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Block Scheduling Done Right

Recently I was asked why we do block scheduling the way we do.  Much effort has gone into the study systems that will help SCS meet its goals of academic excellence and its extensive impact on student learning. As with any choice, there are both pros and cons. At Salem Christian School, we had to move towards a format which enables the school to provide more dynamic instruction, broader choices, and more nimble scheduling that this change enables. Some of the major advantages researchers have noted are the following:

Improved Teaching and Learning

With longer blocks, teachers have more time to complete lesson plans. More class time is available to develop key concepts, incorporate creativity into instruction, and try a variety of classroom activities that address different learning styles. Longer time blocks allow for deeper instruction instead of wider coverage.(O’Neil, 1995; Eineder & Bishop, 1997).

Ability to Focus Attention

Using active learning methods helps the students better understand and retain material.(Rettig & Canady, 1996). With block scheduling, students have fewer subjects during a semester, enabling the learners to explore deeper and allow the teachers to focus efforts.

Fragmentation Reduced

With block scheduling, instructional time is not fragmented by frequent transitions between classes. Fewer distinct classes means less time spent on classroom management activities, such as calling attendance and organizing and focusing the class. In addition, there are fewer opportunities for students to arrive late to class (Rettig & Canady, 1996).

Individualized Pace

The schedule allows advanced students to move through material at a more rapid rate, and they are able to finish sequential language classes within one academic year. (Woronowicz, 1996).

More Course Offerings

Students actually take more courses in a standard plan because they enroll in at least eight classes per year instead of six or seven (Rettig & Canady, 1996).

Stronger Inter-Personal Relationship

A hallmark of SCS is the family atmosphere. Anything to promote this is always welcome. The number of daily classes for which students and teachers must adjust and prepare is decreased, allowing students to develop the deeper interpersonal relationships that are integral to academic success (Rettig & Canady, 1996; Eineder & Bishop, 1997). Teachers get to know students more personally which enables them to adapt lessons to the interests of their students.

Attitudes and Comprehension Improve

Research indicates that teachers’ and students’ attitudes about their school improve. Both teachers and students state that they get more done in class and learn more because they are better able to focus their attention. Classes address material in more depth, and teachers feel students are better able to comprehend and retain concepts learned in a block period (O’Neil, 1995; Eineder & Bishop, 1997).

Source: http://www.ashland.k12.or.us/files/advantages%20of%20block%20scheduling.pdf

College Preparatory

Almost all of our students move onto a four-year college degree at some point.  The transition from eight 40-minute classes to four 83-minute classes is difficult.  The skill to handle this is learned in an environment that is more personally supportive and has more accountability for the student in high school than in college.  Thus, this model prepares the students for the expectations that they will face.  The second preparatory element of block scheduling is the use of college credit and dual enrollment at SCS instead of Advanced Placement courses.  This better aligns the schedule to accommodate these courses.

These were the reasons that we moved to this model and continue to stay within this model.  Of course, there are always areas to improve.  We could better use the model.  But, it has significantly made a difference in the academic prowess of our school.  In fact we have been used as a model for other schools in the northeast.

We had the same concern about gaps in the learning that seems like it would occur due to the space of time between courses.  There are two aspects to this that would need to  explore.  The first is whether the gaps do indeed pose a challenge.  The second is what does the school and students do to overcome the  challenges if they do indeed exist.

Theoretically, we are teaching towards mastery and automaticity.  This means, that the student has adopted the skills, concepts, or outcomes to a degree that he or she can confidently and automatically rely on them.   Of course there are skills and concepts that need multi-courses and years to develop.  But, these skills are scaled so that we can teach mastery of each step so that they can use them automatically as they move onto the next level of skills or concepts.  We see this most often in mathematics and reading.  We teach the same skills in reading instruction from grade one all the way through twelfth grade.  However, at every step the skills are expanded and become more complex.  The gap between the school years often allow us to catch the gaps that have occurred in students who haven’t truly mastered something and allows us to provide remediation and review.

We recognize that some courses are more vulnerable to this gap than others.  For example, we read in every class and incorporate writing in every class.  Thus, there is no specific gap in this, because we expand the vocabulary and writing skills each time we confront new material in other classes.   However, math is sequential in skills and may be more vulnerable to the skills.   Granted, geometry and algebra are very different maths.  Thus, the skills are different.  But, because we want to ensure mathematics ability is strong and continue to build on strong SAT scores, we require a math lab in the semester that students are not in a leveled math class.  At SCS, our students received significant more time in math each year than any other program because we have this system.  The math labs allow for remediation, enrichment, and SAT prep.  The teachers have developed this course (which is unique to SCS) in order to have outcomes that are tailored in order to ensure our students’ scores on college boards are strong.

All of this seems to be working well.  However, we want to measure it and have hard data that supports this.  Thus, we have instituted a few things.  We have entrance exams in every math course every semester.  It provides feedback to the students, parents, and teacher about retention and specific instructional needs for that semester’s students.  Additionally, we have instituted that every student in grade 8-10 takes the PSAT.  This will provide valuable data that we can track and use to measure the efficacy of our program.

Thank you very much for submitting your question.  I hope that I have answered it.  If it prompts more, then I can continue on this topic or move onto the next question when it comes.


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Shifting Sand

IMG_0288If you are interested in learning about the efficacy of learning, you probably have heard of Scott McLeod.  Although he uses the provocative title, Shift Happens, he asks some powerful questions and provides some interesting assertions.  A few years ago I was introduced to him through a video in an in-service.  I was gobsmacked with what he had to say.  For some reason, he has reentered my sphere and it what he has to say is even more relevant today that it was just a few years ago.

A few years ago, I was listening to his TED talk and he piqued my interest when he said, “if a job is able to be moved somewhere else, it probably will.”  WOW!  What does this mean to an educational system that is preparing students to be economically viable and masters of information?  As an educational leader and as a school, we need to answer these questions.  Dr. Mcleod asserts that the world is shifting into new directions.  And, I assert that the souls in the seats of our classroom deserve a solid and viable answer.  Furthermore, I would conclude that we need to have this and every generation duly educated so that the Gospel is those who carry the Gospel must be able to do by being relevant to the continues to spread in earnest.

McLeod posited that, in summary, there are currently two big shifts and a problem.  The first shift is economic.  He asserted that as a society, “We are preparing students for jobs that don’t exist.”  This small idea was planted in me and among many other things has driven me to push for better, stronger, and more nimble instruction in the schools I lead.   I have to ask, “If this is true, then what we are preparing our students for?”  I would be a billionaire and a noble prize winner if I knew this answer for certainty.  For clarity, I am neither of these.

I was fortunate to see an interview with Dr. McLeod where he claimed that he rarely is an early adapter to new technology.  However, he saw wearable tech and immediately asked, “How can this be used for teaching and learning?”  How can this or any other technology or methodology enhance classroom instruction, observations, walkthroughs and instructional rounds?

To address this economical shift, we have to think about every little thing as an opportunity and how we can capitalize on change. We need to be sure that our curriculum should emphasize this.   It seems apparent that being nimble and visionary is imperative.  It’s not an abandonment of the traditional values of education, but of an emphasis on process as well as product.

Think about it, as soon as the gadget or app is invented it is nearly a dinosaur.   As educators, parents and students we need to be innovative, risk taking, student centered, and grounded in 21st century instruction. This is the only way we are going to be sure our students a prepared what is coming ahead, not what has already happened.  We need our students to have the ability to ask questions and leverage the tools of today so that they can be the entrepreneurs, innovators, and inventors of tomorrow.  To do be prepared for the unknown they need to have the basics and the creative skills and thinking that are used to shape tomorrow.

The second shift is about our information landscape.  This has shifted since the printing press.  At that time information and knowledge was available for the masses.  We are now seeing something similar.  Instead of the dispersion of information, these days anyone can create and publish any bit of information with little cost and great ease.  We are hyper-connected across the globe, finding content and each other with little effort.  This expansive information landscape requires questions.

As a school we need to adapt to the informational and economic landscape of our time with eyes on the future.  This adaptation needs to occur in the youngest grades throughout the schools.  No longer is the “right” answer good enough.  These factual recall and basic skills work of years past are just that basic.   Yet, we cannot forget that the basics are still necessary.  However, the structure of our curriculum and the delivery of the teaching must require our students go beyond the basic factual recall.  Google can answer what the Intolerable Acts are and when they occurred.  But, what our students need to do in the  forward learning environment is to educate our students in how to ask questions and use the tools to connect these Dr. McLeod believes that educators increasingly will realize that learning doesn’t have to tied to the school day…, but rather a more open and flexible structure. Who knows if he is right?  As a private Christian school, we have great opportunities.  But, we still need to realize that humans learn the same way.  It’s the cultural and societal shifts that require the school to approach the ever changing student.

One thing that I appreciate about Salem Christian School is that we understand that each student is different.  (Albeit, we will always have room to grow.)  We do know that each student is a unique part of God’s creation.  And, God has provided this student with a specific and personal set of strengths.  Each person has a particular place in the universe that only he or she can fill.


 

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Arising Trends

Arising Trends

Lately, I have been interested in what trends are happening in America.  Of course, I am mainly interested in how these trends affect education.  I have been reading blogs, theological posits, and scholarly journals about changes in our culture and future developments. For example, the trend in media is to make everything individual profile adaptable.  Anyone with Netflix or Hulu will see this.  Technology is moving to hands-free automaticity in order to remove the human error factor.   Look at Google’s, Fords, Tesla, Waymo, Lyft, Uber and other self driving car programs. As a school leader and someone who desires our students to be able to flourish in an everchanging society, I feel the pressure to position the school in a place to provide the teaching and learning needed to address these challenges.

Consumer Students → Innovative Students

I recently read a blog and article about how to turn this generation from consumers to creators.  How do we make creators out of students who are known for expecting everything to individually adapt to them?  As the role of a teacher changes, so too must that of a student.  In the education realm there is a push to transform students from consumers to creators. Much of this movement is driven by technology, which has opened up a new world of possibilities for students who otherwise had to wait until after graduation before they could think of making significant contributions to the real world.

As we investigate how to be more effective, we are seeing more curriculum strategies that lean on real-world application over closed-circuit projects. Students are being asked to interact with their communities and take on the responsibilities of entrepreneurs, rather than just playing the role. These immersive techniques, coupled with follow-up presentations in which students become teachers, open up a much deeper level of understanding. Some educational leaders have gone so far as to invite students to co-develop their own curricula.  Obviously, these are more geared for upper grade school students.  However, what does this mean to Salem Christian School?  How can our students best compete against these students for the college acceptances?

This trend isn’t just about entrepreneurship. Students-as-producers can be found in everything from media production to game design and programming. In fact, we are adding a Computer Aided Design class next year.  We look forward to more hands-on activities, facilities, and equipment (think  3D printers) that provide excellent, engaging opportunities to teach digital literacy, citizenship, and creator’s rights.

The Value of an Authentic Christian Education

There has been a push toward an increase in real-world learning experiences.  This most certainly will continue into the years to come.  More and more schools are recognizing the value of closing the book (literally) in favor of practical learning.  In fact, Salem Christian School has created math lab in the high school to provide this framework.  Granted, we are not ready to divorce ourselves of traditional books and formats that continue to work just for the new shiny bobbles tempting us.  But, the question we hope to answer is, “What is the best way to provide such experiences for students?”

We endeavor to use research, common sense, and experience to determine what is best for teaching and learning at Salem Christian School.  Authentic learning can take many forms. Vocational training and apprenticeships give students the freedom to discover and foster their passions. In addition to allowing students to test-drive careers, these real-world experiences also help schools establish relationships within their communities. These partnerships can lead to further collaboration down the road, with business leaders coming to talk in schools or providing on-site demonstrations for students interested in pursuing their fields. Although we are not a vocational school, we’ve been fortunate enough to participate in a few of these opportunities within the Junior Seminar and Senior Seminar courses.  However, we are not a vocational school and have not fully engaged in this type of active learning.

Discussions about the value of simulations, activity based methods, and portfolio-based assessments have also been part of the discussions.  Simulations, like the “farming in the gilded age” activity featured on Teaching Channel, promote critical thinking, reflection, and problem solving. Portfolios and project based instruction divert focus from pure memorization toward authentic demonstration of learning. They allow students to take ownership of their studies as they find unique and creative ways to display the knowledge they’ve acquired on a particular topic.

Whether students are immersed in business, engineering, design, event planning, or finances, authentic learning experiences help prepare them for higher-ed and work-world success.

Emerging Roles for Teachers

After decades of relatively unchanged form and function, the job description of an American teacher has undergone some significant transformations in a short period of time. The traditional “stand-and-deliver” method of instruction is being pushed out by the “guide-on-the-side” approach, just as the “cemetery” classroom is being replaced with creative, comfortable learning spaces.

Today’s teachers are trending in the direction of mentors and coaches for their students, overseeing activities and providing assistance when needed, but not the helicopter oversight that was once an expectation. Teachers are lecturing less and consulting more, encouraging students to discover and explore their passions in a more flexible manner.

Even grading looks much different than it did 10 years ago. Although, SCS doesn’t anticipate this change, some schools are eliminating exams from their curricula altogether. However we are expecting educators to pay increased attention to each student’s strengths and weaknesses and evaluate their levels of knowledge throughout the course. This is particularly noticeable in the elmenetary school with our implementation of Daily Five, AIMSWeb, and Dibels.  We have continued to document the rise of standards-based grading, and those who have adopted it tend to swear by it. However, we are increasingly looking at mastery.  This is especially true in the primary grades. How well do our students answer the essential questions of our curriculum? And, how do we communicate this best to students, parents, colleges, and colleagues?

Of course, we can’t discuss the changing role of the teacher without mentioning professional development. Salem Christian School is on the trajectory to lead in the area of professional development, unlike other schools.  The slowly changing public school culture has created a bit of a disconnect between instructional training and the skills/traits necessary to be a successful educator. There are waves of initiatives meant to address the lowering or raising of test score.  SCS is free of this unfocused approach to teaching and learning.  Education sees that effective data strategies are few and far between, and administrators are still far more likely to err on the side of status quo than risk being the first to take action on a new initiative or technology. Salem Christian School embraces the idea of teacher efficacy and advancing teaching and learning.  SCS recognizes the need for ongoing and updated professional development that remains a critical talking point, not just for teachers, but for those tasked with leading them as well.

SCS still values candidates’ educational backgrounds far more than their technical knowledge. We want people who understand the fundamentals of teaching and learning.  We want people who are innovative and energetic in the classroom.  Our students need people who are constantly trying to improve.  A strong educational background provides the best platform for future growth.

Essentially, we want our students to be challenged and prepared like the best of the peers in other schools.  Salem Christian School wants to provide authentic learning experiences, recognize the changing role of teachers, and address the shift from students as consumers to creators.  These are just three of the subjects we expect you to be confronted with in the near future.  It’s important to note that none of these are “classroom initiatives,” or programmatic changes that shift a school from its traditional mooring.   No matter the person’s role in the education of a child, they will want to stay informed about these developments so the school will be well positioned to adapt with the changing tides and confront the shifting sands of the future.


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Embracing Dissapointments

Embracing Disappointments

My father says when you get upset or disappointed about something or someone you have two choices, “Stay mad and miserable for the rest of your life, or get over it.”  This adage has  proven helpful over the years.  Of course, as a believer, we need to accept that maybe this is exactly how God has it planned.  I have seen Him cover my inadequacies MANY times over the course of my life and career.

When I returned from the week away I was confronted with the realities that there was going to be a 2-3 week delay for the new building being ready.  Of course the stress of ensuring everything being in place ratcheted up 500 fold.  I sat back and thought about what this would do for us as a community and how God will work it all out.  Then, I read something from Oswald Chambers.  He said:

There are times when it seems as if God watches to see if we will give him the small things to surrender, just to show us how genuine our love is for Him.  To be surrendered to God is of more than our personal holiness.  Concern over our person casts our eyes and attention on ourselves rather than on Him.  And, we become overly concerned about the way we walk, talk and look.

He exhorts his readers through Biblical text to cast out our personal selves and look to God when it isn’t what we perceive as perfect.
So, this year isn’t going to begin with a perfect building ready to go.  It will begin with beautiful children ready to learn.  Not only are they going to be ready to learn, they will be ready to learn in a place that infuses God into every detail of the curriculum and student life.
I am excited about what this will bring as a community.  I look forward to us working alongside one another in order to get this done.  I look forward to seeing us embrace the new space and bathe it in prayer.  I look forward to the time when we can each take a piece and place it in the classrooms.  This will be an exciting time in our school.  Join me in embracing what God has done and is doing.


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