Superintendent's Blog
Dr. Marilyn Tencza

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Today’s Topic: Relevance: Making Real-World Connections

(Excerpts from an article by Saga Briggs, Managing Editor of informED, an Open Colleges resource for educators)


When you were in school, did you ever ask yourself the question, “When will I ever use this in the real world?” It’s a great question - one that schools need to take very seriously.


When students don’t see the reason for doing an assignment, or they are not interested in a particular subject, it is easy for them to withdraw or not even try in the first place. In either case, the chances of them remembering what they have learned or being able to use that knowledge in the future declines. Conversely, when teachers design learning opportunities that are interesting and help students “see the point” of what they are learning, students tend to be more engaged and are more likely to understand and remember the material. In other words, when the material is relevant to students, research shows that learning outcomes improve. “Relevant learning means effective learning” (Briggs).


In the Briggs article cited below, a teacher and educational psychologist, Robin Roberson, says, “I am convinced that relevance is one of the most important aspects of teaching and learning. Based on my experiences, I define relevance as the perception that something is interesting and worth knowing. When a teacher provides relevance for a student, the teacher helps the student perceive these two things.” Further, the article states that (based on cognitive science) the search for relevance is a basic feature of the human condition; it can be used well when communicated properly. Simply put, when teachers design and provide relevant learning activities, they tap into their students’ need to make sense of the world.


Some teachers attempt to add relevance to their lessons by focusing solely on creating interest. They do this by adding things like flashy digital presentations or games. These may attract the attention of students in the short term, but, if the content that follows is not substantive or well explained, then their attention will likely wane. The students will remember the flashiness or who won or lost the game, but they will not remember the content or be able to use it in the future. Don’t get me wrong, creating interest is important, but it must be accompanied by the perception that the material is worth knowing.


One way to achieve relevance is to give students real-world connections to the material - a reason to work hard other than merely completing the assignment or getting a grade. “Real-world connections draw from, or upon, actual objects, events, experiences and situations to effectively address a concept, problem or issue. It is learning that allows students to actually experience or practice concepts and skills, as opposed to learning that is theoretical or idealistic” (Real-World).


Some ways to make real-world connections in the classroom are:

  • Routinely provide students with living and inanimate objects to manipulate and experience such as 3-D models in chemistry, blocks in mathematics, and artifacts in social studies.

  • Have students make something useful in class such as yogurt in biology class.

  • Use the news. Focus learning on current issues and problems familiar to the students. Support student action to find solutions to a local problem such as conserving energy at home.

  • Provide frequent opportunities in all subject areas for students to collect, manipulate and use real data such as when conducting experiments.

  • Find opportunities for students to communicate, perform, and display what they have learned to audiences beyond the classroom through concerts, plays, art exhibits, debates, presentations, and publications.

  • Look to the broader community for partnership and mentoring opportunities that will allow students to practice, enhance, and apply classroom learning in a real-world setting, such as speaking a new language to native speakers (Real-World).

  • Bring in guest speakers, content experts, local historians, actors, musicians, and others who can share and discuss their real-world experiences (Haynes).


Making real-world connections in the classroom fulfills our students’ need for relevance, helping them discover that what they are learning is actually interesting and worth knowing.


What is Leicester Doing to Make Learning Relevant to Our Students?

In Leicester, I am happy to report that teachers and students are making real-world connections every day, both inside and outside of the classroom. Here are some great examples:


Leicester High School


Hands-On Learning in the Classroom

  • In English language arts, students compete in the annual Lions’ Club speech contest and some go on to speak at the state level. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) sponsored an initiative called Leading the Nation in which LHS students created a video that was shared at the state and local level. Click HERE to see the video.

  • Foreign language students cook and share French, Arabic, and Spanish recipes.

  • Math students participate in dual enrollment courses at Quinsigamond Community College, allowing them to experience a college course during school hours and use the credit, if acquired, for state colleges. This year the Math Department invited someone from the banking industry to discuss how math is applied in their field.

  • Science students traveled to UMass Medical School to explore different careers, and one of their guest speakers this year was a scientist who is studying tuberculosis in order to earn Ph.D./M.D. degrees. Science students care for the environment by using the three Rs at home and in school - reduce, reuse, recycle.

  • Seniors in social studies classes organize the annual voter registration drive and conduct mock elections during presidential campaigns to learn how the town voting system works. The department brings in guest speakers on Veterans’ Day and has conducted study sessions at the JFK Library. On March 14, students exercised their First Amendment rights and demonstrated responsible citizenship through a peaceful walk-out in honor of 17 lives lost in Parkland, FL.

  • Students in special education work with custodians during the school day.


Hands-on Learning Outside the Classroom

  • ELA students film and act as commentators for the varsity basketball games, which are broadcast on LCAC.

  • Social studies students provide assistance and logistical support to the town’s annual Memorial Day Observances, participate in field trips to historical sites, and attend the annual Student Government Day at the Massachusetts State House.

  • Foreign language students travel to other countries such as Spain and Canada. Next year they would like to plan a trip to London, Paris, and Rome.

  • The guidance department provides students with the opportunity to attend college and career fairs and participate in School-To-Career Opportunities such as:

  • Internships - job placements within the district.

  • Externships - job placements outside of the district. For example, we have students working at the Sturbridge Host Hotel, Pools and Cues, and New England Aquatic Landscaping.


Service Learning

The National Honor Society hosts/sponsors/participates in many activities and events such as:

  • “Senior Prom” for senior citizens

  • Red Cross Blood Drive

  • SoleHope - Students collect jeans and send them to SoleHope, an organization that makes shoes for people in Uganda who suffer from foot disease.

  • Toys for Tots at Boston Children's Hospital Cancer Center

  • Food drives which benefit the Leicester Food Pantry


Leicester Middle School


Hands-On Learning in the Classroom

  • In Project Lead the Way, students are designing toys for children with Cerebral Palsy. Two groups of students will go to Boston Children's Hospital to present and showcase their creations to the children and the doctors.

  • The LMS librarian is constructing a Makerspace, a place for students to come and freely create, innovate, collaborate, and problem-solve.

  • A group of teachers has come together to work on a huge interdisciplinary project, a film called Star Wars: Academy of the Force. A total of 50 students, including two high schoolers, are working on creating this film. The premiere of this film is on Star Wars Day, May the 4th.

  • The District Attorney’s office partnered with the Leicester Police Department to bring an anti-drug program to LMS.

  • Twice this year, eighth-grade French students visited the Leicester Senior Center to converse with native French speakers.

  • Middle School students regularly participate in Country Bank’s School Banking Program. This program teaches students how to manage and save money.


Hands-On Learning Outside the Classroom

  • Students in the Yearbook and Newspaper Clubs create wonderful products for their families, classmates, and the wider Leicester community.

  • The LMS Library Advisory Group allows students to provide input into the resources and programs offered in the library.

  • At the annual Evening with the Arts, students perform musical numbers and display their works of art for the public to see and appreciate.

  • Five students auditioned for the Massachusetts Central District Band and Chorus.


Service Learning

  • Some of our students were interviewed by Erika Tarantal from WCVB Channel 5 for their efforts with Crayons to Calculators. These students collected school supplies for teachers and students in need. Click HERE to see the news segment on Five for Good.

  • One student was chosen to be this year’s Project 351 Ambassador. This designation kicks off a year of service. Currently, the ambassador is working with the National Junior Honor Society to conduct a clothing drive for families in need.

  • The Peer Leadership Group volunteered at the Leicester Senior Center for the Veterans’ Day Breakfast and Senator Moore’s Thanksgiving turkey dinner. They also serve at the annual Harvest Fair and the Apple Festival.

  • The National Junior Honor Society regularly supports the Leicester Food Pantry, which serves over 200 families in Leicester. They also run an annual Halloween candy drive for active military personnel through Operation Gratitude.

  • CommuniTeen goes out into the community every month to help family, friends, and neighbors. They participated in a Walk for Cancer, visited The Meadows Nursing Home, served at New England All Breed Rescue, and sponsored a Read Across America Night for Primary schoolers.


Memorial School


Hands-On Learning in the Classroom

  • Students are pen pals with senior citizens in town.

  • Fifth-grade students write blogs online.

  • A published author (Jane Sutton) visited each grade level and provided a workshop on revision for our students.

  • Students voted for school-wide earnings using ballots.

  • On Unified Arts Nights, students display their work for parents and the community.


Hands-On Learning After School

  • Our project fair highlights student work.

  • Our field trips to the Freedom Trail and Plymouth provide connections to our past.


Go Deeper

Click on the following links to read the full articles cited in this blog.


Briggs, Saga. “How To Make Learning Relevant To Your Students (And Why It's Crucial To Their Success).” InformED, Open Colleges, 4 Oct. 2014, www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/how-to-make-learning-relevant/.


Haynes, Kim. “Top 12 Ways to Bring the Real World into Your Classroom.” TeachHUB, 2018,

http://www.teachhub.com/top-12-ways-bring-real-world-your-classroom.

“Real-World Connections.” Resources for Rethinking, Learning for a Sustainable Future, 2018, www.resources4rethinking.ca/en/toolbox/real-world-connections.


Simkins, Michael (et. al). “Increasing Student Learning Through Multimedia Projects.” ASCD, 2002,

http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/102112/chapters/Making_a_Real-World_Connection.aspx






 

Posted by colbyl  On Apr 04, 2018 at 9:42 AM 77 Comments
  

Today’s Topic: What’s Relevant Now: Redefining Literacy

(Excerpts from an article by Dr. Bill Daggett, Founder and Chairman of The International Center for Leadership in Education ICLE)


Today’s students will live and work their entire lives in a technologically based society, requiring them to develop advanced literacy skills. In the attached article, Dr. Daggett discusses two ways that future-focused schools are responding to the need to strengthen their students’ literacy skills:

  1. Teaching literacy in every grade and subject area

  2. Emphasizing reading and understanding data.


Teaching Literacy Everywhere

“Let's define literacy. It was once known simply as the ability to read and write. Today it's about being able to make sense of and engage in advanced reading, writing, listening, and speaking (Alber).”


It is common to believe that literacy instruction is solely the responsibility of language arts teachers, but  according to Dr. Daggett, “Today’s educators must make 21st-century literacy as much of a focus within science, mathematics, and technology instruction as it has traditionally been within language arts. Quite simply, we need to follow what the research tells us: every teacher in every grade must teach literacy. No exceptions!”


In all subject areas, students must be able to absorb and understand difficult content, unfamiliar vocabulary, and complex charts and graphs. Students who cannot understand the material in information-dense textbooks and other complex sources will fall behind and be unprepared for next steps in school or in the workplace. The challenge facing teachers is incorporating literacy skills into every lesson plan in a way that makes sense. For example, math teachers may tackle this challenge by encouraging students to write long-form answers and not simply jot down numbers. In science classes, teachers may require students to write detail-oriented lab reports that contain step-by-step processes.


Dr. Daggett is encouraging schools to prepare students for their futures and not the past by redefining literacy. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Richard Vaca, author of Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum, states, “Adolescents entering the adult world in the 21st-century will read and write more than at any other time in human history. They will need advanced levels of literacy to perform their jobs, run their households, act as citizens, and conduct their personal lives. (Alber)"


Emphasizing Data Analytics

According to Dr. Daggett, the amount of information available on the Internet has expanded significantly from 2005 to present by at least 3,900 times. We are dealing with a huge unit of computer storage known as an exabyte - one quintillion or one billion billion! “This growth will require our students to be proficient in data analytics. They will need to understand and analyze large data sets from multiple sources to find patterns, correlations and trends. They will also need to reduce, refine and manage information, while at the same time creating and reading charts, tables and graphs. (Daggett)”


Education World cited a new report by the Education Development Center, which stated, “The skills necessary for the data analytics jobs of tomorrow aren’t being taught in K-12 schools today....By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.” This report aligns with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is projecting a massive shortage in the IT workforce by 2020. "According to the agency, there will be 1.4 million openings but only 400,000 computer science graduates with the necessary skills to fill the positions. (Smith)"


What is Leicester Doing to Redefine Literacy?

In Leicester at each school, we use many practices to strengthen students’ literacy.  


Mrs. Hippert reports that at Leicester High School the Social Studies department continues to work hand-in-hand with the English Language Arts department reinforcing literacy. Both US History and World History classes employ primary source readings with the goal of strengthening students' ability to recognize the differences between 'cause and effect' as well as the role of 'perspective' when analyzing documents. The Foreign Language department incorporates reading into the instruction by developing reading skills, cultural awareness, and vocabulary expansion in context.  The reading sections of new textbooks develop reading skills such as getting the gist, recognizing word families, reading by phrase groups, inferring meaning, recognizing prefixes, understanding the context, recognizing (partial) cognates, and recognizing false cognates and figures of speech. They also encourage reading for pleasure.


At the Middle School, Mrs. Nelson highlights the work of the teachers in the following departments:

  • In English, students analyze fiction, poetry, drama, and literary nonfiction. The English teachers attended a Keys to Literacy full day workshop. They presented the “Answer Key to Open Response” to the full faculty and all teachers are expected to follow the same format for writing across the curriculum.

                    A: Analyze the question

                    N: Note the plan

                    S: Skim, read and select

                    W: Write the response

                    ER: End by reviewing

  • The library media specialist teaches research skills and integrated technology skills.

  • In math classes, students read and write how they derived their answer and communicate their problem-solving and thinking skills.

  • In music and band, students learn how to read music, interpret tone, and show understanding through performance.

  • In science students take a science-centered approach to language development. They experience the natural world around them and use language to inquire, process information, and communicate findings.

  • In STEM classes, students read and write technical specifications and communicate the design process.

  • Response to Intervention (RTI) for math and reading is ongoing through the STAR Reader and Math Assessment System. They test students several times over the course of the year. Teachers provide intervention to those falling below an established score and re-test until these students show growth.

At Memorial School, Mrs. Boss and the staff are in the second year of implementing reading and writing workshops, which provide opportunities to hold individual student conferences, choice reading, and student goal setting. Other areas of improvement are:

  • Professional development workshops have focused on analyzing complex texts to support the development of the necessary skills their students need to be successful as they progress through school and in later life.

  • Teachers are developing literacy in content areas:

    • Math

      • Developing mathematical writing through math journals and increased vocabulary work

      • Building flexibility with numbers through math talks

      • Using a building-wide problem solving strategy to increase critical thinking skills and develop students’ ability to explain their thinking

    • Science

      • Developing scientific writing through the use of science notebooks and vocabulary work

      • Incorporating nonfiction reading strategies into science lessons

  • There is an effort to develop technology literacy across grade levels through Google tools and specifically designed lessons to develop research skills.


At Primary School, Mrs. Soltysik and her staff are implementing programs to build literacy.

  • In Kindergarten, the Wonders phonics system is used to address the needs of students. There is an initiative to explore different programs such as Letterland, Lively Letters, Project Read to help supplement the current program. Mrs. Soltysik hopes to pilot a new program in late February and, if effective, purchase the program for the 2018-2019 school year.

  • Grade 1 teachers will be looking at the overview of phonics and decide whether adjustments need to be made, particularly, they will focus on skill building. They will do an analysis and make sure that skills align with state standards.

  • In Grade 2, some teachers report that phonics and reading fluency are concerns. There is an effort  to reach out to the community and see if there are consistent volunteers that can utilize the Great Leaps program to help increase fluency rates in Grade 2 students.

 

In the next few months, the Professional Development Committee and the Administrative Team will be developing a plan for 2018-2019 which will emphasize a district-wide writing initiative. More information will follow as we devise a plan.  If you want to read more about Literacy, please see the links below.

 

Go Deeper

Click on the following links to read the full articles cited in this blog.


Alber, Rebecca. “Deeper Learning: Defining Twenty-First Century Literacy.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 21 Jan. 2013

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/twenty-first-century-literacy-deeper-learning-rebecca-alber


Alber, Rebecca. “How Important is Teaching Literacy in All Content Areas?” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 4 Aug. 2010

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/literacy-instruction-across-curriculum-importance


Daggett, William. “What’s Relevant Now: Re-Defining Literacy.” HMH Blog: The Spark, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 26 Sept. 2016, www.hmhco.com/media-center/blogs/2016/september/bill-daggett-redefining-literacy.


Granata, Kassondra, “Should Students Learn About Data Analytics in the Classroom?” Education World, http://www.educationworld.com/a_news/should-students-learn-about-data-analytics-classroom-1193981158


Smith, D. Frank. “Should Big Data Skills Be Taught in K-12 Classrooms?” Ed Tech: Focus on K-12, 30 Dec. 2014

https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2014/12/should-big-data-skills-be-taught-k-12-classrooms-0


Varlas, Laura. “Why Every Class Needs Read-Alouds” Education Update, January 2018 (Vol. 60, #1, p. 2-3, 6), http://bit.ly/2rxtP25

Posted by berthiaumej  On Feb 08, 2018 at 2:19 PM 63 Comments
  

Welcome to my new blog. With this forum, my mission is to enlighten people about the larger issues facing public education and why they matter to the Leicester School District. As we strive to improve our schools, I invite parents, educators, and the wider community to join me in exploring these issues.


Over the next few months, I will refer to the work of Doctor William Daggett, Founder and Chairman of the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) whose mission isto challenge, inspire, and equip today’s educators...and to prepare students for lifelong success.”


Today’s Topic: Characteristics of Model Schools


Dr. Daggett first developed the concept of Model Schools in 1991, defining them as “schools that are experiencing rapid growth in student achievement; schools that are deliberately working to shift the culture to one of high expectations for ALL students; or schools that are working through challenges…and are beating the odds.”


Schools that meet the Model Schools criteria:

  1. Use credible data to make significant improvements.

  2. Turn their passion for teaching and learning into actions that result in student success.

  3. Focus on what matters most - the students - their social-emotional development through strong positive relationships.

  4. Always look forward to meeting the challenging demands of an ever-changing world.

  5. Use specific and adaptable strategies to create a positive learning environment with high expectations.

  6. Publicize success beyond the walls of the school by using modern channels of communication including social media.

  7. Apply the concepts of rigor, relevance, and relationships to all students, creating equitable learning opportunities for everyone.

  8. Celebrate diversity and actively work towards closing opportunity gaps among various demographic groups.


Since 1991, Dr. Daggett and ICLE have brought together many Model Schools from around the world to attend conferences in which they showcase their journey towards becoming Model Schools and share best practices with schools pursuing the Model Schools designation.



What does this have to do with Leicester?

According to Dr. Daggett, the schools that experience rapid growth teach ALL students and experience remarkable results in teaching and learning. Through rigorous lessons, students become creators, designers, inventors, and researchers. They are able to build their ideas using higher-order skills. As I visit classrooms around the district, I see lessons that ask students to tackle real-world problems and that require students to collaborate with one another, to use technology, and to use data to make informed decisions.


Student engagement is visible in classrooms where students are working together to solve real-world problems.  Technology is a staple; students are collaborating with each other using 21st Century tools including Google classroom to extend education beyond the four walls of the classroom.


In June of 2017, a group of Leicester educators attended the Model Schools Conference and heard Dr. Daggett’s message firsthand.  They attended workshops such as, Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times, Transforming Your School:  Reimagining Flexible Learning Spaces, and Transforming Teaching and Learning for the 21st Century.  The group brought back the concepts and are working with teachers and administration to integrate these best practices into classrooms across the district.


Richard Riley, Secretary of Education under President Clinton noted, “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist . . . using technologies that haven’t yet been invented . . . in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet”. Like Daggett’s Model Schools, our district strives to set high expectations so that we can offer ALL students a relevant and rigorous education. We have our challenges, but we continually “beat the odds” because we have strong, creative teachers and staff, willing and capable learners, and the support of the people of Leicester. These winning elements foster an environment where students are ready for next steps and a future that is at once uncertain and intriguing.


Go Deeper


Learn more about Dr. William Daggett HERE.

Get Dr. Daggett’s article on Model Schools HERE.










Posted by berthiaumej  On Dec 12, 2017 at 10:32 AM 110 Comments
  
 
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