An Expression of Gratitude from Langley’s Head of School

by Dr. Elinor Scully, Head of School

One of the great privileges of being the head of The Langley School is the opportunity to meet with a small group of elected student advisors on a monthly basis. This group, my “advisors to the head,” keeps me focused on the real work of school leadership: the quality of student lunch, the number of minutes spent at recess, and the spirited debate over 4 Square rules. Last week, however, after the obligatory conversation about food and fun, I asked the students what they were looking forward to most as Thanksgiving approached. While food was certainly mentioned, more of the discussion centered on spending time with family, cherished holiday traditions, and seeing grandparents and special friends. The group reminded me that the purpose of the holiday is to be thankful for our families and friends and to be grateful for all the blessings in our lives.

These wise students reminded me what should be obvious, that gratitude is at the heart of the holiday season. And this year in particular, I definitely feel a strong sense of gratitude for the compassion and strength of our school family. For a number of members of this school community, 2016 has brought significant health challenges and untimely loss. In just the last few months, I have attended memorial services for parents taken from their families too young and I have sat with community members battling life-threatening illnesses. I have also watched our community step up with arms wide open and offer the kind of support that makes a real difference in times of sadness and struggle.

The Langley School Community

At a recent service I attended, one of the speakers offered the following advice to the group gathered to mourn the loss of a friend, father, and colleague: “Invest tirelessly, relentlessly, and fearlessly in your relationships.” I watch this happen every day at The Langley School. I watch colleagues step up and cover classes so that someone can tend to a seriously ill family member. I am in awe of the candor, tenacity, and humility of one of our parents who is battling cancer, all while being fully present in every moment of her life. I’m moved when I hear this same person offering to help another community member who is just beginning her chemotherapy. Publicly and privately, in large and small ways, members of our school are doing everything they can to lighten the load for those whose burdens are heavy.

When you live in a community as large and multigenerational as ours, illness, loss, and struggle are expected. This fall, however, it’s felt like we’ve had more than our share. In the midst of this, my young advisors brought me back to what matters most – gratitude, compassion, and hopefulness. Investing tirelessly, relentlessly, and fearlessly in our relationships gives us the strength to weather tough times, connects us to a community that is here when we need them, and reminds us not to take any moment for granted. So as we head into a season that can be eclipsed by “to-do lists” and frantic work to get everything right, slow down, be present for those you love, and savor those relationships you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.

I give thanks this holiday season for Langley, our community, and all of the inspiration and hopefulness it has brought into my life.

 

 

Have You Ever Heard of the Math Ceiling Fairy?

By Inga Schoenbrun and Janice Graves, Math Specialists

Have you ever heard of the Math Ceiling Fairy? Many students’ eyes are glued to the ceiling anxiously awaiting the fairy’s appearance to give them the answer to math problems like 8×7. The fairy may be a figment of our imagination, but reliance on memorization is not. A recent article in Scientific American details research from Stanford University showing that an emphasis on memorization, rote procedures, and speed impairs learning and achievement in math.

At Langley, we strive to develop strategies that allow our students to use what they do know to figure out something they don’t. In the example of 8×7, a student might employ the double strategy: I know 4×7 is 28 and 8 groups is double 4 groups, so 8×7 is double 28 or 56! This student understands not only how to double numbers, but also the structure of multiplication as equal groups. Another student might realize they know 7×7 is 49, and simply add one more group of 7 to get 56.

Math at Langley

Students who recognize the effect operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) have on numbers are more adept at solving complex, multi-step problems. They construct concrete or pictoral models to illustrate the problems and allow themselves to take risks to solve problems using a variety of methods. Strategy-based learning leads to generative knowledge where memorization lends itself to temporal and compartmentalized learning.

Do we value math fact fluency? Absolutely we do. We are committed to building fluency hand in hand with number sense and mental math strategies. Listen closely as your child computes numbers and marvel at his or her creativity and efficiency. It just might surprise you.

It Takes a (Langley) Village

by Jennifer Graham, Parent of Langley Students in Grades 5 and 7

This past Saturday was a great day to be a Langley leopard! The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the trees were in full fall glory, and these conditions created the perfect backdrop for one of The Langley School’s most beloved and long-standing traditions – the 62nd annual Fall Fair. It was my pleasure and honor to co-chair this event for our community. Being part of the fair was a great reminder of one of the main reasons my family chose Langley in the first place…the people and the amazing sense of community.

Langley Fall FairThroughout the planning process and the execution on the day of the fair, our community came together to create a wonderful event and leave our children with memories that will last a lifetime. Parents eagerly volunteered to head up the various aspects of the fair, and joyfully carried out their work with diligence and creativity. The broader community came together to fill over 120 volunteer slots on the day of the fair, and many more parents contributed cakes, cookies, and brownies to support our Bake Sale and Cake Walk. I watched Middle School students eagerly sign up to work volunteer shifts, and I saw the tireless dedication of Langley’s administrators and facilities and transportation teams as they worked behind the scenes to make everything run smoothly.

Langley Fall Fair

It truly “takes a village” to make the Fall Fair happen, and it was so heartwarming to see everyone’s efforts come together to create a day that brought smiles to our children’s faces and created an environment where parents got to know each other better, working side by side. I love to “Live Langley” every day, but days like Saturday serve as an extra reminder of how special it is to be a part of the Langley community. I look forward to many more events this year that will bring our community together for more fun and great memories!

MS Play

What’s It Like to Be “Top Dog” in Middle School?

by Phil Petru, Assistant Head of School

A recent study published in the American Educational Research Journal confirms what many of our Langley families already know. Our intentional preschool to grade 8 educational model provides a safer and more conducive environment for student learning. The study, recently highlighted by NPR, concludes that traditional middle school models with grade spans of 6-8 and 6-12 had more incidents of bullying or threats against other students. In these traditional school models, middle school students were considered “bottom dogs” and reported feeling less safe with more incidents of bullying and less sense of community in comparison to middle schoolers who attended schools with a K-8 model. Click here to read the short article from NPR.

At The Langley School, our Middle School students have numerous opportunities to feel like “top dogs” and exhibit authentic leadership on campus. Langley’s preschool to grade 8 model intentionally creates such an environment, while the faculty and administration design learning activities that foster leadership and a strong sense of community.

Hear what it’s like to be a “top dog” from Langley’s Middle School parents and students:

Langley Launches New Research-Based Teacher Feedback Model

By Phil Petru, Assistant Head of School, The Langley School

The Langley School teachers have long been recognized as one of the best and most respected faculties in the Northern Virginia region. Research suggests that the single most important factor in student achievement is the quality of a student’s teacher. Thus, the recruiting and hiring process is taken very seriously when any opening occurs at Langley.

But just as important as hiring is the school’s commitment to develop teachers’ instructional and curricular knowledge and abilities. Langley invests heavily in the continuing professional development of our teachers as faculty attend national and regional conferences about the best practices surrounding their respective fields. While professional development is an important cornerstone of maintaining and growing a strong faculty, so is the evaluation model that a school uses to provide meaningful feedback about teaching and learning.

Starting this school year, The Langley School faculty are engaging in a new teacher evaluation system designed to provide more timely and meaningful feedback to teachers about their instructional practices in the classroom. After spending the last school year examining the previous system and exploring other models for teacher evaluation, the Langley Academic Leadership Team (ALT) instituted a new system, the Marshall Observation Method, which is based on the work and research of Kim Marshall. Mr. Marshall, a lifelong educator who resides in the Boston area, is nationally renowned for his work in teacher evaluation and feedback. Langley’s ALT worked with about 25 faculty members during the 2015-2016 school year who volunteered to pilot two potential models of evaluation and feedback before the final decision was made to implement the Marshall Method.

Under the new Marshall evaluation system, members of Langley’s ALT visit each faculty member at least eight times throughout the school year for short, focused observations. Following each classroom visit, the teacher and ALT member reflect on the areas of strength and growth of the lesson. The ALT member writes a summary of the post-observation conference, along with any recommendations, and sends it to the teacher for his/her review. Each teacher also meets with his or her supervising ALT member in January and May for a mid- and final-year conference to discuss professional growth. Research shows that more meaningful and frequent feedback about instruction results in more observable growth of teachers.

The Langley School

Feedback from Langley’s faculty is very positive. Ryan McKinney, Lower and Middle School science teacher and Science Department head, remarked, “As teachers, we know that teachable moments lead to authentic learning experiences that help students grow. Implementing the Marshall Method at Langley provides more of an opportunity for teachers and administrators to experience and reflect on events that happen between students and teachers in the classroom. These ‘teachable moments’ are used to help start the collaborative process of developing strategies that improve teacher performance. In the end, it is a win for the administrator, teacher, and most importantly, the students.”

Devon Davidson, grade 5 teacher, was also impressed with the new process for teacher evaluation as she stated, “I think the Marshall observations allow for more holistic and realistic observations. The regularity of having someone come into my room, and not just once a year at the end of the year, gave the observer and me the chance to examine my teaching and the students in a realistic manner. The observers see authentic moments in our room which help develop relevant and applicable feedback. I appreciate that the post-observation meetings are short, and are more of a conversation rather than an assessment of my performance. One of the things I find most helpful in our post-observation conversations are the immediately applicable suggestions. Throughout the year, we get into our routines and sometimes forget about ideas or strategies that could be effective for our students. The post-observation conversations I have had always spark an idea to refresh what I do in the classroom.”

We are very proud of the impact that this model is having on our already vibrant teacher culture and community, and most importantly, our students’ learning. We hope you’ll reach out to learn more about our program.

 

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Why World Languages Learning Is So Essential to 21st Century Education

By Glenda De Hoyos, Spanish Teacher

We are educating students to develop skills that can help them work in future professions that might not even exist right now. The world is rapidly changing and the needs of a globalized society are difficult to predict with certainty. However, with total conviction we know that our students will need some important skills in the future.

To start the list: thinking creatively to solve problems, being flexible and adapting to changes, collaborating and communicating effectively with others, and having technology proficiency. Further, empathy, compassion, and open-mindedness are important capabilities that can be developed and that grow through academic and social experiences. Other skills that are also important to add to that list include the ability to be resilient and recover quickly and positively from the many challenges that are faced every day.

The Langley School - World Language

At The Langley School, we have a comprehensive curriculum that integrates the many areas that will lead students to develop those skills and many others. I’m so proud to be working in a school that understands the importance of learning a world language from a very young age, and how learning languages is a key element in the development of all the previously mentioned skills, among some others. Our students are given the opportunity through our World Languages Department to learn Spanish from Primary School, and later on, given the choice to learn French or Chinese. This program gives our students an incredible chance to be bilingual and, in many cases, multilingual. This solid foundation can be continued in their future studies in high school and college, opening doors to studies abroad and exchange programs and boosting their careers no matter the area.

As Dr. Scully mentioned in her recent “State of the School” address, the World Languages Department has spent the past academic year reflecting, researching, and planning ways to strengthen our program for our students. For the latter part of this year and into next, the department has begun redesigning its curriculum to be more meaningful and relevant to student learning through the use of a variety of new resources. In addition, the department has aligned new courses to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages’ (ACTFL) “Can-Do” statements, which help define higher proficiency levels for our students. And our program encourages teachers to speak in the target language for approximately 90 percent of the class time.

The ACTFL provides research studies that support the benefits of language learning in three major areas: academic achievement, cognitive development and abilities, and a positive effect in the attitudes and beliefs about language learning and about other cultures.

Research proves that language learning correlates with higher academic achievements, positive impact on reading abilities, increments in linguistic awareness, and higher scores on standardized tests like the SAT and the ACT, among many others. There is also evidence that cognitive skills, like memory, attention, motor, verbal, and spatial abilities, are impacted positively by learning more than one language. The global awareness provided by the cultural integration of the world language curriculum provides the space to develop empathy and a positive attitude toward others. Interesting articles and research publications that support these statements can be found on the ACTFL website.

Without any doubt, learning foreign languages and discovering the similarities and differences among other cultures has countless benefits in the academic and social-emotional development of all our students. When you combine the strong academic foundation in language arts, STEAM, fine arts, and world languages with a carefully organized social-emotional base, you have the opportunity to enhance and multiply the learning foundation of our students. That is what our students live at The Langley School. I feel very proud to have joined this outstanding learning community as well as to be part of a highly qualified group of world language teachers.
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A Balanced Summer: Combining Fun & Learning Into One

By Ayesha Flaherty, Director of Enrollment Management

You’ve likely read about the “summer slide” – the research that says academic skills can decline significantly during the summer months when children are out of school. And, at the same time, we’ve all read about the importance of play and fun in creating curious, happy, and connected children.

If you’re like me, fully aware of the importance of both sides of this coin, how exactly do you strike the right balance? And, if our reality includes kids with full schedules, is there a way to give our children the gift of more free time without sacrificing advancement, progression, and learning?

As an administrator of The Langley School, I’m lucky to witness how our teachers find this balance every day. Langley teachers successfully and intentionally intertwine learning and structure with fun and independence. Students are joyful, challenging their thinking and expressing their choice all at the same time. For example, students are dancing, while also learning about musical composers. They are designing jewelry on a 3-D printer to raise funds for students in Kenya. They are enjoying an outdoor scavenger hunt adventure while solving math problems.

How can we recreate this at home? Join The Langley School for a 30-minute webinar on Thursday, May 19 from 12:00-12:30 p.m. titled “A Balanced Summer: Combining Fun & Learning Into One.” Participants will learn how to strike a healthy balance between continued educational enrichment and well-deserved summer fun.

Langley Webinar May 19

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A Peek into Inquiry-Based Learning at Langley

by Phil Petru, Director of Teaching & Learning

During a recent professional development day, our faculty and staff spent the day focused on inquiry-based learning featuring nationally renowned inquiry-based learning expert Diana Laufenberg, whose Ted Talk page has had more than 1.5 million views.

Screenshot 2016-04-12 21.20.18The day began with an opening talk from Diana, which focused on some of the key principles of inquiry-based learning. In particular, the opening session addressed the big ideas of process, student voice and choice, and answering questions with questions. Following Diana’s opening remarks, faculty divided into three groups and attended additional sessions, which provided them with strategies to apply inquiry-based concepts. The sessions were as follows:

LEARNING VISUALLY: Visuals work in the classroom because they grab students and allow an entry point to learning – and because they sum up pages and pages of information that would take a reader hours to process. Interactive infographics make kids want to immediately start clicking around to see what’s what. For a teacher who seeks to create an inquiry-driven classroom, that’s a great starting point. Diana provided a wealth of examples and practical applications for the use of visuals and infographics in the classroom.

INQUIRY – ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS: Student participation in their education starts with instilling a sense of wonder and curiosity for their own learning which does not come easily. Privileging the student voice in the process of their own learning is critical. In this session, faculty discussed the power of this approach with students of all ages.

EVIDENCING LEARNING (STUDENT VOICE AND CHOICE): Checking for understanding, formative, summative, evaluating, grading…all are tools in the assessment toolbox. The commonality
is affording students a variety of ways to demonstrate or evidence their learning and receive meaningful feedback. Incorporating student voice and choice in the process is critical. Faculty delved into a discussion of assessment from the stand- point of the student, asking the question, “How will I increase the voice and choice of students to evidence their learning?”

The day concluded with division meetings, where the faculty had an opportunity to reflect and discuss their learning for the day. Conversations about inquiry-based learning will continue during grade-level, department, and division meetings for the remainder of the year.

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The Colors of Me and My Friendships

by Paige Dunn, Art Teacher at The Langley School

As anyone with a Langley Primary Schooler knows, our youngest students take part in a month-long spiral unit each winter which features a theme that’s integrated into every subject area, including art. This year’s theme – the literature of Leo Lionni – provided a great opportunity for me to help our kindergarten art students discover themselves and their friendships through color.

After reading Mr. Lionni’s book, “Little Blue and Little Yellow” – which illustrates the relationship between blue and yellow and how their friendship creates a new color, green – we explored color theory and how the colors of the color wheel are organized. Students were asked essential questions such as: Why do artists use the color wheel? Why is color important?

The Langley School

Each student was given one color, which represented him or her. The class explored and experimented with various brushstrokes as they filled their papers, creating their own identity. Next, students paired with a friend and mixed their two colors to create their own unique friendship color.

Through this process, students learned how color has a deeper meaning than just what it looks like on paper – how it can represent your character and your relationship with others. As we discussed how colors create certain moods and feelings when we see them in art, the students identified their own moods and feelings when creating their identity colors.

Our kindergarten artists also learned how to work respectfully with one another as they explored blending their colors to create their friendship colors. Students beautifully worked through challenges that arose during the process as well. For example, when two students created a brown tone when mixing their identity colors, they were surprised because it was not a color on the color wheel. Their surprise quickly transformed into pure joy, however, as they created what they soon realized was an original color symbolizing their original friendship!

Students truly enjoyed illuminating their friendships with their classmates by exploring color. At the end of each class, the group had the opportunity to reflect. Students shared their colors by identifying them on the color wheel. Some colors that were made were not on the color wheel which provided the opportunity to discuss the process of color mixing on a deeper level.

The colors of our kindergarten artists and their friendships will be on display as a fish mosaic, one of Mr. Lionni’s characters, during their Spiral Unit Celebration performance on Friday, February 19.

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Preparing Our Students for Their Digital Futures

by Brad Lands, Director of Technology

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” -John Dewey

It’s not surprising that we currently live in a world that is highly unpredictable and constantly evolving. It’s not surprising that technology seems to be exponentially increasing and global issues seem to be getting more complicated. What is surprising, however, is the fact that we as educators have to prepare our students for a future in which they will become productive and contributing members in this world.

Our role

Gone are the days where educators stand and deliver information and have students memorize basic facts that they might need to use some day. Students can easily perform a quick Google search on a mobile device to find this information. In today’s world, our job is to help our students become creative, critical thinkers who can learn how to access and use the world’s information to help them solve complex problems.

Traditional models of education require students to solve problems for which we know the solutions. One example is providing students with multiple-choice assessments. Alternatively, we as educators need to engage students in curriculum via inquiry-based learning, where students are empowered to ask their own questions and tackle problems for which the solutions are unknown. More importantly, we need to allow our students to struggle with these learning tasks, encourage them to troubleshoot, and praise their efforts when they persevere.

Technology at Langley

How do we do this?

Below are just a few of the inquiry-based projects in which Langley students have taken part this year:

20time Project Elective: In this Middle School elective, students are empowered to choose what they want to learn about, and are strongly encouraged to select challenging topics that have a real purpose outside of the classroom. This course is modeled after Google’s 20% time. Embedded in Google’s corporate culture is the concept of allowing engineers to take on independent projects. This unofficial policy lets them invest 20 percent of their work time on self-led explorations to solve real problems. Throughout Langley’s course, our students simulate this workplace experience by using the power of technology to identify problems, ask meaningful questions, pitch project proposals, develop solutions, present their ideas, and iterate their solutions. In other words, this course is designed to encourage the kind of “moonshot” thinking required to create novel solutions to unsolved problems, thereby helping to prepare students for future-ready innovation.

STEAM Challenge: Earlier this month, Langley fourth-graders engaged in a week-long STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) workshop where they experimented with physical computing. They learned about electricity, circuits, and computer programming by creating their own interactive monster. Students were tasked with sewing a monster out of felt and using electronic components such as LED lights, mini-speakers, a circuit board, and conductive thread in order to program the monster to output light and sound. Moreover, students were able to make their monster unique by choosing different colors, sizes, shapes, and creative code patterns. As they problem-solved and worked together, students not only learned about computer programming, but also developed valuable life skills such as persistence, flexible thinking, and collaboration.

Hour of Code: In celebration of Computer Science Education week, Langley students from all three school divisions completed Hour of Code activities. For many of our Primary and Lower School students, this was their first exposure to computer programming and they really enjoyed it. These computer programming activities varied from basic directional coding, to block coding, to text-based coding in many different computer programming languages. Even though the activities were different for each school division, all students engaged in challenging, critical thinking in order to complete each activity. The best thing about these activities was that there were multiple ways to complete them. Students were able to be creative in their critical thinking in order to solve each of the challenges, demonstrating that there is more than one way to solve a problem.

STEAM Fair: Langley’s first STEAM Fair will be held on Saturday, February 6, 2016. This is a very exciting event for the Langley community because it not only raises awareness about the importance of STEAM education in our world today, but also highlights Langley’s effort and dedication to teach our students to become creative problem-solvers. This family event is open to all students in preschool through grade 8 and will showcase how students interact with STEAM education at Langley. The STEAM Fair will include a display area of student work, open Lego play, technology demonstrations, a STEAM Book Nook, and hands-on activities for families. This is the perfect opportunity for both parents and students to learn, play, think, and have fun while exploring STEAM education at Langley.

So what’s next?

If we want our students to become independent, lifelong learners, then we need to continue to implement these critical learning opportunities at Langley – opportunities that allow our students to be naturally curious and work together to solve complex problems, that allow them to use technology to access information and creatively communicate their understanding, and that value the process more than the product. If we can continue to provide our students with this type of innovative education, then we are on the right track to preparing them for their future in the digital age.

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