Standardized Testing!!!???

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

Each spring, students in grades 3-5 take the ERB (Educational Records Bureau) Comprehensive Testing Program. The ERB enables us to compare student achievement with peers in other private schools across the US. The ERB assessment system aligns nicely with our program because it focuses on critical thinking and goes beyond multiple-choice bubble-in answers

At WHPS, we know that people learn in different ways, and we use the Columbia University reading, writing and spelling assessments, science experiments, math assignments, discussions, portfolios, projects, artwork, and performance to assess the whole child. Our use of standardized test information is viewed as one piece of a complex puzzle which reveals the learning strengths and weaknesses of individual students.

Howard Gardner, of Harvard University, researched the validity of standardized tests to assess student performance. He states, “Most formal testing – whatever the area that is allegedly being tested – engages primarily the linguistic and logical-mathematical faculties. If one has high linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences, one is likely to do well on formal testing (from Multiple Intelligences: Theory in Practice).” According to Dr. Gardner and other experts in our field, future leaders and entrepreneurs of the 21st century need to know how to integrate many types of intelligence.

At WHPS, we believe children benefit from a balance between authentic learning opportunities and the experience of taking standardized tests. As students move to secondary school and beyond, they will encounter more tests. We believe a curriculum designed to teach for true understanding, coupled with some experience in taking standardized tests, provides our students with a solid foundation for success in “high stakes” tests, as well as a life full of learning.

You may have some questions about the ERB:

How is the ERB different from the annual test California public school students take?
ERB test data is different from the test data accumulated by the public schools in California. The state tests are designed to determine if students perform at a set proficiency level, and the percentages reported in the newspaper reflect the percentage of students who are proficient or above. The ERB test is a nationally normed test, which means it compares a student’s performance to that of every other student who took the same test across the nation (students in private schools).

What do we do with the ERB data?
As a school, we review the data to determine any general areas of school strength or for improvement. We continually evaluate standards and benchmarks in the curriculum, along with information from the ERB tests to ensure that we deliver an exceptional educational experience for each child. ERB scores are also shared with any middle schools to which a family applies, as part of the student's academic learning profile.

The Impact of Mindset on Children's Learning

Written by Seth Pozzi, Asst. Head of School on .

“I’m just not a math person.” I was speaking with someone last week who uttered this [unfortunately] common statement. Many people, especially in the U.S., will say this as though it’s no big deal. Yet, rarely would someone say, “I’m just not a literate person.” Why is it that one of these statements is considered socially acceptable while the other is not? It’s widely accepted by experts that success in math is a strong predictor of college and career success, but top researchers have found that more kids have a fixed mindset about math than any other topic. As parents and teachers, we have a responsibility to stop perpetuating this myth. Brain research is now telling us what a profound impact a parent’s relationship with math can have on their child’s learning and achievement. According to a recent University of Chicago and UCLA study, “[The] parents’ math anxiety stifled their child’s learning of math across grades 1 and 2, but only if parents helped their children on math homework. If they did not help them on homework, the parents’ math anxiety did not detract from their children’s learning.” The implication is not that parents shouldn’t help with math, but rather our approach and mindset needs to reflect patient problem solving and perseverance.

Enter Dan Meyer, perhaps the most famous contemporary math teacher. He emphasizes the importance of helping children become patient problem solvers who can think critically about complex problems. In a recent TED Talk, Meyer compares traditional teaching methods to watching Two and a Half Men. He discusses the kinds of problems we should be asking children to solve. You may have seen him on Good Morning America talking about the supermarket problem: You’re at the checkout and there is a lane with one cart with 19 items or a lane with 2 carts, each with 5 items. Which lane will be faster? Meyer’s activities, by definition, are not closed-ended problems with answers you can look up in the back of the book. This is not a Two and a Half Men problem. Meyer warns that we are inhibiting children’s initiative, perseverance, and retention of information when we simply provide a formula to practice. He says traditional teaching methods are making children “impatient with irresolution” and averse to word problems.
New neuroscience research is also telling us that the kind of struggling a child’s brain does when solving math problems causes synapses to fire and creates brain pathways, essentially growing their brain. Meyer’s former Stanford advisor, Dr. Jo Boaler, points out that before a series of recent experiments, “no one knew the brain could grow and shrink like that.” This is a fascinating field of research with constantly evolving findings and implications on how we can best reach all learners. For now, I encourage us all to think about how we can model patient problem-solving the next time one of our children brings home a complicated math task.

As Dan Meyer says, no problem worth solving comes with all the necessary information and can be solved in 22 minutes or less, the equivalent of Two and a Half Men. The textbooks our children deserve will present open-ended complex thinking activities. I have been excited to see this kind of complex thinking in our school this year. On a recent visit to 1st grade, I witnessed groups of students debating about bridge designs and building and testing bridges. And, of course, the 4th and 5th grade alternative energy project is wrapping up this month. Students have been engineering, prototyping and using CAD software to create blades for their wind turbine models. There is no correct answer in the teacher’s guide because there simply is no right or wrong answer. In a couple of weeks, when we 3D print and test the blades’ effectiveness at generating electricity, we are just taking one more step in the evolution of the design. This is the kind of work that teaches deliberate, patient problem solving. Dr. Boaler would remind us that these types of projects create brain pathways and help us grow our children’s brains.

How do Children Succeed?

Written by Seth Pozzi, Asst. Head of School on .

Academic learning is important, but it is only part of what students need to succeed in life. A critical part of our character strengths education program involves our students learning how to respond to challenges. At WHPS, our students have frequent opportunities to reflect on aspects of a project, plan, or assignment that did not go so well. In school, we want every child to find success, and an important part is knowing how to respond to failure. People who have not learned to respond well to frustration and failure are likely to choose paths without much risk or challenge and thus, destine themselves to a life of predictability, safety, and mediocrity.

In his seminal book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, author Paul Tough presents evidence why character strengths—or non-cognitive skills—are vital to success. Tough explains that these skills are highly malleable and can be grown and developed throughout life. They include:
 Respect
 Caring
 Honesty
 Responsibility
 Fairness
 Perseverance

Tough outlines surprising ways in which adults often do—and do not—help children develop these skills. Woven into the story of How Children Succeed is the research of Dr. Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania—one of the preeminent researchers into the neuro-psychological development of children. Among her distinguished accomplishments, Duckworth designed a test that was more predictive of the success rate for incoming recruits at West Point Academy than the military's own assessment. What she terms "grit" entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years, despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.

I like to think of our program as inspired by Paul Tough and Dr. Duckworth. Our teachers think very carefully about how and where we challenge students. They provide scaffolding and encouragement for students to work at skills that may be unfamiliar or feel less comfortable. And, perhaps most importantly, they provide a safe, loving place for children to make mistakes and learn to fall and get back up, developing coping and resiliency skills. While Paul Tough states that many schools are not set-up to teach and foster the non-cognitive skills of respect, caring, honesty, responsibility, fairness, and perseverance, you will see children in our school receiving regular feedback and reinforcement with these skills. I believe Dr. Duckworth and Mr. Tough would be impressed with the level of “grit” our children are developing.

Positive "Teacher" Language

Written by Seth Pozzi, Head of School on .

At WHPS, we believe that the way our teachers talk to children is a key ingredient in creating our warm, inclusive community. We know that our language can empower children, and it can be a powerful tool to encourage and support learning. Positive Teacher Language is inextricably tied to our character strengths education program. As we continue to model, practice, and reinforce respect, caring, honesty, perseverance, responsibility, and fairness in school, children need to know what is expected of them and need to feel safe making mistakes. Positive Teacher Language helps us create an environment in which these character strengths and other positive behaviors can be fostered.

Positive Teacher Language can be just as helpful for parents who want to promote positive behaviors and avoid power struggles at home. Here are some basic guidelines for the three types of Positive Teacher Language: Reinforcing, Reminding and Redirecting. Listen for them at school, and feel free to try them at home. Choose an R and begin practicing.

Reinforcing Language is designed to help children build on their strengths instead of focusing on their weaknesses. Observe and name what children are doing well and point it out to them. This promotes growth and positive behavior. Avoid making blanket statements like “That’s great” or “Good job.” Instead, provide specific feedback like, “You remembered a capital letter at the beginning of the sentence” or “You held the
door for that man.”

Reminding Language provides a reminder to help children stay on track. In school this might sound like, “It’s time for Writing Workshop. What do you need to do to get ready?” At home, you can try, “We are leaving for school in a moment. What do you need to have in your backpack?” Or, “How can you say that in a friendly way to your brother?”

If a child is doing something unsafe or is experiencing strong emotions and is unable to focus on what they're supposed to be doing, redirect with a statement, not a question. This is done with a neutral tone and clear, precise words. Name the desired behavior, not the undesired one. Instead of, “Stop running,” try saying, “Walk.” Instead of, “You shouldn’t be talking right now,” try, ”It’s time to listen.” The fewer words you use and the more you focus on the desired behavior, the better. 

These principles are simple but help set clear, positive expectations that help children succeed. Join us this year in giving special attention to the nuances of our language with children. If you are interested in learning more, you can read more about Positive Teacher Language from Responsive Classroom

WHPS Goes Beyond Common Core

Written by Seth Pozzi, Asst. Head of School on .

There is so much hype about Common Core these days. We often get asked on tours of our elementary school, “Do you guys do this Common Core stuff?” I love the question because it provides the perfect opportunity to explain how far we surpass what Common Core aspires to accomplish.
Common Core was developed in 2009 in response to a critical call to action for schools. According to the US Labor Department, 65% of today’s schoolchildren will end up being employed in jobs that have NOT YET BEEN CREATED. This leaves us with a very tall order: Teach students skills to solve problems we’ve never seen before and won’t encounter for years! While we at WHPS do not possess a crystal ball that can predict the next Facebook or what organs doctors will 3D print next, we can develop our students into well-rounded thinkers who can apply their diverse skills to meaningful situations. We can achieve this by continuing to innovate and evolve with new and emerging technologies, using proven educational techniques, and trying out new ideas, such as our 3D Design & Printing program.

Common Core focuses on students’ understanding and ability to engage with and manipulate language, media, and math. While public schools are just beginning to try to incorporate Common Core and its standards, our program at WHPS has long been built around the spirt of the Common Core, teaching children deeper, big-picture understanding. This philosophy encompasses the buzzwords you keep hearing: STEAM, STEM, and Project-Based Learning (PBL), with a desire for children to become strong critical thinkers.

You can see the spirit of Common Core throughout our program. One example I love comes from 4th and 5th grade. Students have been learning about alternative energy (such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biofuel). After experimenting with and learning about electrical energy, they will be designing and 3D printing their own wind turbines, which they will test in a class competition. This science unit exceeds what Common Core sets out to do: it combines scientific learning and experimentation with engineering, building and testing prototypes, math, technology, and writing (defending a proposal through scientific argumentation). Stay tuned on Facebook for photos and videos of our upcoming engineering competition.

In Writer’s Workshop, students learn to experiment with story leads. They are learning to think critically about their writing and select the lead that best conveys their intended tone. In our Word Study program, students have opportunities to experiment with sorting words in creative ways. Similarly, our math program emphasizes critical thinking and problem solving. Parents sometimes inquire about why the curriculum seems to slow down and focus on small, easy-to-manipulate numbers in 1st and 2nd grade. This is because the focus is on teaching children how to think critically, read carefully, and solve complex, multi-step problems. Smaller numbers allow children to exercise critical thinking while not getting bogged down in calculations.

While this is just a peek into what is going on in the elementary school, we like to provide you these snippets to explain our curriculum, projects, and programs, which are hand-selected based on what is truly best for students, just as your family hand-selected Woodland Hills Private School.

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