“Can We Start Reading Now?”

It’s a Friday afternoon in the KCS Library, shortly after the Silver Birch program has begun.  There are swarms of children racing to the library after school to sign out books…..Silver Birch books!  Some of these students already have a book checked out for the weekend, but are worried that they may finish it early and not have anything else to read the rest of the weekend.  “Could I borrow a second book, just in case?”  How can I say no to such enthusiasm for reading?

The OLA’s Forest of Reading® Programs have been a tradition at KCS for over ten years.  Passports and reflection sheets, sharing thoughts and opinions through blogging, author visits, house competitions, and impromptu discussions in the hallway and classrooms are all part of the Blue Spruce, Silver Birch and Red Maple programs.  And like all traditions, enthusiasm for the program is passed from sibling to sibling.  I am often asked, the first week of school, when will it start this year?

I just love the BookBuzz around the whole school! Some things I’ve overheard:

  • “Did you like Space Raiders?”
  • “I liked The Swallow: A Ghost Story better than I thought I would!”
  • “Are there any more books by David Skuy?”
  • “My goal was 10 books last year, but this year I’m going to try to finish all 20!”
  • Clover’s Luck is here!  I can’t wait to read it!”
  •  “I’ve read all the books!  What else can I read?”

Not surprisingly, this tradition is my favourite time of the year.  There is an increased enthusiasm for reading, and even the most reluctant of readers can be found sitting on a beanbag chair in the library with a book in their hands.  At KCS, we are continuing to grow our culture of students who read for the love of it.  And there are many additional benefits. As People for Education published in a report, “Students with a more positive attitude towards reading tend to be more successful in all subjects”. (Reading for Joy, 2011.)

The Forest of Reading Program – It’s the Super Bowl of Reading!

Judy Dunn-Hoggarth
Teacher Librarian

Wonderful Wondering

WonderingAre you wondering enough?

It’s widely regarded that we all start out as wonderers, asking endless questions as soon as we have the words to do so. As we get older, and more concerned with appearing all-knowing, wondering winds down.

That’s a loss for us all. The world is made a better place thanks to wondering. The global challenges we face need exponentially more wondering, not less.

That’s why I’m so excited about how our grade 6 students are practicing their wondering skills. Their teachers have led them in creating ‘I Wonder Wikis’. The students will add to them throughout the year, documenting what they wonder about, and including the multimedia fruits of their efforts to pursue this question of interest. The wikis will be shared with their classmates and all will have the opportunity to comment and contribute (such is the wonder of wikis). Wondering turns into learning about an unlimited array of topics.

What do they wonder about? Here’s a sample of what they’ve started with:

  • How was bubble gum invented?
  • How do you help stray dogs?
  • What are the origins of Halloween?
  • How do robots work?
  • How does a computer work?
  • How was the baseball formed?
  • How does a stereo read a CD?
  • What would happen if I swam to the bottom of the ocean?
  • Why are pitbulls discriminated against in Canada?
  • How do birds fly?
  • How do clouds float?
  • Why is a cloud white?
  • What is the atmosphere in Mercury like?
  • Why do you need to cook raw meat?
  • How does wireless work?

Have no fear. Most of their day is still spent learning within the regular curriculum. However, question and be curious is a habit we’re working to establish at KCS. It’s a habit that leads to lifelong learning. And it’s a habit that may lead to questions that will transform the world for the better.

Wonderful.

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

Summer Learning

SummerCubbies are cleaned. Lockers lay bare. Papers have been sifted through with favourites kept and the rest thrown out.

Summer holidays have arrived, and the weight of the academic world has been lifted for another year.

I’ve been guilty of thinking that children have it relatively easy. I can remember once pointing out to a group of teens how hard their teachers are working, leading extra-curriculars, teaching all day, marking and planning every evening. I deserved their immediate challenge. They reminded me that, in fact, students also have a lot of demands on them. They’re involved in those school extra-curriculars and more, they’re in those classes throughout the day, and they’re doing homework every evening. They have endless expectations on them for managing themselves and their work. Many regularly face misunderstanding, mistakes and reprimand in both academics and social relations. They navigate this world with the vulnerable self-esteem, self-confidence and skill set inherent in being young. Even in the best schools, the days are not easy.

Many parents and teachers bemoan the long gap between June and September. It’s true that some academic learning can take a hit. Having said that, other learning should be savoured in the summer. Because the school year doesn’t always make enough time for it, here is some of the summer learning I hope all children work hard at this holiday:

  1. Learning through play
  2. Learning through mistakes
  3. Learning within one’s strengths and passions
  4. Learning and relaxation in a healthy balance
  5. Learning what and how you want, just for the love of it

Lots of important things are learned at school. And lots of important things are learned outside of school. Like students, teachers also learn a lot over the summer. Maybe, as a result of all their learning, more of this summer learning will work its way into the school year.

Have a wonderful, learning-filled summer.

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

This article will be published in the July 2013 edition of SNAP Etobicoke.

A Notion Worth Knocking

Working the brainI remember the indignation. I was a grade 8 student studying for a science test. I announced with all the wisdom and conviction of a 13-year-old that it was ridiculous studying all this science. “It’s not like I’m going to be a scientist!”

No doubt I would have joined the chorus today that also argues against learning and memorizing facts. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t read or hear the argument that students don’t need to know things like they used to. Anything one needs to know can be found on the internet.

A number of reasons why this notion is incorrect quickly come to mind: students need information as fodder for critical and creative thinking; people don’t always have the internet when they need it; you can’t simultaneously Google everything you need to know to think about a complex issue; much information we learn contributes to our sense of community and identity.

Reading Kathie Nunley’s book A Student’s Brain: The Parent/Teacher Manual, I can now add another definitive reason for why this notion needs knocking. Pure and simple, having to learn anything, anything, makes your brain stronger. The more the brain takes in, the more neural pathways become established. The more those pathways are repeatedly used, the more permanent those pathways become. The more numerous, varied and permanent those pathways are, the more ways in which the brain is ready to learn everything else it’s subsequently exposed to. Much like a muscle that grows whether you’re lifting barbells or babies, the brain is a use-it-or-lose-it organ. If you want to be good at anything in life, learn everything you can.

Along the way, you might even learn what I learned when applying to university. My undergraduate, as it turned out, was in science.

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

This article was first published in SNAP Etobicoke, June 2013.

Tough Stuff

“At first we argued consistently about what had to be done. Now we don’t argue and we compromise.”
–        A student in the Lego Robotics elective

TeamworkBeing Active is how some people relax. Acting with empathy is second nature for others. We universally enjoy those adept at finding humour. And we all know people for whom share what you know is a lopsided strength…

The KCS Habits are everywhere. Even a cursory read of the daily paper is an immersion in the Habits, whether by their presence or oh-so-unfortunate absence in world events. The challenge we’ve undertaken at KCS is for every person to have all of the Habits. Every one. At once. While it may be asking too much to say that all of our young graduates will have every Habit firmly and forever established, we do believe they’re old enough to be aware of the Habits that matter in life, and to reflect on where they’re strong and where growth is needed.

A recent assignment asked our electives students to reflect on their growth in some key Habits. Our songwriting, Renaissance Art and theatre students are clearly growing in their ability to create. Our Lego robotics students are doing an impressive job persisting in building and programming their robots. And the baseball students will all be sharing what they know when they instruct and coach the grade three students in the upcoming Baseball Classic.

What Habit do the students find toughest? According to the reflections, the one most students seem to struggle with is seeking collaboration.

What’s one of the most important attributes for success in one’s career? The ability to collaborate.

Good thing our students are working on it, and realizing the need to do so.

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

Kind Gesture Leads to Unexpected Encounter

Vimy PinLast Monday I was sitting in my office when one of our grade 8 students knocked on my door and asked to speak to me. He had been on our European Battlefield trip with his Dad in March and they had written a thank you letter to me (as well as the five other faculty and staff who were on the trip). In addition he gave me a Vimy Pin. April 9th was the 96th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and he asked me to wear the pin the next day to commemorate the battle and honour those Canadians who had fought in 1917.

The next morning, I put the pin on and went outside during drop off. A parent rode up with her son on her bike. She noticed the Vimy Pin and said that she saw an article in that day’s National Post about Vimy. This led me to stop into our Business Manager’s Office later in the morning as I knew she had the Post delivered to her house. I asked her if she would save the article for me as I was interested in reading it. While standing in the doorway of her office, the Church receptionist overheard us talking. She asks me if she heard correctly that I was speaking about Vimy. I said yes, and then she asked me whether I knew the name of the designer of the Memorial.  Of course, I couldn’t remember on the spot!  That’s when she told me she was related to Walter Seymour Allward, the designer. She told me some stories, including that she has visited the Memorial twice, the last time in 2007 after it was refurbished; that she’s been in the catacombs beneath the Memorial; that Walter has other pieces of work at Queen’s Park, in Brantford, etc., and that he’s buried locally in Toronto. Her and her sister have researched Walter over the years. Of course this led me to a further conversation with one of our history teachers and one of the main organizers of our biannual battlefield trip. She said she would arrange for some of our students to interview the Church receptionist for their end-of-the-year history project.

The above story started with a thank you. A very kind gesture indeed, but one that had the added bonus of leading to an unexpected encounter at KCS. You just never know where good deeds will lead and where this story may go next.

Derek Logan
Head of School

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.

Learning What We Don’t Want to Learn

Habits of Mind, Body and ActionThe first Habit on our poster is ‘Embrace Learning’. Don’t let the soothing tone of the word ‘embrace’ deceive you. We could have just as easily described it as ‘Learn whether you like it or not’.

Learning can be like that. Thankfully, most of the time, and certainly at KCS, learning does feel like a warm embrace. It’s delivered by teachers who evidently care about their students and about making learning as positive as possible. And so it should be.

I’ve been reminded recently, however, about the underbelly of ‘embrace learning’, a side that was always intentionally part of that Habit, but that may have gone unnoticed, hidden in the shadows of the ever-more pleasant type of learning that is more the norm here. I’m talking about those important lessons in life that we resist, the lessons we’d prefer not to learn, but learn we should. They may challenge our character, or reveal a sandy foundation upon which we had built mighty assumptions. These lessons may arise when exams yield lower marks than expected; sometimes they arise when we’ve done something we’re later ashamed of; sometimes they will trip up students who otherwise find learning very easy, but then are faced with a topic that is annoyingly difficult to understand. Though these examples focus on the young, we’re never too old for these lessons. And while these examples focus on others, I don’t pretend to be immune.

Humans are generally a comfort-seeking lot. Daniel Willingham, cognitive scientist and author of Why Students Don’t Like School, argues that the brain strives to be as efficient as possible, lazy even, preferring to do as it wishes and not as it is forced to do. Add a dash of limited understanding, bias, immaturity, emotion, or over-confidence, and you have someone ready for one of these most humbling lessons. If they embrace it.

Most learning should feel like a warm embrace. But growing up and being our best self will include these more challenging lessons too. While decidedly uncomfortable, the reward for their steep price is broader understanding, growing maturity, more rational thought and healthy humility. Resilience, thinking flexibly and the ability to persist, three other noteworthy habits, also grow as a result.

That’s learning worth embracing.

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

Testing What Matters in Life

How did you do on your last test?

If you’re not a student you probably can’t remember. Tests are for students, right?

Formal education has a long history of testing. Spelling, math, science, history – no other institution tests more than schools. Obviously.

KCS CaresWhat’s not as top of mind, however, are the tests that we face minute-by-minute, wherever we are, whomever we’re with and whatever we’re doing. These are the tests of character that appear in our interactions with others, choices of how to spend our time, how we work, how we play, and how we respond to the challenges thrown our way. And if you’re following what most experts are saying, it is character, and specifically traits such as initiative, curiosity, grit, creativity, and adaptability, that will best determine our success in life.

Educators and parents alike spend a lot of time thinking about tests, whether designing, marking or preparing children to do their best with them. Tests help us monitor growth in students and effectiveness of teaching. They have value. But most of these tests don’t measure what matters most. They aren’t designed to.

So, what would a test of character look like? Simple. Watch what others do, of their own volition, and particularly when out of the gaze and direction of authority figures. Minute-by-minute.

And if you want to help prepare students to do well on these tests? Provide a school experience that not only teaches character but also includes the encouragement, time and support needed so students can practice the skills and traits that matter, and do so for their own purposes. Students of character need freedom to initiate, create, persist at solving real problems, make a difference and more, not for marks and not because they’re told to. They need a school that believes in the infinite potential of children, if we let it take shape, and a school which recognises that this means doing a number of things differently.

Educators, watch what your students do with free time. That’s testing what matters. And give them a school experience that lets them develop the traits and skills that matter most. That’s preparing them to ace the test. You won’t be disappointed.

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

This article was first published in SNAP Etobicoke, December 2012.

The Week of Thinking Flexibly

It became abundantly apparent to me how little we talk of it.

I was covering a grade 3 library class, and I started by saying the lesson was about my favourite habit. Hands shot up and student after student took a stab at claiming what it was sure to be. With nary a second in between, ‘show self-control’, ‘create’, ‘act with empathy’, ‘persist’, ‘think creatively’, ‘do what is right’ were offered up with conviction. Goodness, these kids know what matters in life. And to be honest, I certainly am fond of every habit they offered. They aren’t my favourites, though.

The lesson was about thinking flexibly. It’s a habit that reminds me of my most special stories. It takes me way back to the year I lived in and backpacked throughout Europe. It takes me back to the years I lived in Japan. It reminds me of the many years I spent learning French and then Japanese. It reminds me of the most special books and inspiring courses in my life. It also reminds me of why I love what I do. Not a day goes by that I’m not challenged to think flexibly, considering an opportunity or addressing a concern that just the day before may not have even entered my consciousness.

Last week, in particular, was a week of thinking flexibly. It included a wonderful collection of emails and conversations with a parent who equally enjoys thinking flexibly on the topic of education. It included the lesson in thinking flexibly for the grade threes. It included a deeply moving Remembrance Day ceremony that, once again, took me briefly away from the charmed life we enjoy and into the tragedy and sacrifice faced by soldiers both living and gone.

Then, just before the end of this short week, the grade 8 teachers, Mr. Logan and I received an email from a student who believes a change in part of our homework practice is in order.

And so, I look forward to my meeting with her, and indulging once again in my favorite habit.

What’s your favourite habit? Please also tell us why it’s special to you, either by adding a comment, sending an email or tweeting me @afanjoy. Stories have a way of sticking. And the habits are worth sticking to.

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