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By: Guest Blogger
Swanton Middle School is home to 400 students in grades 5-8 in Northwest Ohio. Approximately 45 percent of our students are socio-economically disadvantaged. Like many schools, our school faced challenges like student apathy, an increasing special education population that seemed to require more time and resources than we could allocate, lack of total student engagement, and low student motivation. The building leadership team was looking for something to tackle these challenges and transform our school into an atmosphere where students were excited about attending daily, a place where parents were confident sending their children, and a place where staff wanted to work. At first, we tried smaller-scale shifts and ideas (such as changing homework policies, various reward systems and schoolwide writing programs) to try and tackle our challenges, but we never saw a major impact.
We decided to embark on a new mission at our school called the Swanton Seven Initiative. This idea had been in the works for at least six months before we laid out any concrete plans. We were fortunate to receive a 21st Century Learning Grant, which, among many other wonderful things, allowed four of our teachers and I to attend a training at Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. We had discussed what it would be like to implement a “house” system before, but we really weren’t sure what we were doing. After that training, we knew not only that we could do it, but that we would start the next school year. The training in Atlanta was so fascinating that the five of us sketched out plans right there in the hotel. I called a staff meeting as soon as we returned from the trip and let everyone know we had a plan, albeit rough, but an idea of what we wanted to see at our school. We called on the staff to help and scheduled team meetings throughout the summer to refine our plan. A lot of hard work and time was dedicated to coming up with the following:
The Swanton Seven is devoted to promoting a positive learning culture while challenging all students to the best learning opportunities.
Our first task as a team was to identify and focus on seven objectives we wanted as our foundation by deliberately teaching and modeling them to our students and staff:
- Exhibit effective listening skills.
- Utilize excellent conversation skills.
- Use manners.
- Choose to work hard. Strive to be successful.
- Support, respect, and encourage people.
- Be honest and do not make excuses.
- Take pride in our school and yourself.
By teaching, modeling and striving to live out these seven “soft skills,” we empower each individual to reach his or her highest potential. To launch this new program, we created the story that long ago the leaders of Swanton buried a scroll in the old middle school building. The writers of the scroll asked that, upon discovery, four houses be created and students would be taught these seven philosophies. As a staff, we presented the story to the students and unveiled the official scroll, a treasure chest and the names of the four houses: Dignitas, Obduro, Gratus and Sapientia (DOGS, as we are the Bulldogs). Students were led to the gym in small groups, where they opened packages containing their official house welcome letters, T-shirts and designated wristbands while the rest of the school cheered them on. The students’ anticipation was moving. There was instant “buy-in.”
Students and staff members are awarded house points for exhibiting the seven objectives throughout the course of the day. Teachers keep track of point totals, and they are updated on an enormous scoreboard in the cafeteria each Friday. The competitive spirit has motivated each student to capture the lead and, ultimately, be awarded the House Points Belt for the week.
The success of the Swanton Seven Initiative would not be possible without the community and parental support we have received. This dream, turned into an idea, into a plan and into a philosophy, has not only changed our school and community but has set us on a course to drastically challenge and empower students. It has created an environment where being your best is an expectation of being part of the BullDOGS.
The Swanton Seven Initiative has fostered team building and brought our staff together. Teachers are dispersed among the houses to ensure each house has a core subject (English language arts, math, science or social studies) teacher from every grade level, an elective teacher, an intervention specialist and multiple members of support staff (such as secretaries, the school nurse, kitchen staff and custodians). This has strengthened our staff and supplemented our current grade-level teams, which share common planning times and weekly teacher-based team meetings. Staff members who typically don’t work directly with one another on a regular basis have connected. The same has happened with our students.
Students in each grade level were divided evenly by a randomizer to determine their houses. Each house has cultivated relationships that most likely would not have grown without the Swanton Seven Initiative. Teachers have individualized their houses by creating chants used to focus their students or silence their rooms. Each house also has its own special song that has helped build cohesion among students and staff. These chants and songs have extended into our community. For example, at the grocery store last week, I overheard a “P-U-R” followed by a louder return “P-L-E, go Sapientia!” The Swanton Seven has truly become our identity, both within and outside the school walls.
This academic year, we focused our community service project on a local food drive. We collected more than 3,000 goods to donate directly to our small community. While it may seem small or generic, this event sparked us to work on a yearlong project, Backpack Buddies, built off the Feeding America program. The program is a yearlong program to help the students of our community and surrounding areas. Students in families who sign up for the program take a discreet backpack home full of nutritious food for the weekend. We pack enough for at least three meals that will feed the family depending on how many family members there are. Families really appreciate they can count on this when needed throughout the year.
While it will take some time to know exactly how this initiative will affect our test scores and Ohio School Report Cards, we are optimistic and look forward to tracking the results in the future. What we do know is that since implementing the Swanton Seven Initiative, we’ve seen other positive results in our school. We had a record number of students invited and awarded at our annual academic awards night. We have seen a decrease in attendance issues and teacher discipline referrals. The interesting thing is that we hold students more accountable and to higher standards, and we still have seen at 20 percent decrease in behavior incidents. The Swanton Seven initiative clearly makes a difference for our school staff, our community and, most importantly, our students.
Matt Smith has been the principal of Swanton Middle School in Swanton, Ohio for four years. You can contact Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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By: Kimberly Monachino
We hear the term student engagement quite a bit, but what does that mean in the classroom and how is it done? Student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism and passion students show when they are learning or being taught. This extends to their levels of motivation to learn and progress in their education. To create high levels of student engagement, teachers craft lessons that focus on student-driven inquiry and create learning environments that challenge students to actively research, investigate and collaborate. Students have multiple options to demonstrate their mastery of both content and skills. Simply stated: the students are actively participating in their learning, not passive bystanders.
As Benjamin Franklin stated, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” This quote speaks to the power of student engagement. We know that the more students are engaged, the more learning occurs. So, how do we create classrooms with high levels of student engagement?
Here are several ways to increase the amount of time students are engaged.
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- Make the lesson meaningful and real. Have the students incorporate their experiences, interests and knowledge.
- Give students choice. Empower the students to make choices on their assignments (for example, tic-tac-toe style boards that offer choices of activities).
- Use the 10:2 method. For every 10 minutes of instruction, allow the students two minutes to process and respond to the instruction or reading material. This can be done in various ways: have them write about what they learned or read, have them ask or write down questions they have about what they read or learned, or have students discuss the lesson or reading material with partners.
- Incorporate movement into your lessons. Require students to respond to a question about a reading passage or lesson by moving to a certain spot in the room, writing on whiteboards or standing (or sitting) when they are done thinking about the question.
- Embrace collaborative learning. By teaching students to work together, they learn how to problem-solve, think critically, improve social interactions and develop communication skills.
- Allow students five to seven seconds of ‘think time’ when asking a question about a story or reading passage. At the end of the time, draw a random name to answer the question.
- At the end of a lesson, have students use the 3-2-1 method of summarizing. In this method, students record three things they learned, two interesting things and one question they have about what was taught or read. Allow time for them to share their findings with peers.
- Take a moment to pause. Periodically pause mid-sentence when teaching and require students to fill in the blanks.
- Establish positive teacher-student relationships. Students need to feel safe in their classrooms. They need to know they can take risks and make mistakes in their learning.
- Remember your role as a teacher. Remember that the goal of engagement in the classroom is to change from being a teacher who is the sage on the stage to one who is the guide on the side.
By: Staff Blogger
Part of building excitement for student learning means creating a culture of continuous improvement and feedback for educators and staff. Providing students with the necessary supports helps to meet their unique needs and positions them to learn and grow. State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria visited Ashville Elementary School on Jan. 11 and learned how their educators and staff create a positive school climate for kids. The Ohio Department of Education recently recognized Ashville Elementary, in the Teays Valley Local School District, as one of the state’s High Progress Schools of Honor for 2018.
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By: Staff Blogger
In December, the Ohio Department of Education recognized 66 schools as High Progress Schools of Honor for 2018. These schools have sustained high achievement and substantial progress while addressing non-academic barriers to learning. State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria visited Rockhill Elementary in the Alliance City School District, one of the Schools of Honor, to see teaching and learning in action and how educators create the conditions for student success.
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By: Kimberly Monachino
It is hard to believe that another school year is fast approaching. Before we know it, the yellow school buses will be en route and the “20 mile per hour” school zone signs will be flashing. The marquees outside many schools will read “Welcome Back Students!” or “Good luck students and staff for a successful 2018-2019 school year!”
Even after 30 years in education, I still get butterflies in my stomach the night before the first day of school. There is a renewed excitement about starting a new school year. Teachers, parents and, most importantly, students wonder what the new year will bring.
As we start to get back in the swing of school and learning, remember, one of the most important tasks a teacher must start with, and continue all year, is building relationships with students. Building relationships is the keystone for a successful year. If a teacher has a good relationship with her students, the students are more willing to please the teacher, which can lead to less discipline and more learning. Relationship building is not something you can do the first day or the first week and then forget about. It is something that, for some students, may take all year. For some, those connections may be on the first hello, for others, it will be on the last goodbye.
Here are some tips teachers can use to build relationships with their students:
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- Greet your students every day. Let them know they are important enough for you to stop and say hello.
- Have a “family meeting” several times a week with your class. Take some time for your students to share what is going on in their lives.
- Write positive notes or make positive calls home. This allows the child to see you notice and care.
- Stop and have a personal conversation with your students. It will give you insight to what is going on in their lives. This also is a good technique for working with your more difficult students.
- Try to make connections with your students by including things that are important to them in your classroom or teaching. For example, if a student likes baseball, you can use that as an example in a math problem.
- Speak to the students with respect. All relationships, including student-teacher relationships, flourish on mutual respect.
- Attend extracurricular activities. By attending an activity outside of school, it shows the students you are interested in them as people and not just “students.”
- Share stories about yourself. Let the students see you as a person. This will allow them to make connections to you just like you make connections with them.
- Let students have a voice in the classroom. Let them know this is not “my room” but “our room.” Try to stay away from the pronouns my or mine and go with we and ours.
- Trust your students! What better way is there to build relationships than to build trust? Also, students must trust you. Trust is the foundation of any good relationship.
By: Virginia Ressa
Summer “vacation” is one of those things that non-educators sometimes misunderstand. Some people, even our family members, think teachers have three months off to lounge, sleep in and binge watch the shows we missed during the school year. We know differently. First of all, it’s not three months – it’s maybe two and a half after you factor in required planning and professional development days. But that’s not what I want to discuss today. I want to talk about how we use that time. Educators are also learners, using their time “off” to take classes to maintain their current license, earn a new license or an advanced degree.
What motivates us to continue our education and complete graduate classes?
What inspires us to engage in the learning process? To finish the vast amount of academic reading? And to complete the group projects that are so ubiquitous in grad school? I can tell you from experience, there are no rewards that give graduate students bonus bucks to spend at the university store when they complete the required reading. Rather than extrinsic rewards, we develop our own intrinsic motivations that keep us focused. We have ownership of our learning because we know why we are engaged in the learning. We know where we are going and what is expected of us.
Why don’t our students develop the same ownership of learning that we do?
Think about our K-12 classrooms and how we involve students in learning. Many of our schools and classrooms have rewards systems with stickers and bonus bucks in an attempt to motivate reluctant students. We try to provide extrinsic rewards because we have not given students the information and tools they need to develop ownership of their learning and intrinsic motivation. Teachers make the decisions about what students will learn and how they will be assessed. Teachers determine the timing of lessons and units of study. Teachers collect evidence of student learning. Teachers keep track of student progress. Teachers retain most of the control of teaching AND learning decisions, which leaves students as directed, passive participants.
As classroom teachers or grade level teams, we can offer rewards and privileges that might work for a short time, but rarely result in enduring motivation. Most of our attempts at external motivation fall far short of creating the engagement we genuinely want to see in our classrooms. What we are actually striving for, and what we experience as students ourselves, is ownership of learning. Student ownership goes beyond engagement and motivation, and empowers students with a sense of control and responsibility for their learning. Creating the conditions for students to take ownership of their learning requires teachers to work with students to set and communicate clear learning targets, collect evidence of their learning, track and analyze their progress, and provide opportunities for self and peer assessment.
We often see students engaged in classroom activities – they are busy, on task and focused. But if we stop to ask them what they are learning and why, can students articulate either? They may be on task simply to complete the activity before the end of class so they don’t have homework. Maybe they are on task because they want to earn a spot in Friday’s field trip. They may not know why they are doing an assignment, but have been provided with enough outside motivation to complete the assignment. Yet, research shows that when students know why they are engaged in a learning activity and understand how their learning will contribute to their long-term goals, they are more likely to be self-motivated and to reach their goals. In other words, students are more likely to be motivated to reach goals they’ve helped to set. They are more likely to keep working toward their goals if they can see and track their progress.
“Formative instructional practices involve students throughout the teaching and learning process. These practices – done well – enhance student efficacy and motivation to learn.”
-FIP Learning Modules
If you have participated in any of the Formative Instructional Practices (FIP) professional learning, you will recall it emphasizes four core practices: Creating clear learning targets, collecting evidence of student learning, providing effective feedback and supporting student ownership of learning.
The most critical element of student ownership and FIP is the creation of clear learning targets. Clear learning targets are the keystone in this set of practices because we cannot successfully implement the other practices if we do not have well written, aligned and easily communicated learning targets. Most significantly, clear learning targets provide educators with the key to empower students to take ownership of their learning.
This summer, Ohio’s teachers will have many opportunities to participate in professional learning. it is now easier than ever to learn about formative instructional practices. Free resources are now available on the Learning Management System (LMS). I’ve given you an introduction to student ownership of learning, but there are modules in the “FIP in Action” course that will help you to envision the practices in the context of content area classes. Once you have had a chance to take some time for yourself, visit the LMS and look at the many options available for improving your use of formative instructional practices.
Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.
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By: Guest Blogger
Sometimes people who don’t work in schools find it surprising that students begin learning the basics of subjects like algebra, physics and even economics as early as elementary school. We expect teachers to cover these topics in high school and college, but elementary school teachers begin building this knowledge in their students much earlier. As a second grade teacher, I am always looking for ways to make learning fun and engaging. For example, teaching economics to second-graders certainly is not going to look like the stereotypical dry lecture you might imagine in a college setting. In fact, when it is time to teach the economics strand of the social studies standards to my second-graders, I get so excited about the project. Every year, my students love this lesson.
When I first started teaching economics, I stumbled upon a packet of teaching materials for second-graders. The packet basically covered important vocabulary words that are involved in understanding how money works. After looking it over and collaborating with my co-workers, we decided we had to make these concepts more interesting. This is how the “market day” project was born. To make the learning more meaningful, we created a unit where students build and participate in a marketplace. In this marketplace, students have an opportunity to design a product, create a business and sell their products to their classmates.
We begin the first day of the project by having the students take notes in a packet to help them learn the key vocabulary. The next day, they start to put their learning in action. Students form groups of three. Each group is responsible for designing a product that meets certain criteria:
- It has to be something that students can make at school. If students need materials not available in the classroom, they bring them from home.
- Students are “paid” on production days with fake money.
- Students set prices for their products based on the demand (which was a vocabulary word they learned).
My fellow teachers and I also teach students about advertisements. Students create their own advertisements, which I videotape. After weeks of producing goods and advertising them to their classmates, market day arrives. Students eagerly set up their stores and begin shopping in their classmates’ stores. They spend only the money they earned on production days. By doing this, they learn how to make choices as consumers because they don’t have enough money to buy everyone’s products. Some of the items that students created were bookmarks, hair bows and — what every household needs — a box to hold straws. This year, one group even added a gimmick to make its bookmark store more appealing. The store offered customers the opportunity to lower a fishing pole into a pile of bookmarks and “fish” for bookmarks. This took real entrepreneurship and creativity because the group knew it was competing with another bookmark store.
The buying and selling happens in cycles so that only one of the business owners can go out and shop while the others stay back to sell their products and collect the money. We wrap up the unit by having the students add up their profits and reflect on their sales and what they might have done differently. For example: Was the pricing right? Did you create enough product or too much product?
Market day makes economics in elementary school so much fun. The students are always proud of their products, and they get hands-on experience with the decisions that all consumers and business owners make. It is a great way for my students to learn the concepts of economics through an authentic, highly engaging project. I can’t wait to teach this lesson again next year!
Kelly Miller is a second grade teacher at Monterey Elementary School in South-Western City Schools. You can contact Kelly by clicking here.
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By: Guest Blogger
As an Ohio school counselor, one of my favorite roles is the promotion of college and career readiness. Currently, I serve a high school population where college and career awareness is on the forefront of many of my students’ minds. However, I previously served a kindergarten through sixth grade population. There was nothing more exciting than watching third- or fourth-graders explore their strengths for the first time and talk about what kinds of schooling could be in their future—whether that be a four-year college or a career-technical program. If you couldn’t already tell, I’m passionate about planting the seeds of career planning in our students. Witnessing a student light up with excitement when she tells you about her plans to be an engineer, a cosmetologist or a physician is one of the reasons I chose my own career as a school counselor.
However, there are always those students who are harder to reach. The ones that you ask, “What are your plans?” and they just look at you and shrug their shoulders. This used to frustrate me to no end. Surely, they must have some idea of what they want to do with the rest of their lives? But the reality that I have found is that some students have no idea where to start when it comes to college and career planning. That’s when, as a counselor, it’s time to step in and help them explore their interests and what may be a good fit for their skill sets. Last year, as the freshman and sophomore counselor at Zanesville High School, I got the opportunity to use the OhioMeansJobs backpack tool in ninth and 10th grade English classes.
Once my students set up their accounts with OhioMeansJobs, they quickly got started on the first step of building their backpacks, the “career cluster inventory.” Students indicated how well they enjoyed certain activities, such as fishing and drawing. At first, there were some complaints about the number of questions, but after a while, the once bustling room was hushed except for the sound of clicking from their computers. It was interesting to watch students’ faces as they read over activities and decided their levels of interests. And, as they began to finish their inventories, they started chattering about the “career clusters” that showed up on top of their lists.
A large number of students in one ninth grade English class received “Agricultural and Environmental Systems” as their top cluster. The term agriculture was new to some students. When one student asked questions, I directed him to click on the cluster. The nice thing about the inventory is that each cluster contains a hyperlink to different explanations and occupations within that category. In this case, when the student clicked on the agriculture cluster, it pulled up the field of “mining, oil, and gas.” The student was actually very familiar with oil work because many of the parents in our school are employed by the oil industry. The student was introduced to new vocabulary and able to make a real-life connection to the career cluster.
For me, the backpack is refreshing because of the interactive, real-life application that students have the opportunity to explore. What’s even more convenient is the ability to save their results to refer back to and further engage in activities. In the span of one class period, we were only really able to fully explore the career cluster tool. However, once this result is saved, a student can log in to the account and complete other activities that stem from the cluster of interest. For example, a student can later go back and see the saved top career cluster and then pick a career to build a career plan from.
The backpack is an excellent tool for a student who needs a starting point. While it’s exciting when a freshman already has a career path in mind, it’s not always a reality. Also, even those who do have plans may discover career clusters that are better in line with their interests and strengths. While the backpack may not lead to a concrete career choice, it gets the wheels turning and allows students to have hands-on experience with career assessments, which are valuable for both the counselor and the student to spark conversations for future college and career planning. I feel like I’m just getting my feet wet with the backpack tool because there are so many different aspects to explore. But, I’m excited to keep learning and hope to spark my passion for college and career planning in my students.
Andrea Richison is a high school counselor for Zanesville City Schools. Currently she works with grades 9-12 as a student success counselor.
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By: Paolo DeMaria
On Monday, State Board of Education President Tess Elshoff and I had the privilege of visiting four districts in Putnam County. Although they are small, the districts — along with all the districts throughout Putnam County — are collaborating with one another to improve student engagement and student preparation for their future success. The Putnam County Educational Service Center plays a key role in facilitating all of this great collaboration. The students are taking exciting and relevant courses that are preparing them to go down any number of paths after high school — to college, to other postsecondary training or right into in-demand jobs. I saw 3D printing capability being used at Kalida High School and a garden gazebo designed by vocational agricultural students at Leipsic High School. I heard original music composed by a student and played by the band at Columbus Grove High School. These are fantastic examples of project-based learning and other strategies to engage the young minds of students. While at Ottawa-Glandorf High School, I recorded a conversation with a fantastic teacher, Mrs. Holly Flueckiger. We discussed how hands-on teaching and learning has benefited her and the students in her Human Body Systems, Anatomy and Bio-Medical classes. See our conversation here:
You can see more of our visit to Putnam County at twitter.com/OHEducationSupt. You can also follow State Board of Education President Tess Elshoff at twitter.com/Tess_Elshoff.
Paolo DeMaria is superintendent of public instruction of Ohio, where he works to support an education system of nearly 3,600 public schools and more than 1.6 million students.
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Last Modified: 5/17/2019 3:20:37 PM