February HEADlines

Christopher B. Williamson

With our focus on being metacognitive, I have been reflecting a great deal in the past week on the last twelve months. I wrote my first HEADlines since I retired at exactly this time last year, in part introducing our new ALiCE training. Our faculty had just practiced for that first drill at our in-service last February, and we have now conducted several faculty practices and a few student drills.

Metacognition: Teaching Students to “Drive Their Brains”

Even more noteworthy, we began our professional development work with Mike Anderson on metacognition at that in-service. A year later, every faculty member and our staff have shifted to a more metacognitive practice, every faculty member has added at least one collaborative project with one or more colleagues, and every faculty member (unless on leave) has engaged with colleagues in collegial coaching to reinforce and develop skills that Mike has introduced to us. The Task Force’s call to action, in other words, has been embraced by the faculty in a way that Mike says is the envy of most schools, for whom resistance to change seems embedded in the system.

There are certainly bedrock beliefs that we hold dear at Applewild: Core Values, Core Competencies, our commitment to knowing and valuing each student, broad and deep experiences across a rich curriculum, and our conviction that accelerated work can be achieved when children “have fun working hard.” At the same time, Applewild’s faculty has demonstrated an important flexibility and nimbleness that is vital in order to address the fast pace of change in our world. As with any skill, this one is important to practice and keep elastic, just as it is to provide our students with the confidence to take the risk of being wrong, reflect, and adapt so learning can accelerate. That is one of the values of metacognition.

The Task Force had researched what strategies have the most profound impacts on student learning, both immediately and over time. Metacognition and its related components (micro-teaching, reciprocal teaching, self-reported grades) and positive teacher – student relationships are in the top ten of 138 possible strategies. Already strong in relationships, we decided to enhance our program through metacognition. Mike confirmed this in a visual early on in his work with us (see diagram). In other words, over time, metacognitive practices accelerate learning by over half a grade.

Metacognitive impact.png

Service Learning

We have seen how metacognition adds value to the learning experience through another initiative that began germinating a year ago – Service Learning. After working to narrow down options with three faculty facilitators, our seventh graders presented five projects to the school; and Animal Welfare was adopted as the K – 8 project. As eighth graders this year, they became the leaders for all our other grades as specific grade level projects were developed.

The eighth graders have now themselves reflected on the project and have returned to their grades to lead a school wide opportunity for reflection: design – feedback – redesign in action. We are now preparing to have eighth graders share their experiences directly with seventh graders as the seventh grade takes on year two of leadership of our Service Learning.

What did the eighth graders learn? Below are some examples of the insights that they had. Remember – this project was not graded, yet it was taken seriously and engendered feelings of both pride and frustration. This process, including reflection (metacognition), is at the heart of project-based learning and why it is so important for students to learn these skills.

            A few Summary Responses

·         Many enjoyed working with other grades, and particularly the Lower School students

·         Several suggested more time be available to do that work

·         Final presentation was a good way to conclude the project

·         Raise more awareness about the issue going forward instead of just doing the project(s)

·         We were productive and thoughtful; much conversation and reflection

·         The voting process was good

·         The creative process was good when the students picked projects instead of the teachers

·         Mind mapping was helpful; mind webs good

·         Be clearer at the start what the role of 8th graders will be (doing a project or leading one)

·         Decide on the grade level projects before summer break

·         Provide a clearer way for eighth graders to gauge success (since no concrete project of our own)

·         Shorten the process of choosing so we can move to the actual projects

How will you use what you learned during this project? Here are a few responses:

·         I’ll donate to shelters

·         I’ll be more metacognitive to effect current issues in the world

·         I’ll know how to set up my own project

·         I will use the skills I learned of organizing, public speaking, and perseverance

·         I’ll be better at managing groups

·         I now know how to advocate for animals

·         I’ll be more conscientious about the environment

·         I know how to increase my understanding of an issue

·         I will adopt and comfort a dog

·         I will speak up even if I think my idea is dumb

Service Learning is messy, just as authentic project-based learning can be. It involves trial and error, listening, re-thinking, adapting, advocating for one’s position, seeking to understand another’s. That process was frustrating to some students, as was the shift from owning their own project to leading others. At the end, most felt a strong sense of accomplishment. Now we learn from this experience and begin again.

Other thoughts

We will be doing the same with the results of the parent questionnaire. Thanks to all who responded. We have begun to digest the results, and I will share them next month. Amy Jolly may actually be calling those of you who indicated that you would be willing to share further insights. That, of course, is another piece of important progress –our next Head of School is in place!

We are in the midst of a typical Applewild high energy couple of weeks as we look ahead to Spring Break:

·         Math Night enables students to have fun using mathematics in a different way;

·         We offer a screening of the Mr. Rogers movie Won’t You Be My Neighbor next Tuesday at 6:00 (including professional development certificate for early childhood educators);

·         The 7th and 8th grade play Murder Mystery at the Murder Mystery is another in our many ‘dramatic’ opportunities (This one promises a surprise ending!);

·         A Marshall Fund Residency in the first week of March features Adam Ezra doing song writing with our fifth – eighth grade students and also sharing with our younger students. This concludes with a performance Thursday at 4:00 which I expect to be very high energy.

I hope that you join us for one or more of these events. Then I hope that you enjoy the March break. Thanks to Jenny Coeur for offering a one-week vacation exploration program for interested families – and to our preschool programs for continuing to be open for families with our youngest children.

Taylor Poucel