Last month we talked about teaching our children how to disagree respectfully and about the danger of confirmation bias. Our school is about so much more than just teaching our kids the 3 R’s or how to hold a pencil correctly. Woodland Hills Private School is known for teaching kids to be deep critical thinkers. While critical thinking certainly applies to literacy, math, science and social studies, it more broadly—perhaps more importantly—applies to how we take in information. And, one way great schools promote this kind of higher-level critical thinking and also develop empathy in children is by exposing them to a variety of diverse perspectives. We are preparing children to enter an increasingly global society where their ability to work with people across a wide variety of cultures is at least as important as their academic skills. One way we can promote this kind of learning and continually broaden our children’s world view is through great literature that provides a window into other cultures.
Multicultural children’s literature can help children develop appreciation and understanding for other cultures and promote their thinking about social justice. Tolerance is often the go-to term when we think about multicultural education, but I believe tolerance is a low bar. Just as we want our children to learn to disagree respectfully and with genuine curiosity in their heart and mind, we also want our kids to develop a well-informed paradigm of society. We have an opportunity to raise children who have less unconscious bias than the generation before them. And, books are a great springboard for accomplishing this.
After a classroom discussion on the topic of diversity, some of our 3rd, 4th and 5th graders spent time brainstorming different forms of diversity they are aware of. After sharing their ideas on diversity, they decided to start by looking at two manageable topics, gender and race. Each student selected a genre (historical fiction, realistic fiction, nonfiction, sports, etc.) and gathered 25 books. In a Google Doc, they tallied up how many books showed only white people on the cover and how many books showed only male characters on the cover. Breaking it down by genre enabled them to look at sectors of the library to see, for instance, if the majority of sports books were about boys or how many realistic fiction books featured persons of color.
It turned out that our classroom libraries did much better than the national average at reflecting people of color and bucking gender stereotypes. However, the students felt that there was still room for improvement. Having just studied persuasive writing in Writing Workshop, the students felt a call to action. They wrote persuasive letters advocating for literature that fully reflects our diverse society. As one student put it in her persuasive letter, “14% of children’s books in the U.S. represent diversity [citing the national average according to Scholastic]; that means 86% don’t!” Some letters were written to our school administration in the hopes that we will urge the school community to take action.
I suspect this is just the beginning of many meaningful conversations in our school about valuing, not just tolerating, diversity and about ensuring that our libraries reflect a broad spectrum of race, culture, religion and gender differences. If you feel inspired by some of the work our children have begun, you might wish to broaden your home library or donate some books to your child’s classroom. While there are a number of cultivated book lists available, here is one list that allows for sorting by topic and age-level. It’s a great place to start when looking for multicultural books and books that promote social justice. You can also keep it simple, like our students did, and preview books before you buy. If there are no main characters who are persons of color, the characters seem to have stereotypical gender roles, and everyone is able-bodied, you don’t have to put it back. But, it's always good to maintain a critical eye and see if these books constitute a large percentage of your collection.
While Woodland Hills Private School is open to all students and not exclusively for gifted, talented and high achieving students, many families choose WHPS for the advanced and enriched academic program. Over the past few years, with the adoption of cutting-edge curriculum and enhanced teacher training, we have found new ways to help our high-achieving students reach new heights.
To that end, we were pleased this week to receive our students’ ERB results from the spring. This assessment compares our students to peers in private and independent schools across the country, and unlike the test children take in California public schools, the ERB uses a constructed response section to look at students’ thinking, not just multiple choice questions. Thus, it assesses critical thinking at a much deeper level.
Here are the results from this year’s graduating class:
LOGICAL THINKING: QUANTITATIVE REASONING, MATHEMATICS
- 60% of our students scored in the 8th stanine, which means they were in the top 11% of students who tested nationally.
- 87% of our students scored in the 7th stanine, which means they were in the top 23% of students who tested nationally.
LITERACY: READING, WRITING, VERBAL REASONING
- 53% of our students scored in the 8th stanine, which means they were in the top 11% of students who tested nationally.
- 73% of our students scored in the 7th stanine, which means they were in the top 23% of students who tested nationally.
Parents in grades 3-5 will be receiving their child’s individual ERB score report via email this week. Please watch for this email and don’t hesitate to contact the school office if you have any questions.
As you may know, WHPS has been accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) since 1996. This past March, as part of our school’s six year accreditation renewal, we completed a Mid-Cycle Review. You may be wondering what WASC was looking at during the visit. Below are the seven key areas which our school had chosen to focus on in our 2014 WASC Action Plan:
1. Formalize the cutting-edge curriculum and programs that were happening in some classrooms across
the entire school.
2. Educate the school community on the research that underpins our educational philosophy.
3. Increase strategic technology integration across the entire school.
4. Continue to enhance the physical structure of indoor and outdoor learning spaces.
5. Strengthen our relationship(s) with feeder schools.
6. Build Expected Schoolwide Learning Results (ESLRs) into student metrics and strengthen community
awareness of the ESLRs.
7. Engage the school community in the adoption of new programming.
As a result of the emphasis areas in our WASC Action Plan, you have already seen some of the following
Elementary Division’s adoption of Responsive Classroom, Columbia University literacy program and leveled library, Words Their Way, FOSS Science, and STEAMTrax 3D Printing & Engineering.
Preschool’s adoption of Emergent Learning, Dramatic Play, and the expansion of the Outdoor
Family education opportunities for our programs, such as The Leader in Me, Columbia University literacy, Emergent Learning, and our recent screening of Most Likely to Succeed.
Expansion of technology hardware and infrastructure at both campuses, focusing on novel, transformative uses of technology, such as the 3D Printing & Engineering program, the addition of Interactive Projectors, and mobile technology.
Formation of strong relationships with 25 top middle schools that are of interest to our families and the launching of middle school information sessions.
Report Cards and Progress Reports that are now aligned to the ESLRs.
As the 2014 WASC Action Plan is nearing completion, we are already beginning to strategize for the school’s next steps. In the year ahead, will be exploring a number of ways to take our children’s critical thinking to new heights and focusing on Arts-Integration across the curriculum. Stay tuned for more discussion about these topics in the 2017-2018 school year!