Learning


We realize that we are truly fortunate to live in a community whose primary goal is the same as ours: to create a learning environment that provides atypical experiences for every Colt. 

This is only possible through open and consistent dialogue between home and school.
As we continue to explore ways to partner with home as a support around reading, we wanted to share some easily understood and readily implemented ways you can increase your child’s level of understanding.

You have asked about how to find age appropriate and level appropriate books for your child to read. The following lists provides some ways to access them. Additionally the Public Library System in Forsyth is well aware of the leveling systems like Fountas & Pinnell (F&P) that we use as well as information about the Lexile Levels. So, they would be glad to assist as well. 

This certainly is not an exhaustive list, in fact, one of the best ways to select a book for your child to read is to have your child talk about what interests him/her and provide multiple ways for your child to have access to readings about the topic of interest. (i.e.- magazines, newspaper articles, fiction and non- fictional books, etc.) there are children’s version of some of the more popular magazines such as: Time For Kids, Sports Illustrated For Kids, Weekly Reader, National Geographic For Kids, etc.

You can help your child by reading out loud with them so that they hear:

  • How the reader stops at punctuation, uses voice inflections, 
  • Reads fluently, 
  • You can also have your child tell you three things they learned about what they just read 
  • Ask them to create three questions that can be answered after someone reads the passage, chapter,
    etc. 
  • Have them draw a picture of what they read. (This strategy can also provide insight as to what
    your child actually got from the reading. Lots of specifics shown in their drawing indicate a
    higher likelihood of student understanding, while the reverse might be true. 
  • Let your kids see you reading while they are reading, 
  • Point out careers that require some type of reading to be done that requires strong reading skills,
  • Have your child talk a lot as they are reading so they can hear and often clarify any misread words,
  • Ask your child if what they read makes sense,
  • Have they read or heard anything that matches what they read/learned?
    Notice that the suggestions listed do not include questions like “Who’s the main character? Where did the story take place? What’s the problem in the story?” These are basic questions that give an insight to your reader and knowing these pieces are important, but we must be intentional about asking questions of more
    depth and require the learner to provide answers of more than one word responses,
  • Why did the author write this book?
  • How would you have changed the ending?
  • If you were the character in the story how would you change the setting, and would have the
    problem be the same?
  • How would the solution have changed if you were the main character? If the setting had changed.? The goal is to begin getting readers to make connections and problem solve in a variety of ways.
     

As you can readily see, there are many ways to support your child in reading without requiring that you have read their selections or have a deep level of understanding on your part as to specific reading skills.

As I think about my childhood, I well remember many interactions with my parents that ended with the same response from them…”Not yet.” I usually heard that when I asked things like, “May I have a snack? May I have a pet? May I go to my friend’s house? May I have ice cream? May I have some money?”  Well, you get the point. (Disclaimer- I really did have a great childhood). 

These were all met with the same response from my parents, “Not yet.”  In my young mind I heard this to mean “Not Ever” because the gratification of getting the desired outcome was not immediate; therefore, I treated the delay of “not yet” as if it was a “not ever.” 

As I have become an adult and have had various experiences in my personal and professional life, I have come to appreciate the upside of “not yet.” In retrospect, it is often the best answer I could have gotten. Does it mean it’s what I want to hear? No!!

I have realized that getting the “Not Yet” is often in my best interest so that I can be positioned for the highest levels of success when the answer becomes a “yes, now.” The difficult part of hearing “not yet” is in feeling like I did as a child and misunderstood “not yet” to mean “not ever.” 

As an adult, “not yet” gives me time to continue to grow and develop my knowledge, skills and mindset so than when I hear a “yes, now,” I am able to succeed at a more effective level. 

So, even when it is not what you want to hear, look for the upside of “Not Yet” it doesn’t mean “not ever.”

This is a question that we are constantly trying to answer. It seems that we are currently in a time frame in education when things appear to be off-balance. Balance doesn’t mean that all things are equal all the time. It is defined as “a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.” How much technology integration should there be? How much writing should there be? Does this assessment reflect the learning that has occurred? Did I teach this standard? The list goes on and on with a common underlying element of balance. How do we determine these ‘correct proportions’?

Have we found it? My answer is, not entirely, but that doesn’t mean we will give up on trying to get there. How are you achieving balance?

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(Wonderful Staff at KME)

As a principal, I am accustomed to getting questions from parents, students, teachers, Central Office personnel, community members, and visitors to the building. I have to say that I really like questions. In fact, I ask questions. I’ll gladly admit that I have more questions than I have answers.

I agree that having questions asked of me causes me to clarify my thinking around educational issues. I love when kids ask questions as it opens unknown possibilities for them. Working with staff provides a great venue for asking questions about instructional strategies. It provides an opportunity to strengthen professional learning on the part of the teachers and me.

Recently, when asked questions by newly hired faculty members, I found that my response was, “I don’t know.” I comically realized that it was the answer I gave to most of their questions. At that moment, I know they were comforted and confident that they had every confidence in their principal. I was confident that our collaborative conversations would result in better answers than I could give any way.

There is one question that I have been asked that ‘strikes fear.’ It is, “So, what are you going to do in year two of Kelly Mill?” Yes, this is a simple and straightforward question, or so it would seem. As a principal of a newly opened school, Kelly Mill Elementary, that had an amazing first year, this is NOT a simple and straightforward question. It is fraught with exponentially high expectations and aspirations of grandeur which I can barely fathom. Yet, while this question keeps me awake at night, it also inspires me to be consciously competent of ways in which I can be a small part of attaining those high and lofty goals for KME.

As I think of it, I realize that the best I can do is to ‘Be Better Than Me.’ Be a better version of who I was as a person, principal and leader last year. Be an improved and more effective advocate for doing what is best for our KME Colts. Be the kind of supportive principal that enables teachers and other staff members to achieve at personal and professional levels they have never before. Be a reflective and evolving leader who takes advantage of ways to promote and share the great work done by phenomenal educators and parent community members of KME. Be a continual reader of current educational practices and issues. Be a learner through ‘listening to learn in order to lead.’ And even sometimes, just Be.

As we think about meeting new expectations, the challenge for each of us is to ask ourselves, “How can I be better than me?” If we individually commit to being better than we were last year, great things will continue to happen for our students and for our colleagues.

Boy! I cannot believe that it is that time of the school year when we are winding down. Could it really be that another year has come and gone? It literally seems that we were just seeing the finishing touches of paint being applied, we were waiting on the classroom furniture to arrive, we were checking to make sure that all of the lights worked and that running water was accessible in the cafeteria. I remember sharing on social media sites that @KellyMillES was going to be the place where educators could provide the type of educational experiences for students that they always wanted to provide. I readily admitted to my staff that I was making promises they would have to keep. 🙂 (I am thankful they have done just that!)

As I reflect on this first year @KellyMillES, I often share that these things should not happen to a first-year school. My actual quote is, ‘It Ain’t Normal.’

Yes, I do know the correct grammatical format for the sentence, but I also wanted to emphasize a point with my staff. Too often we accept the ‘way we have always done it is good enough’ pathway to education. We rationalize that it was ‘good enough for us’ so ‘why shouldn’t it be good enough for today’s learner.’ Well, the short answer is that today’s learners are not like us. They truly learn differently and in order to reach them, we must teach differently.

I have been honored to work with such a dedicated group of educators who have embraced this ‘teach differently’ mentality and are making the atypical…typical. We have received local, state, national, and global recognition. This is humbling, but it is mostly exciting because it has allowed us to connect with other phenomenal educators and learn with and from them as they also strive to do what is best for today’s learners. We have held sessions on Skype, Google + Hangout, presented at conferences, won national competitions (Siemens Change the World), had numerous site visits because of effective technology integration (Breaking Barriers) and from the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (GPEE) Bus Tour, had a graffiti artist work in our Media Center, had invaluable support from our community, etc. The list literally goes on and on. Bragging? No. Proud? Definitely, but mostly because these serve as tangible evidence that we as educators DO have the ability to create learning experiences for children that do not have to be merely the expected. We CAN teach differently and meet the rigorous expectations of life in the 21st Century. We CAN effectively integrate technology so that it becomes a natural and expected component of the educational experience.

The secret to all of this?? Simply DOING differently, taking risks, collaborating with other educators around the world, being open to a different perspective, doing what educators naturally and passionately want to do…do what is best for their students.

I am grateful to be part of a district, community and school (Kelly Mill Elementary) that strive to do this daily. Just like you in yours…

Ron

It could have been accomplished by telling the staff that we were low on funds to purchase cases of paper. It was true that each school had been allocated a specific number of copies that could be used before the local school would have to pay for the copies. For any amount of copies that exceeded the yearly allotment an incurred cost of $.04 each copy would be billed to each school. This may not sound like much, but left unchecked, this could eat away at the instructional dollars that could be invested in non-fiction books for the leveled library, technology to support technology integration, hands-on resources for STEM-based learning activities and other resources which are better for today’s learner.

What we did do was to frame the conversation around this essential question:

How could we more effectively engage our leaners without running this through a machine?

This simply worded question had profound impact across the teachers who all truly wanted highly engaged learners in their classrooms each day. Teachers gladly talked about and collaboratively planned a day, ‘No Paper Day,’ around this. What leaders have tried to get teachers to do in sometimes unproductive ways, resulted in teachers gladly embracing and willingly collaborating around this concept as their entire grade level worked to design lessons for ‘No Paper Day’ on their hallway. This level of engagement on the part of adults along with the excitement and energy that were created spilled over to our students at Kelly Mill ES.

On the day that teachers decided for their No Paper Day, students and adults eagerly participated and authentically engaged in their learning. For some teachers, this intentional ‘push’ allowed them to realize the effectiveness of the integration of technology as a normal mode of delivery for their students, They saw, first-handedly, that technology did not have to be nor should be considered an ‘add-on.’ Once teachers saw the level of excitement from their students and heard the depth of conversations that students were having regarding their learning of the content, they were hooked.

Teachers extended this ‘one day’ of purposeful and intentional focus on engaging without worksheets to be their normal way of collaborating and instructional delivery in their classroom,

This is the ultimate in professional development to take a concept from hearing to doing. Teachers translated what they learned into classroom practice that changed the learning activities and experiences for their students.

So, what about your ‘No Paper Day?’

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Experience Doesn’t Make You Better, Only Evaluated Experience Makes You Better. (Dr. Howard G. Hendricks)

I recently heard this quote in a series by Andy Stanley. As I began to think about this statement, I continued to see its application within the educational setting and mentoring aspects of leadership and leader and teacher development. Educators know that providing descriptive feedback to the learner is a critical element for learning and growth.

Marzano and others have long researched the benefits of consciously providing feedback to the learner.

W. Fred Mizer stated, ‘Feedback is an objective description of a student’s performance intended to guide future performance.’ Teachers have long understood that the more specific they are in their feedback to the student, the higher the ensuing achievement of the learner. No longer are ‘Good Job’ or Smiley-Face stickers appropriate for providing feedback about learning. Feedback is specific and non-judgmental. It is merely a statement of what was observed and what can be done to improve the next time.

The same goes for educational leaders responsible for providing feedback to the instructional staff. No longer are comments like ‘Good Job’ or ‘I enjoyed the lesson’ appropriate as end conversations about the teaching and learning that has taken place in our classrooms.

With the renewed interest in teacher evaluation systems and the emphasis on learner outcomes, it is important that current educators realize that our emphasis is also on the input. As Dr. Hendricks stated, it is ‘evaluated experience’ that improves practice. We must embrace the benefits of descriptive feedback that we can both provide and receive from colleagues. Too often we simply reflect on our practice by answering, ‘What worked? What needs to be improved?’ Please do not misunderstand me. These are valuable questions to ask, but we also need to utilize the benefits of having someone else provide feedback to us in the course of our daily practice in order to effectively answer these questions.

As building leaders, we must continue to provide the kind of descriptive feedback to teachers of all levels in order to promote growth and the best instruction for all of our learners, student and adult.

The next time that someone says ‘Experience makes you better,’ remember that only ‘evaluated experience’ makes you better.

 

Ron

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