Sharing Our Summer Reading

Confession from the Lower School Principal:

“I don’t actually remember a single summer in elementary, middle, or high school when I started my summer reading prior to August 1st.”

When I called my mother – with great hope that she would tell me my memories were incorrect – she confirmed that it was “like pulling teeth to get you started on that summer reading of yours.”

Interestingly, in elementary, middle, and high school, I adored reading. The thing with summer reading though, when I was growing up, was that there wasn’t much of a choice about what I read…and there wasn’t much dialogue going on with my friends – at swim meets, during soccer camps, and in the neighborhood tree houses – about what my friends were reading.

I’m sure that there are still many children – and even students in our Lower School – who feel the same way young Ms. Howard felt about summer reading. Yet, I also know that we are striving to enhance learning experiences in the Lower School, and in May, we created a digital space (a blog with currently over 650 views) called Sharing Our Summer Reading. As a result, students are exposed to a greater choice of reading selections and have a place to dialogue about their summer reading.

Student learners and adult learners (parents, teachers, and administrators) can submit recommendations and reviews which are posted for the immediate School community and for the world to see (already, visitors from Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela have happened upon our project). So far twelve reviews have been posted and rising second, third, fourth, and fifth graders have contributed thoughtful book recommendations (in addition to two contributions from adults).

One of our rising fifth graders, Tanya D., shared a review on The Tale of Despereaux and wrote,

The Tale of Despereaux is a page-turning book. It’s something you’d be reading in bed at midnight when you’re extremely tired, but you have to stay awake to finish the book. This book would appeal to someone who enjoys adventures and surprise. I would recommend this because it is interesting. Some characters switch heart completely.”

Not only will her review potentially motivate her classmates to be curious about Despereaux, but Tanya received valuable feedback from a second grade teacher at another school, a parent of a rising third grader, and a senior from the Upper School at Walker. Her blog post, like many others on the blog, is detailed and thoughtful. It invites others to engage…and that was our purpose in creating this digital space. While summer is certainly a time for play, rest, and a bit of summer reading, at Walker we are always striving to create engaging educational experiences for our learners — children and adults alike.

I hope you will take time to visit the Sharing Our Summer Reading blog…and if you have time to leave a comment, please do! Or better yet, write a review for a book you’ve enjoyed this summer!

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The Spirit of ‘Wanting to Know’

I ate lunch with a group of first graders last week. As I sat down with my tray of food, a small group was deeply engaged in conversation about a recent experiment in science class. These children were talking excitedly about volcanoes. When I started asking simple questions, I soon learned that I needed to increase the sophistication of my questioning technique.

First graders at Walker spent the month of September learning about volcanoes — the prompt for this unit of study was the anniversary of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (August 24th in 79A.D.) Children’s innate interest in physical science (and things that explode!) is fascinating and an incredible example of how students experience lessons and units that connect to their passions and keep them engaged and learning for days and weeks to come. In this case, it was mid-October and these students were still talking about a science lab that was completed in September!

As I ate my lunch and listened to these students, I was reminded that there is so much we adults can learn from children. At the lunch table, I became the student and the first graders were my teachers. They told stories, shared statistics, and explained everything I needed to know about their science experiment and their new learning related to this scientific phenomenon.

A recent New York Times article, Scientific Inquiry Among the Preschool Set, offers a glimpse into the power of free exploration and guided inquiry in the classroom:

When engaged in what looks like child’s play, preschoolers are actually behaving like scientists, according to a new report in the journal Science: forming hypotheses, running experiments, calculating probabilities and deciphering causal relationships about the world.

In the Lower School, science teachers Suzanne Waddington and Denise Mullins capitalize on children’s passions and willingness to take risks with an array of learning activities. These activities often look like child’s play — like the creation and eruption Mt. Vesuvius depicted in the video below — but such play allows children to explore and test multiple hypotheses and travel down varying roads of investigation.

This short video offers a brief glimpse into the first grade unit of study on volcanoes. It also demonstrates the many ways in which our Walker School teachers cultivate students’ spirit of wanting to know in every setting…which is our promise to the families we serve.

I am always learning.

In my office is displayed this plaque.  The words, “Ancora Imparo,” mean “I am always learning.”  The quote is attributed to one of the world’s greatest minds, Michelangelo, who is claimed to have lived these words until the end of his life.  I keep this plaque in my office because it captures the essence of education and life.  Students, teachers, parents, all of us should continually remain in “learning mode.”

At The Walker School, we believe that meaningful relationships between teachers and students will result in transformative learning.  What is transformative learning?  While it may be difficult to define, if you consider your own learning experience, it is likely that you can pinpoint moments where you were engaged in transformative learning.

In 1998, I participated in a teaching seminar at The Westtown School.  Dr. Roland Barth, Professor of Education at Harvard University, led us through an exercise that enabled me to identify the periods in my life where my learning was most transformational.  Dr. Barth gave each of us a piece of graph paper and directed us to “graph your life, from birth to present, from worst times to best times.”  It was interesting to think back over one’s childhood, high school, college days, courtship and marriage, early professional career.  Barth gave us ten minutes to complete the exercise, and when we were done, he asked the most penetrating question: “Now circle the three places where you learned the most.”  I looked at my graph and immediately knew the answer; I learned the most during those moments when I had failed, where the graph point was at the lowest.  It was a profound recognition.

Once I became acutely aware of the correlation between adversity and learning in my own life, I began to notice example of such learning in many areas.  One of the world’s greatest athletes, Michael Jordan, said “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Transformative learning happens in an environment which promotes a growth mindset, a topic that I will share more about in my next post based on outstanding research done by Dr. Carol Dweck.  Transformative learning happens in an environment which is intimately scaled, where parents and teachers collaborate to cultivate each student’s spirit of wanting to know, and where mutual trust and encouragement enable students to try, fail, try again, find success, and experience transformational learning.  It happens here at The Walker School.