aspects of foundational reading, leaving no skill-gap behind. It includes choral reading, standard cues, ongoing assessment and constant reinforcement of acquired skills so they stick. To use it requires significant training, and, despite the detailed teachers’ manuals, non-stop decision-making on the part of the teacher. In a school with enticing project-based learning and the unpredictable spice of student voice and choice, Reading Mastery is the yin to our yang.

So be it. What’s exciting for students is that they all see it working. What’s exciting for our teachers is the data showing the difference it makes. Standardized assessments done three times a year show struggling readers progressing quickly through the skill levels. According to our data:

  • By introducing Reading Mastery to SK we’ve increased the percentage of students ready to start the Grade 1 Reading Mastery program in September of Grade 1 by 106%.
  • Teaching Reading Mastery daily in grades 1 and 2, students are reaching the grade 2 reading level 2.7 times quicker than it took in 2012.
  • We’ve shortened the time it takes for most of our youngest students to build foundational reading skills by 83%, from 18 months to three.

Small-group instruction in our Super Skills and Workshop classes ensure all of our students get instruction at the right level for them, and as soon as students demonstrate appropriate mastery, they move on to the infinite learning possibilities awaiting strong readers.

We won’t stop addressing problems and we won’t stop following professional dialogue, with a discerning eye. Most importantly, we won’t stop doing whatever it takes to help our students be the best they can be.

ReadingReading Mastery isn’t terribly sexy, but making a difference is. So is reading. And at least in the minds of our determined KCS teachers, so is data.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

What a Term

Andrea is quiet.Lately, I’ve been keeping quiet. Our assemblies over the past number of years have gotten longer and longer, full of student presentations, leadership projects and other special events that are now blissfully common at KCS. Since late last year, I’ve spoken less often at assemblies so the students can speak more.

At last Friday morning’s assembly, I desperately wanted to speak to the students about how proud I was of all their efforts over first term. Then I learned what was in store for the student-led assembly: grade 1 and 3 presentations, a Reason for the Season presentation, a Yoga presentation for an upcoming school-wide unit, Compliment Friday, other leadership project presentations and more. I stayed in the audience. The activity of our students and the greater KCS community was much more important than anything I intended to say.

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about our intended journey for the year. I’ve written previously about athletic successes, our unique Wake Up with the Arts, new math initiatives, and our ongoing efforts to expand project-based learning at KCS. All these things are well underway. The momentum in our Four Doors to Learning continues to grow and the students increasingly impress. For specifics from the term, our KCS Facebook page best tells the detailed tale.

I’ve found other ways to let the students know how much I appreciate their efforts to do their best, and enrich KCS in doing so. Next week at interviews, parents and teachers will have time devoted to doing the same. Even from struggles and mistakes, there has been significant growth and learning. For the many students who’ve thrown themselves into a project, club, team, or subject, they’ve learned that with exceptional effort comes exceptional results.

It’s been a great journey so far. And I couldn’t be happier than to let the students, and all that happens at KCS, do the talking. I’ll keep quietly watching and bursting with pride.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Students Speak Through Music

Tracking Change Tracking ChangeIn the elective, Tracking Change, students are in the midst of composing a music track that connects to a social justice movement for change. Students have composed music tracks that connect to issues of education, equality, anti-bullying, and animal rights. The complexity of these issues is further highlighted by the multiple layers and texture of the compositions themselves.

Seeing these tracks on the computer screen and seeing the students working collaboratively and creatively is inspiring. The issues, while different, are linked. Students somehow find ways to connect to one another throughout the process. Using Apple’s GarageBand, it’s amazing to see and hear how students have managed to create a track that speaks to us through music.

A visit to Humber College Studios introduced students to the exciting world of sound engineering. It was interesting to learn that our work with loops, controlling dynamics, balance, and instrument recording were similar to what was being done in a professional studio.

Since our visit to Humber, students have begun editing their final tracks. Instrument levels are being adjusted, voices are being recorded, loops are being softened. The tracks are growing and changing just like the issues they represent.

Now in our eighth week, some students have decided to take their tracks another step further. In order to really drive home their messages, some are incorporating the music tracks into an iMovie project.

It is incredible to observe this creative process and to see how passionate the students are when it comes to creating a track for change.

Who knows where the next couple of weeks will lead us? Stay tuned!

Matina Mosun
Music teacher

Habits Worth Having

What Are The Habits of Mind, Body and Action?Our students have lots of habits. Rather than trying to break them, we’re shamelessly celebrating them in our just-released school videos on how we develop lifelong learners at KCS.

If your habits need a little tweaking, you might be inspired by some of our students and the habits they’ve already embraced in their lives:

  • A student in grade 4 whose favourite habit is to take responsible risks, because it reminds her to try something new
  • A student in grade 7 whose favourite is to persist, because it’s what he knows he most needs to do
  • A student in grade 6 whose favourite is to share what you know, because if everyone did so we would all be smarter. Besides, collaborating is fun.

Check out our KCS Habits of Mind, Body and Action and think about which is your favorite? Why? Then share it with others, and do a little inspiring of your own.

Learning for the Love of It

Paddle Tennis KCS Elective 2013

Paddle Tennis Elective
photo credit: Mary Gaudet/Etobicoke Guardian

I can remember the day I found my passion. To the extent that we can help spark it, we want our students to find theirs.

Third term clubs and teams have started – twenty-nine opportunities in the areas of academics, arts, athletics and citizenship. Scheduled so students can do as much as their hearts desire, our keenest students pursue up to ten offerings each term in each of our Four Doors to Learning.

Many dozens of ‘Brainiacs’ (independent student-initiated projects) plus leadership and service projects are in full swing. Feel like creating a whole new language, or creating a comic that spoofs James Bond? That’s what a group of boys in grade 4 have shown they’re inclined to do. How about organizing a food drive, like a group of girls in grade 2? A boy in grade 5 is creating a video game that the class can use in its upcoming unit on the human body. And compelled by the desire to make a difference, a group of grade 7 students is organising KCS’ participation in a global Vow of Silence, an awareness-raising effort that allows children to ‘speak’ on behalf of those silenced by unacceptable circumstance. Giving time, encouragement and guidance so students can pursue what moves them has created a virtual deluge of learning

Third term also marks the start of our much-anticipated electives program for students in grades 6 to 8. Every Wednesday these students break out of the routine, learning just for the love of it. Joining an elective of their choosing, here is what these disparate delighted groups are up to:

  1. Receiving instruction in and cooking meals for a local youth shelter
  2. Creating a dramatic presentation from beginning to end
  3. Learning, playing and spreading the word about paddle tennis
  4. Geocaching (www.geocaching.com) and putting KCS on the international geocaching map
  5. Composing a school song
  6. Composing songs to promote social justice
  7. Receiving expert coaching in baseball, then providing that instruction to young KCS students
  8. Creating Renaissance art
  9. Building and programming robots to face challenges

And because we’re pretty tireless, a brand new opportunity for students in grades 4 to 8 with a special kind of passion is being revealed this Friday…

The day I found my passion was the day my life became defined by commitment to lifelong learning. This is our wish for our students. Let the sparks fly.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.