Classroom ‘Flooding,’ a Literacy Advantage

Children are acquiring literacy from birth; from dinner table conversations promoting oral language development, to bedtime storytelling demonstrating that meaning can be made from text, to creating shopping lists which help children learn sounds and alphabetic symbols.

Good educators understand this and work to know and support each student where they are, or, where they fall in the ‘Continuum of Literacy.’ (Fountas and Pinnell)

Based on the continuum of literacy framework, targeted instruction is the current gold standard in literacy programs. What is targeted instruction? It’s not quite individualized curriculum; it’s closer to a tailored curriculum. It begins with collecting information, also called a ‘body of evidence,’ to determine what students know and what they need to know next. Tools such as benchmark assessments, running records, authentic tasks, teacher observations, student work samples, and, in some cases, standardized tests allow for the creation of a ‘literacy profile.’ From there, educators tailor curricular decisions by student, organize groupings, plan strategies for teaching reading and writing, discern how to appropriately-level resources, and create productive learning activities.

Targeted instruction is then implemented through ‘literacy blocks.’ Literacy blocks are 90-minute periods of uninterrupted literacy instruction in reading and writing. Studies show they are the best way to maximize instruction and make sufficient progress. (FCRR) Boulder Country Day School students in Kindergarten – 2nd grade begin every morning with a ninety-minute literacy block called The Daily 5. (Boushey and Moser) Students select from five purposeful reading and writing choices and work independently toward personalized goals while the teacher meets individual needs through whole group, small group, and one on one instruction. BCD’s Learning Specialist Team of literacy experts also ‘floods’ the classroom to further reduce the teacher/student ratio. The early literary advantage created by the Daily 5 is among many benefits we are able to offer at BCD. 

More on BCD’s Elementary program.

Sources: FCRR (Florida Center for Reading Research)Boushey, Gail and Moser, Joan. The Daily 5: Fostering Literacy in the Elementary Grades. Stenhouse Publishers and Pembroke Publishers, 2014,Irene Fountas, Lesley University, Gay Su Pinnell, The Ohio State University. The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Continuum. 2016. http://www.fountasandpinnell.com/continuum/

Start the Momentum Early – Why invest in a PS-8 education?

For several years running, usually around the time reenrollment contracts are due, parents have asked me about investing in PS – 8 education. “College is so expensive,” they say, “Shouldn’t we save our resources when our children are younger so that we can afford to send them to the college of their choice?” 
 

My usual answer is that investing in children during their formative, younger years pays dividends down the road. Even still, as the cost of college education continues to rise, I remain firm in my conviction that an investment in the primary years is what best sets students up for success in later life.

When it comes to raising confident and competent children, the importance of investing in a high-quality education when children are young is critical. This makes sense if you think about the rapid pace at which students learn when they are younger. From language development in toddlers to critical thinking in elementary to navigating the social context of middle school, our kids need exceptional school environments to help them navigate what is becoming an increasingly complex world.

Researchers have been looking at this questions for many years now, and there are at least four key reasons to make this investment.

Literacy – Literacy serves as the springboard for education, and students who attend schools that focus on early literacy have an advantage over those who do not. A study run by the American Educational Research Association, investigated the impact of early education by tracking nearly 3,000 students from preschool through their 11th birthday. In short, the research determined that a student who cannot read at grade level by third grade becomes four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than students who are meeting standards.

Brain Development – Human brains grow more during the first five years of life than any other development period, with the first three serving as a mold for the organ’s architecture. Experiences during these formative years determine the brain’s organizational development for the remainder of life. Consequently, these years impact academic abilities, social-emotional skills, and executive functioning.

Young brains are also “plastic” brains. That is, they have the ability to change, or find new neural pathways, much more easily than older brains. The earlier we can nurture and develop those pathways, including an openness to new ones, the more easily brains can adapt to future opportunities.

Natural Explorers – Children in primary school are natural detectives, journalists and mad scientists. They love to explore and take in new material. They are also at the prime season of their life for absorbing information. Schools that use their resources to provide a broad-based, but balanced, curriculum have an advantage over those that do not. For example, early exposure to world languages, the arts, and STEM classes increase intellectual development. Furthermore, a diverse and rich curriculum increases the opportunities our children have to develop the ability to make cross-curricular connections and devise wide-ranging solutions.

Social-Emotional Growth – Academic and social-emotional growth are not mutually exclusive at any point in education, but they are most connected during elementary and middle school. Skills developed through practice, such as self-regulation and social interaction, have positive effects that are evident throughout an entire lifetime. Furthermore, developing a sense of empathy and understanding is critically important at younger ages. This is especially true in today’s world as cooperation and collaboration are rising to the top among skills critical for the workplace.  

BCD invests heavily in all of the above. We use a “flooding” model for literacy instruction, staffing each grade in K – 3 with four specialists from our Learning Center for 30 minutes each day. This intensive model lowers our student-teacher ratio and allows our students to receive more personalized instruction than they would get from their homeroom teacher.

We provide a broad-based and balanced curriculum to engage young brains and to expose them to multiple pathways of learning. Preschoolers start world language classes when they are three years-old, elementary and middle schoolers benefit from diverse curriculum taught by subject areas specialists in the Arts, STEM, technology, world languages, PE, and library. And, middle schoolers engage and participate in our Explore program, a series of electives designed to expose them to a rich array of topics and subjects that more closely resembles a college course catalog than middle school.

Finally, we teach social emotional skills through our Responsive Classroom and DDMS curriculum. As Preschool Head Kath Courter likes to say, “Pushing over a block tower at age five is kind of like annoying a colleague at the copier much later in life.” Teaching these skills and creating an emotionally safe and welcoming environment within which to learn them only adds to the education our children receive.

Simply put, investing “early and often” in a PS – 8th grade education is good policy and better practice.  Students that receive the benefit of that investment outperform their peers, are better prepared for high school and beyond, and have a stronger and more developed sense of self. In addition, they build on the skills and habits they develop at a young age and are more likely to succeed in a college or university environment when the time comes.

Read about BCD’s Preschool program.

Read about BCD’s Elementary program.

Read about BCD’s Middle School program.

Schedule a tour to see what makes BCD so special.

The Compliment Project

We love this! In 8th grade health class, student did something called The Compliment Project. Students take turns sitting with their backs to the whiteboard while their classmates write compliments about them. The students are studying social-emotional health and learning how we thrive when we feel a sense of love and belonging. This is the third year this activity has been done in this class and the kids LOVE it. They love to write as much as receive the compliments. They are often overwhelmed with emotions when they read what their classmates say.

More on BCD’s Middle School program.

Where Do You Start Your Letters? Using music to enhance memory and learning

Learning is often enhanced when it is connected to music and in preschool, we have songs for just about everything…  The days of the week, the months of the year, foreign language vocabulary, colors, shapes, letters, math – you name it – we sing it.

Many of us remember the catchy tunes that were part of the Schoolhouse Rock collection that debuted in the 1970s. The learning focused music cartoons were interspersed between Saturday morning shows for a couple of decades. I’m sure that the lyrics to title such as Conjunction Junction, What’s Your Function?, or I’m Just a Bill can roll off your tongue without much prompting. Those tunes were a valuable tool to me when I was young, and as a parent, I find myself circling back to the genius of the Multiplication Rock when helping Gus with math.

As early childhood educators, we spend a lot of time our time utilizing the power of music as a tool for neuro-activation. Research indicates that 80% of a person’s brain is formed by age 4. PAUSE. For a minute. Let that sink in. 80% — by age 4! With this in mind, we do everything we can to ensure that songs are an integral part of our teaching. We love the collection of songs from Learning Without Tears. They have a whole line-up of catchy tunes that help children to remember things such as: Where Do You Start Your Letters?, Mat Man, and Magic C.

So, what is the link between music and memory? According to Melissa Yoon, music helps us remember things better because of a process called chunking – the combining of individual pieces of information into larger units – or chunks. Our short-term memory generally holds about seven units of information at a time and if we combine that information into chunks, then we can take in and recall larger amounts of information. Yoon goes on to explain that music works in partnership with chunking by linking words and phrases in a tune. The melody and rhythm act as a framework that we can attach the text to, making it easier to recall later. In this way, the musical structures enhance our ability to learn and retrieve the text of the song. The alphabet song is a great example of chunking in music. Without the song, young children might learn the 26 letters of the alphabet as 26 separate units of information, which is a lot to remember. The song makes it easier for the alphabet to stick.

With all this in mind, we have songs for just about everything:

· The preschool students study both French and Spanish. Two of our favorite world language songs are Bonjour and Adios, Mis Amigos.

· A foundation of our preschool program is language arts and literacy. We believe in the importance of exposing children to letter recognition, letter/sound relationships, and the beginnings of phonemic awareness. The children also begin learning writing strokes. Of course, we love alphabet songs and, the Learning Without Tears song, Where do you start your letters?

· Our study of geometry and shape recognition is supported as we sing about shapes and beginning addition and subtraction concepts as we sing songs such as favorite is Five Green Speckled Frogs.

· One of the most important parts of being in preschool is learning to navigate the social world. With that in mind, we talk a lot about what it means to be a friend and love to sing songs about friendship and caring actions.

To this day, every time I see people ice skating, the tune and lyrics to the Multiplication Rock song for number 8 come immediately to mind. The last time I saw that on TV was probably 1979 and it’s still ingrained in my memory. I hope that you have similar musical connections and that your child is singing to you about what they are learning. Afterall, preschool is a joyful place! 

Where do you start your letters?

The Independent School Engagement and Empowerment Advantage

Tell me and I forget.

Teach me and I remember.

Engage me and I learn.

-Chinese proverb

I recently visited one of our 5th grade classrooms to ask students how they feel they are engaged and empowered in their learning. Among the many examples they shared with me was the following:  

Ben – “We have a lot of freedom in our learning, but it’s contained freedom and its challenging freedom, because we can choose the things that we do. I think it makes people want to learn more because you’re learning more of what you want to learn. If you didn’t want to learn what you were being taught, it would be harder to learn and focus as much – and you’re supposed to learn at school.”

Max – “I like that sometimes we’ll study something small and the whole class will wonder about this really big thing and keep asking questions and I like it because the teachers aren’t stiff, like ‘We’re going to do this.’ They’ll sometime make time for the things that we’re curious about. For example, when we were learning about the Great Depression, and we were trying the understand the bank failure part of it. We (students and teacher) did some research and then asked a parent who works in banking to visit and explain better the banking failures.”

As a result of the students’ curiosity around the concept of bank failure, their teacher invited a parent who works in the bank industry to visit their class and talk to them about his work in banking and to explain bank failure. He spoke about the Great Depression, how banks work, and the variables that affect the market. The visit created a tangible bridge between history and current topics.

When teachers are not required to teach to standardized test content, as is the case in independent schools, they are able to listen to their students’ curiosity and to go with the students where the lesson leads them. Both teacher and student are empowered and better engaged.

More on BCD’s Elementary program

The Benefits of BCD’s Middle Years IB Program (MYP)

Boulder Country Day’s Middle School is an authorized International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (MYP). The IB MYP emphasizes intellectual challenge and encourages students to make connections between their studies in traditional subjects and to the real world. The IB program fosters the development of skills for communication, inter-cultural understanding, and global engagement, qualities that are essential for life in the 21st century.

We are excited to unveil a video we recently developed on the benefits of the IB program for middle school students at BCD. 

Click here to watch the video. Enjoy!

8 Tips for Choosing a Kindergarten Program

Featured

There are numerous Kindergarten options available for children and parents. Today, more than ever, parents carefully examine their many choices: open enroll or neighborhood, public or private, full day or part day, morning or afternoon, academic or play-based…So what should a parent look for in a Kindergarten program?

 1. Consider the atmosphere of the school and classroom. Are you greeted warmly when you visit the school? Do the children seem happy, excited to learn, and eager to be there? Do the teachers and administrators create an atmosphere of support and individualized attention. Remember that the early years are a time when children must develop a love of learning and excitement about school. A child’s sense of “I am and I can” is often solidified in kindergarten and that confidence will help to propel them through many more years of school and learning. Chose a school that communicates this message to you.

BCD teachers and staff, from Preschool through to Middle School, are intentional every day in their teaching and dedication to children. We promise to promote a love of learning within a safe and nurturing environment our priority.

2. Small class size is critical. Small class size helps to ensure that your child’s Kindergarten teacher truly knows your child. Small class size coupled with in-depth knowledge of your child means that teachers are better able to support your child strengths, challenges, and opportunities for growth. Many educators talk about the need for differentiating instruction (i.e. tailoring teaching for individual students). However, reality often does not provide the time or resources for this to happen in classrooms. When class size grows, even the best teachers are forced to teach to the median learning level of the students. When your touring schools be sure to ask about how teachers meet a wide variety of learning styles and needs. Be sure to ask about their strategies for acceleration, remediation, and accommodation.

Elementary class sizes at BCD are limited to 18.

3. Teachers support and nurture students as they learn to navigate socially. Academics are important, but strong social skills are critical to success in today’s world. Whether a person is five years old and knocking over another child’s block tower, or is 50-years-old and irritating co-workers at the copy machine – it is the same thing. Social skills, and the life lessons that accompany learning what works and what does not, are a cornerstone of success today. Look for a school that is focused on supporting development of the whole child and is committed to teaching character development.

BCD’s Elementary School Program has an extensive social and emotional support program including: Responsive Classroom trained faculty, a school counselor, and the Kid Power program.

 4. Teachers have support. Do the classroom teachers have the support of the school administration? Are there resource teachers to help ensure that student needs are met? Do teachers have time to collaborate with one another? Do teachers work as a team and share ideas? Do teachers take the time to work one-on-one time and in small groups time with students? Again, do not be afraid to ask these questions. 

BCD teachers have time built into their weekly schedules for grade level collaboration. Additionally, BCD teachers have a monthly collaboration time that focuses on cross-division collaboration or professional development.

5. Every child matters. No child should ever fall through the cracks – PERIOD.

BCD students are known and nurtured everyday by a faculty of many. The Kindergarten team at BCD includes a homeroom classroom teacher, teachers in world language, science, innovation, music, art, physical education, and library, as well as, school counselors, literacy specialists from the BCD Learning Center, the Head of Elementary, and the Head of School.

6. Look for balance. Just about every adult can recall the drone of Charlie Brown’s teacher and the image of children being sucked into a void of boredom. Kindergarten should also be exciting! Look for a balance in the daily routine. Ideally, students should experience a blend of teacher directed and child initiated activities; activities for the large group, small group, and time to work individually or one-on-one with a teacher; time indoors and time outdoors; time to be focused and put pencil to paper and time to just play and have fun. A balanced Kindergarten program will offer challenging academics and variety of enrichment classes (i.e. “specials”) such as art, computer, music, choir, world language, physical education, technology, and science lab.

BCD’s Kindergarten program stands apart in its breadth of enrichment offerings.

7. After school programs are an important factor. If you know that you will need to use a school’s before or after school program (also commonly known as Extended Day, Y-Care, or KinderCare), check out the program. Does the program seem organized? Are classes held afterschool that might interest your child? Is the program easily accessible to families and easy to use? Can you have your child drop-in on an as-needed basis or is a reservation required? In addition, the cost of extended care either before or after school is often significant. Ask about these costs up front.

BCD offers several affordable (and fun!) on-site after-school classes, as well as, daily aftercare. Our After-School Program (After 3 at BCD) is available to use any day you need it – without advance notification or reservation.

8. Trust your instinct when you visit. One of the most important factors to consider is the feel of the classroom and the sense that the children are actively engaged. It is critical that teachers create this foundation through joy, enthusiasm, and a nurturing passion that reminds us all of our most nostalgic memories and positive experiences in elementary school. Avoid the “mompetition” of what others parents say or do and choose a school that feels right for you and your family. The school that feels right is often the best fit for your child.

If you’re still considering your Kindergarten choices for Fall 2020, we invite to take a look at BCD. Call to schedule your tour today.

Developing Social Intelligence in Preschoolers

Of all the skills we encourage our children to develop, social intelligence may be the most essential for predicting a fulfilling, successful life. Social intelligence is the ability to effectively negotiate interpersonal interactions and complex social environments. It involves effective communication skills, the ability to read non-verbal cues into how other people are feeling and virtues such as empathy and consideration.

Children learn appropriate behaviors by emulating adults. The easiest way to help your child learn qualities such as patience, forgiveness, compassion, generosity, and gentleness is to model these qualities in your day-to-day interactions with other people and with your children. 

Preschoolers are social creatures, generally very interested in other and quick to notice and adopt social norms. They’re becoming more able to control themselves, and more able to verbalize their feelings, opening up a host of options beyond for communicating and problem solving.  The preschool years are a perfect opportunity to teach social habits and skills that will help them throughout their lifetime. If you would like to read a fascinating article that was recently in the New York Times about how work places are really just like preschool, click here.

It is completely natural for preschoolers to experience conflicts. Children this age usually want to have things go their way and yet have other children to play with. The ability to negotiate and compromise is honed through the conflicts that arise between toddlers. Be close by but do not intervene in a conflict until you feel that you absolutely need to. Even when you do intervene, make sure that instead of simply telling everyone what they should do, you help them empathize with each other and understand why they should behave in a particular way.

Some ways you can support the development of social intelligence in your child include:

Support their friendships. Honor and reinforce your child’s developing friendships. Talk about them, remember them, create opportunities to play. Remember that children get aggravated with each other, just as adults do. It doesn’t mean the end of a friendship, necessarily, just that they need help to work through the issues that come up.

Model respectful relating. Remember that your child will treat others as you treat her. Show your child respect, be tactful in the ways you talk to your child about how they are treating others, and help them work out difficulties when they play together.

Teach your child that people are important. Teach your child consideration for others. Model it for him early on, praise it, help him brainstorm to solve peer problems, and don’t let your child intentionally or unintentionally disrespect another person.

Teach kids to express their needs and wants without attacking the other person. For instance: “I don’t like it when you push in front of me like that” instead of “You’re mean!”    “I need a turn, too! instead of “You’re not letting me have the ball.” 

Help your child learn how to repair rifts in relationships. When we think about repairing relationships, we usually focus on apologizing. Giving children a chance to cool down first always works better and then ask them ‘How can you fix it?’. Be sure to model apologies to your children and scaffold this process for them.

Remember, that teaching and modeling social skills is a process that takes time and patience. Stick to it – we promise you will see the results.

Classroom ‘Flooding,’ a Literacy Advantage

Children are acquiring literacy from birth; from dinner table conversations promoting oral language development, to bedtime storytelling demonstrating that meaning can be made from text, to creating shopping lists which help children learn sounds and alphabetic symbols.

Good educators understand this and work to know and support each student where they are, or, where they fall in the ‘Continuum of Literacy.’ (Fountas and Pinnell)

Based on the continuum of literacy framework, targeted instruction is the current gold standard in literacy programs. What is targeted instruction? It’s not quite individualized curriculum; it’s closer to a tailored curriculum. It begins with collecting information, also called a ‘body of evidence,’ to determine what students know and what they need to know next. Tools such as benchmark assessments, running records, authentic tasks, teacher observations, student work samples, and, in some cases, standardized tests allow for the creation of a ‘literacy profile.’ From there, educators tailor curricular decisions by student, organize groupings, plan strategies for teaching reading and writing, discern how to appropriately-level resources, and create productive learning activities.

Targeted instruction is then implemented through ‘literacy blocks.’ Literacy blocks are 90-minute periods of uninterrupted literacy instruction in reading and writing. Studies show they are the best way to maximize instruction and make sufficient progress. (FCRR) Boulder Country Day School students in Kindergarten – 2nd grade begin every morning with a ninety-minute literacy block called The Daily 5. (Boushey and Moser) Students select from five purposeful reading and writing choices and work independently toward personalized goals while the teacher meets individual needs through whole group, small group, and one on one instruction. BCD’s Learning Specialist Team of literacy experts also ‘floods’ the classroom to further reduce the teacher/student ratio. The early literary advantage created by the Daily 5 is among many benefits we are able to offer at BCD.

Sources:  FCRR (Florida Center for Reading Research)Boushey, Gail and Moser, Joan. The Daily 5: Fostering Literacy in the Elementary Grades. Stenhouse Publishers and Pembroke Publishers, 2014,Irene Fountas, Lesley University, Gay Su Pinnell, The Ohio State University. The Fountas & Pinnell Literacy Continuum. 2016. http://www.fountasandpinnell.com/continuum/

Middle School Magic

If our Preschool and Elementary school divisions have been described by some as “magical”, then I can only imagine our middle school can be described as transformational.

Anyone who has reared a pre-teen through middle school can attest that their bodies and minds are in a constant state of change and that providing the right balance of nurture, structure, and latitude requires special talents of both parents and teachers. Ultimately, our work to create balanced, kind, and thoughtful middle schoolers will be judged by who it is we send out into this world, not what. To that end, we have diligently created a Middle School program at BCD that we believe offers a unique balance of academics, electives, character development, and community service forming an innovative overall curriculum designed to challenge and guide students through these sometimes tumultuous years.

Our academic culture is influenced by our status as an authorized International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (MYP). Targeting interdisciplinary teaching and learning, the IB philosophy favors a focus on concepts rather than merely on content, and provides a rich, inquiry-based model of introducing and exploring concepts within and across the disciplines. The MYP’s focus extends beyond the notion of knowledge as an accumulation of content to include connectedness in learning and the big ideas that bind people and civilizations together. These concepts create an intellectual challenge that encourages students to make connections between their studies in traditional subjects and the real world. The IB program cultivates “international mindedness,” a mindset that fosters the development of skills for communication, intercultural understanding, and global engagement – qualities that are essential for life in the 21st century. Research shows that students participating in the MYP build confidence in managing their own learning, learn by doing, seek to connect classroom learning to the larger world, thrive in positive school cultures where they are engaged and motivated to excel, and develop an understanding of global challenges and a commitment to act as responsible citizens. While this list is long, it keeps us focused and steadfast in remembering that it is the character of the individuals we have been charged with guiding that is more important to us than their qualifications.

We balance the core academic subjects of Science, Math, English, STEM, and world languages with opportunities for in-depth pursuit of interests in the Arts, Health and Physical Education, and Design/Technology through our robust elective program which is capped off by an introspective 8th grade Capstone project. As well, students are encouraged to explore in the areas of school athletics, student government, and after-school programs.

Character development is also woven into life at BCD on a daily basis at all school levels, but more formally in middle school through the advisory program. Students work through an identity development program that is designed to progress from a “Who am I as an individual?” perspective to “What is my role in the world?”

Starting in sixth grade, students explore self-awareness and thinking about their goals for the future. Students are guided through exercises and discussions that build a strong sense of self-respect and self-esteem.

As students move into seventh grade, the focus shifts more in the direction of how we function in relationships with others. The goal of the seventh grade curriculum is to provide each student a solid foundation of their self-identity and enable him/her to effectively and respectfully work with others.

The eighth grade curriculum builds on the two previous years of self-exploration and working with others and brings these concepts to a deeper and more global level. Students explore their own global position through activities and discussions covering various topics, and examine the impact that they as individuals have (and hope to have) on the world.

Finally giving back in the form of community service is a critical part of world citizenship and as such it plays a large role our middle school curriculum. Students are required to complete 20 hours of community service. But again, it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the outcome. Thus, each grade level provides service to a non-profit organization for a three-year period adding depth and breadth to the students’ involvement. Students to contribute philanthropically, with in-kind donations and with time spent on service learning field trips putting practice into action. The focus of the program is on forming long-term relationships that cultivate awareness and understanding of the cause being served.

I believe our families and our students would tell you that our middle school program presents students with age-appropriate challenges in a nurturing environment that cultivates independence of thought, habit, and mind. This combination of foundation coupled with exploration enables pre-teen adolescents to do the work of developing a superior academic foundation and good study habits that will lead them to success in high school and beyond, while providing opportunities that enable them to explore who they are as individuals with unique interests and goals ready to serve as responsible citizen of the world.