Learning How to Learn

“Neuroteach” co-author Glenn Whitman will speak at Country Day Thursday, Aug. 16, about helping children achieve their full potential. The event is free but tickets are required. Click here to register.

Last year when Rachel Schmalhofer walked into a workshop on learning and the brain, she was curious. When she walked out, she was converted.

“I was just blown away at how fun and charismatic they were, and how easily they took meaty scientific research and made it accessible. As soon as I left the workshop, I knew we could apply what they were talking about across the whole LCDS community,” said the director of learning services.

“They” are Ian Kelleher and Glenn Whitman, and the pair distilled current research on mind, brain and education science into an eminently readable and practical book called “Neuroteach,” which every teacher received a copy of at the beginning of the year.

“This is just the jumping off point,” said Schmalhofer. “LCDS has made a commitment to staying on the cutting edge of mind, brain and education research and our efforts will continue to grow every year. What we are doing is a really big deal and represents an effort to create a culture of learning not just for our students, but for our teachers and parents as well. We want to practice what we preach.

“It’s different because it’s an undertaking that engages the entire community: teachers working to use current research to inform their practices, and teaching students to become more efficient, effective, motivated learners; parents continuing the conversation at home; students developing their abilities to be reflective about their learning and to approach learning from a mastery orientation rather than a performance orientation,” she said.

Classes as disparate as Brenna Stuart’s World Civ II and Sheryl Krafft’s preschool have embraced the idea that understanding the brain, the organ of learning, is critical to learning, and they’ve seen it bear fruit. The profound — if occasionally just plain common sense — ideas animating their efforts receive  thorough and engaging explication in Whitman’s “Neuroteach.”

Whitman is the director of the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (CTTL) at St. Andrew’s School, with whom Country Day has become a partner school. Other partners include Johns Hopkins and Harvard. Whitman is coming to Country Day Thursday, Aug. 16, to speak with the community about helping children achieve their full potential. Click here to register.

Part of the partnership entails sending one administrator and one teacher from each division to a week-long workshop at the CTTL for at least the next three summers. This year’s group consists of Todd Trout, Lindsay Deibler-Wallace, Sue LeFevre and Joie Formando.

“Why are we doing this? Because we always want to be the obvious best choice for your child’s education,” Schmalhofer said.

The Never-Ending Essay

For the last three years, the kids in Stuart’s World Civ II class have started off the year with an assignment that, if it were a movie, would be terrifying and star Boris Karloff: The Never-Ending Essay.

Students start in September and, this year, they finished in February.

It’s pass-fail with four phases. The first is Argument, the second is Organization, the third is Support and the fourth and most difficult for student and teacher alike is Clarity. In this last section, students have to shorten their essays

The minimum number of drafts is four; most kids do 12.

Stuart’s rationale for pass-fail is that, “Grades are a primitive form of feedback and this takes the focus away from grades and puts it on the feedback, which they can put into practice almost immediately. And it also allows me to completely individuate the instruction,” she said.

“So I’ll say, OK, your essay is this many words, make it 20 percent shorter. Find every instance of some form of the verb ‘to be’ and change 70 percent of those to active verbs. Sometimes the result is genuinely elegant, and I’m like, ‘Go read this to your mom!’”

“At the end of it, are they better writers? Yes. And they take ownership of their work in a way they didn’t at the start of the year,” Stuart said.

Emphasizing the value of feedback to further students’ learning is a critical idea in “Neuroteach,” that aligns perfectly with the book’s goals, that is, “research-proven foundational principles of effective teaching,” Schmalhofer said.

“It occurred to me that coaches have a different relationship with their players than teachers do with their students, and they can be hard on them in a way that drives them.” Stuart the Crypto-Drill Sergeant finally cracked the code, however, because the “essay puts me in the position to coach. It changes the relationship,” she said.

Filling Up Little Toolboxes

In the preschool classroom, Sheryl Krafft is putting another “Neuroteach” lesson into practice: the idea that a mistake is an opportunity to learn and try again.

“Mistakes are part of being a person,” Krafft said. “I want to show kids that when something happens, it’s not the end of the world. You just make a new plan. I want to strengthen their resiliency and fill up their toolbox so they have strategies for when things go wrong.

“I want to enable them to feel capable and to feel confident knowing they have a hand in solving problems, that they can do things on their own and make them come out the way they want if they stick with it and see their mistakes as a natural part of accomplishing something,” Krafft said.

Schmalhofer held up Krafft’s work as another model that exemplifies a “Neuroteach” principle.

“What Sheryl’s doing is laying the groundwork for students as young as 3 to approach learning from a mastery, rather than a performance orientation,” Schmalhofer said. “It’s a foundation that our teachers will be able to build on for the rest of their time here at LCDS.”


“Neuroteach” co-author Glenn Whitman will speak at Country Day Thursday, Aug. 16, about helping children achieve their full potential. The event is free but tickets are required. Click here to register.

 

High Times in the Scottish Lowlands

By Frannie T. ’22
Photos by Eddie P. ’22 and Ms. Formando

The trip started off great. If we understand great as missing our flight and having to spend the night at an airport hotel, then it was great indeed.

Even with a less than ideal start, everything worked out in the end due to the patience and hard work of Miss Formando and Mr. Mylin. After two days of airplanes, airports and lots of waiting around, we finally arrived in Glasgow.

As we exited the bus, we were greeted by our amazing host families who had gotten up at midnight to face the cold and welcome us. Despite the time and temperature, it was great to finally meet the people we had been talking to for so long. After all the introductions were made, everyone was very excited to get out of the cold and get a good night’s sleep.

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We spent our first day in Scotland shadowing our hosts at school. The similarities and differences between LCDS and Kelvinside struck us immediately. One of the biggest similarities was the spirit. Everyone was welcoming and excited to meet the newcomers. One of the most obvious differences was the uniforms. All ages wore a very formal outfit of a white button-down collared shirt, a necktie and blazer with the Kelvinside logo. Black pants for the boys and kilts for the girls.

The next day we toured Glasgow with our hosts. Our first stop was the Riverside museum where we saw everything from antique cars and motorcycles to old double-decker buses and a model of an old city street complete with shops and horse-drawn carriages. Afterward we walked through the historic campus of the University of Glasgow and toured the city’s beautiful West End.

The next morning was perhaps the saddest part of the trip. It was the day we had to leave our host families. After many thank yous, hugs, and some tears, we left Glasgow behind and headed off for York.

Everything about York was charming. Even the train ride, along green fields with coastal views, was idyllic. Our first stop was the magnificent York Minster, and the view from atop its tower. (Which managed to be awesome in spite of the decidedly not awesome 275 steps we had to climb to reach it.)

Fountains Abbey was another building that encapsulated the beauty and history of York. The snow that had just settled on the ground that morning gave the grounds a peaceful feel as we walked around the ruins. My favorite part of York, besides wandering the cobblestone streets, was the ghost tour that we took on our last night. It was a fun and scary way to learn some of the obscure history of the city.

The next morning, as we waited for the train that would take us to Edinburgh, we used Mr. Mylin’s new game of “suitcase curling” to help beat the boredom and stay awake. We all fought hard for the coveted title of Suitcase Curling Champion but in the end, Peter R. emerged victorious.

First up on the agenda when we got to Edinburgh was a tour of Edinburgh castle. When we finally arrived after a long hike, we were greeted by a beautiful, sweeping view of the city. The castle itself was an interesting blend of old and new. For instance, you could visit the still-functioning barracks then turn around and see the oldest building in Edinburgh. After the castle we walked down the Royal Mile to the Holyrood Palace, the official home of the British monarch in Scotland.

The best part of the Royal Mile was visiting the Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter. For our last meal in Scotland, we opted for traditional Scottish fare, with most of us trying haggis for the first time.

And then it was time to go home. None of us was ready to leave such a fascinating and beautiful country. The time had flown by so quickly that the whole trip seemed like one big, blurry dream. We all would have loved to stay another day, or week, or month. And as the plane climbed into the air and we all waved goodbye, my only thought was, “I can’t wait to go back!”