Students need S-P-A-C-E to learn

I was recently introduced to Challenge Success, which is an organization that works with schools to help create balance and academic fulfillment for students. One of their cornerstones is based on the notion that students need SPACE to learn. SPACE is an acronym for five practices that can help change a student’s experience of school:

S – Students’ use of time

P – Project-based learning

A – Alternative and authentic assessments

C – Climate of care

E – Educate parents, students and faculty

It is worth viewing the recommended SPACE policies and ideas that can positively influence a student’s experience of high school.

Interestingly, we have been advocating for these same principles (minus the fancy acronym!) and planning for many of the recommendations for our new high school. It is rewarding to see how our efforts are aligning with recommendations from the research base for school success.

Of particular interest is focus “C” on developing a caring community for students in which they feel safe and appropriately challenged to learn. This is so central to our plans for Monroe Christian High School, as it is in a Christian community-based learning environment that discipleship and student development can occur. Our high school students need community and a caring advising system in which teachers will get to know their students in order to help them succeed academically  We don’t believe that a fully online, virtual high school will lead to the type of academic and personal growth that we desire for our high school graduates. We remain committed to the deliberate blending of on-campus learning experiences and positive relationships with the best that online learning options may offer for high school studies.

Resource:

Barseghian, T. – Why kids need schools to change

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A important lesson from last June

Summer is coming to an end and I realize that I haven’t provided an update on the new high school during the past few months. I want to share a bit about a meeting that I held with last year’s group of 7th graders during the final days of classes in June.

Since this class will serve as the inaugural freshmen class for the new high school, I wanted to meet with them and begin to honor their voice in the planning process. I spent a bit of time sharing some key aspects that we had been considering for the new high school and then answered their questions. I also wanted to learn what interested them as we continued our planning.

The significant insight that I took away from my hour with the students was acknowledging their interest over student life activities. They weren’t overly concerned about the range of courses that they will take or the type of instructional format for their classes (although they were excited about using either a personal laptop or tablet!). No, they wanted some reassurance that high school would include opportunities for clubs, sports and activities outside of regular class time.

For me, this meeting will serve as a reminder to keep the student experience central in all our considerations.

The Vancouver Symposium on Christian Education – Day 3

“Let’s not leave the developing world behind.”

This message resonated deeply with me today during our third day together. Cellular and Internet connectivity is worldwide, and as Christian schools work to prepare our students for the world they will face, it shouldn’t be too difficult for us to partner with missions and/or local schools in the developing world. They have access to the connection; they need to be provided with the opportunity to interact more together.

Imagine a learning partnership where our children are interacting with less-advantaged children in the world via the world wide web. Imagine how these children may be reached with the Gospel by our Christian school students demonstrating their beliefs as they learn together. We may be able to teach them through our interactions, but, more importantly, imagine how much our students can learn from them as we partner together.

Today’s ‘a-ha’ for me was that it shouldn’t be too difficult for each and every Christian school to have a ‘sister school’ in the developing world. As I think about some of the mission partnerships with my home church alone, I realize that at least two of them are with missionaries in their local school systems. Why couldn’t the new Monroe Christian High School partner with these schools, especially if we consider offering (for example) English as a Second Language tutorials online, service learning opportunities to benefit these sites, or mission-related study trips?

Digital textbooks for the classroom

I recall a conversation when I learned that one of the larger annual expenditures for MCS is on textbooks. This can change with access to digital textbooks. They are on average 53% cheaper to develop and print, and this is a savings that can be passed on to the school. Equally important is the stewardship of natural resources that is involved with the publication of these texts. From a student’s immediate perspective, such texts are significantly lighter to carry around and they provide immediate 24/7 access to the materials. This infographic highlights the textbooks of tomorrow.

Virtual texts are becoming more and more interactive, and this is impacting the learning experience for students. An example that I came across was the HMH Fuse interactive text for algebra and geometry. These texts allow students to interact with the material, and include video tutorials, “scratch pads” to actually work out math problems or make notes, animated guidance in error analysis, and hyperlink access to glossaries. Books may embed games as part of the text process and inline quizzes to help students gauge their progress on the material. Texts such as these are immediately accessible and can include syncing features that allow the teachers to access assessment data on student progress from the books. This video highlights the student’s experience with such a text (I admit that this is a promotional video developed by the publisher, but it does suggest how students can take to such an interactive text).

Another version of the virtual text is one that is custom designed and created in-house. When teachers have the time and desire, it is possible to self-publish a text that meets local needs and remains completing aligned to learning standards. This article describes one school in Minnesota that accomplished just this. Their budget crisis served to motivate a group of teachers to develop a text and supporting videos for their subject area.

Reference:

Oseland, C. (2011, Sept. 28). Budget crisis inspires award winning curriculum redesign at Byron Senior High School. THE Journal, accessed Nov. 14, 2011.

Categorizing my thinking

Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University recently launched the Developing Effective Schools Center (DESC), a national research and development center on identifying programs, practices, processes and policies that make some high schools more effective at reaching certain students than others. The DESC notes that consensus has grown among practitioners and researchers around the essential components of a successful high school. These include quality instruction, a rigorous curriculum, a culture of learning, professional behavior, connections to external communities, systemic use of data, system performance accountability, and learner-centered leadership.

Marzano (2003) reviewed 35 years of research of ‘what works in schools.’ He organized his results into three general factors of  influence on student achievement. These are 1) school-level factors (viable curriculum, challenging goals and effective feedback, parent and community involvement, safe and orderly environment), 2) teacher-level factors (instructional strategies, classroom management, classroom curriculum design), and 3) student-level factors (home atmosphere, learned intelligence and background knowledge, motivation).

As I reviewed the two lists, I wondered if considering these components and categories would be helpful as I continue to organize my thoughts regarding a new Christian high school. It seemed that each component and category could be applied to a Christian education context with little difficulty. I then recalled my recent site visitation experience at Monroe Christian School which introduced me to the accreditation standards that are central Christian Schools International. These are Standards 1) Community, 2) Staff, 3) Students, and 4) Curriculum. I mapped my understanding of the components suggested by DESC and the Marzano categories of what works in schools to the four CSI Standards and decided to include those additional components that a private institution needs to consider. This led to following organizing framework:

1. School

  • centrality of vision and mission of the Christian school (including the philosophical foundation of education/school)
  • connections to external communities (including parent and community involvement)
  • responsibilities & relationships among all participants in the learning process (including the student-level factors of home atmosphere, motivation, and learned intelligence and background knowledge)
  • systemic use of data to guide decision-making and inform system performance
  • facilities

2. Teacher

  • teacher development and support
  • healthy, professional, and biblical teacher leadership
  • developing a culture of learning

3. Students

  • discipleship and development
  • student services & programs
  • enrollment (admissions & retention)
  • graduation requirement

4. Curriculum & Instruction

  • a guaranteed, viable & rigorous curriculum
  • quality instruction & classroom management
  • learning environment
  • educational technology

I am going to start categorize and/or tag my posts in this blog according to this framework. This should help me as I continue to reflect and act upon this “whisper” for a Christian High School.

References:

Christian Schools International. (2006). Vision to action. Retrieved October 12, 2010 at http://www.csionline.org/.

Marzano, R. J. (2003). What works in schools: Translating research into action. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Peabody College of Education. (2010, Fall). Ideas in action. Peabody Reflector. 11.