A New Definition of Cool

GraphOne reward for getting older is no longer caring about looking cool. Surrounded by tweens and teens at home and school, I’m often reminded of the lengths I went at their age to not look uncool. (Do sneakers in the snow sound familiar to anyone else?)

Gratefully, I wear warm winter boots now. I also get to witness and share the unbridled excitement that comes from, yes, data. Jumping out of our skin for numbers and charts won’t register on the typical ‘cool’ list of things to do, but it’s an unforgettable sight I’ve been grateful to witness a number of times now.

Two years ago, a significant area of focus for the school was reading. Since then, we’ve invested in a series of Direct Instruction programs, including Reading Mastery and other companion resources, that ensure all students pick up the skills needed to be thoroughly successful readers, from phonemic awareness to making inferences. All reading teachers from JK to grade 6 have received extensive training to deliver the program. Leveraging the small-group instruction time in our Super Skills and Workshop classes, we now deliver an intense, research-based, aligned effort to teach this most critical skill. Assessment happens frequently to monitor student progress. We also use a comprehensive standardized assessment to capture baseline data at the start of the year, mid-year and at the end with our youngest students, just to double-check.

That’s the data that’s got us beaming like giddy teens. Seeing the extent to which our students are growing in their reading skills is gratifying beyond words.

Teachers join the profession to make a difference. That difference is rarely quick and rarely rooted in one effort, no matter how significant that effort is. The complexity of meeting the needs of all students, to the greatest extent possible, is typically just too great.

Getting our kicks out of data may be considered uncool. So be it. But making a difference is what these teachers are about. Our excitement at doing so is irrepressible. And we’re not afraid to show it.

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

Big Steps with our Little Ones

LearningIt’s been almost six months since KCS’s first-ever PK, JK and SK classes began. You may recall that when you’re that young, six months is a very long time. Between everything our youngest students have learned and all that their teachers have accomplished, it’s time to step back, take note and celebrate.

All good teaching starts with learning. Discussions on how to align the Early Learning Program (PK-SK classes) with grades 1 to 8 began in January 2013. These discussions were promptly fuelled by external professional development throughout the spring and summer at a kindergarten conference, a reading institute and at workshops on play-based learning.

Since September, professional development hasn’t let up. More external workshops, online courses, internal guidance on emergent curriculum and technology, iPad workshops, plus visits to observe and learn from kindergarten teachers at another independent school have also taken place. Without question, the newest members of our KCS faculty are exemplary models of our KCS Habit Embrace Learning. Commitment to ongoing learning and improvement is an inherent part of KCS from PK to grade 8.

Reading Mastery is a Direct Instruction program that is now established at KCS from JK to grade 6. First introduced at KCS two years ago, the small-group, research-based instruction is proving exceptionally effective in ensuring all students master the fundamentals of reading, from phonics to making inferences. Our kindergarten students get further opportunity in reading through take-home readers, regular get-togethers with KCS Reading Buddies, the excitement of guest Mystery Readers, teacher read-alouds and multiple other opportunities to learn the power of print.

Project-based learning (PBL) is another school-wide area of focus embraced by our kindergarten classes. PBL is a method of teaching that optimizes both learning about the world and also development of the KCS Habits of Mind, Body and Action. Through a tantalizing question or challenge, curiosity is piqued, and students are ready to engage in a wide variety of learning related to the topic at hand. The Emergent Curriculum practised in our PK classes and play-based learning also practiced in kindergarten are the age-appropriate ‘cousins’ to PBL. This excellent foundation aligns with the learning that awaits in grades 1 to 8 and indeed, the rest of their lives.

Incoming young students can also look forward to much more. iPads are being leveraged to help support skill development in our kindergarten program. The program ‘Handwriting Without Tears’ is being used to teach fine-motor skills, printing and eventually cursive writing from PK to grade 3. Math is being taught according to best practice with small-group instruction, a wide variety of hands-on learning experiences and engaging games. Music and French are taught by passionate specialist teachers who have aligned their efforts with the program in grades 1 to 8. Social and physical development have dedicated time with daily outdoor play and physical education classes in our full day program. Community service included a PK-SK partnership with the George Hull Centre collecting gifts for families in need. And exciting field trips to the Humber Arboretum, Aquarium, Toronto Symphony and more allow our students to learn from the many opportunities within the GTA.

While our half-day and full-day programs both offer all of the above, our full-day program provides the time needed to make the most of a rich learning program. Deep learning comes when students take their time, engage in activities until their natural conclusion and pursue ideas until the mind, not the schedule, tells them to stop. Long uninterrupted periods of learning not only support skill development but are also when habits of persistence, curiosity and creative thinking take root.

At the six-month mark, we’re very grateful for the twelve new faculty who collectively bring more than 170 years of teaching, from not only the former St. Georges Nursery School but also other highly regarded schools. Their learning and dedication to our youngest children has made for a very special first half year. With ongoing learning and unwavering dedication going forward, our Early Learning Program can look forward to many more happy half-years to come.

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