Third-Graders Discover the “Real” America by Mail

by Shari Bozorgzad, Grade 3 Teacher

In February, we asked our third-grade students, “How can we research the unique qualities of each state in our nation?” We got the typical responses such as, “We could check out books from the library or look up information on the Internet.” I love that our students know where to find information, but I was looking for something a little more unusual.

Before coming to Langley, I had witnessed a project that I thought would be perfect for our third-graders. I explained to our students that the best way to learn about a city, town, or state is to get firsthand information from the residents. In order to solicit this firsthand feedback, our third-graders sent letters to several small-town newspapers in each state, asking residents to help them learn more about their state by sending postcards, maps, photos, souvenirs, and other useful information.

 Just one week later, I returned to my classroom after lunch to find my chair full of packages.

We received various items from across the country, including an original painting from an 83-year-old Mississippi man that depicted the Natchez Trace Parkway and a sample of cotton from a Mississippi woman’s family farm with a note telling of the fond memories she had of picking cotton as a little girl.

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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.

 

 

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 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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You Don’t Have to Choose: Why True Success Depends on Academic Achievement and Social and Emotional Competence

By Dr. Elinor Scully, Head of School

The summer months usually afford educators an opportunity to catch up on their reading, both for pleasure and professionally. This summer was no exception for me, and one of the most gratifying aspects of my summer reading was to see the proliferation of more research supporting some of the major goals and objectives of Langley’s next strategic plan. Educators have long known about the benefits of social and emotional learning for students of all ages, but particularly young children. However, the research supporting the long-term interpersonal and academic outcomes for students who develop these vital capacities is becoming clearer.

Research related to The Fast Track Project, administered in schools in North Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, and Pennsylvania, reveals that the development of specific social and emotional skills can be tied to success in later life. (Brown, The Washington Post) Particularly, skills related to problem solving, successful peer relationships, empathy, cooperation, collaboration, listening skills, assertiveness, and kindness are linked with positive school affiliation, achievement, resisting negative social behaviors, and ultimately finding stable full-time employment in young adulthood.

“These findings add to a growing body of evidence—including long-term studies drawn from data in New Zealand and Britain—that have profound implications for educators. These studies suggest that if we want many more children to lead fulfilling and productive lives, it’s not enough for schools to focus exclusively on academics. Indeed, one of the most powerful and cost-effective interventions is to help children develop core social and emotional strengths like self-management, self-awareness and social awareness—strengths that are necessary for students to fully benefit from their education, and succeed in many other areas of life.” (Bornstein, The New York Times)

The Langley School has long been committed to developing these capacities in our students. Our new strategic plan, however, seeks to take our expertise in this area further and to develop a more comprehensive program to target these well-researched skills. I am often surprised when these skills are referred to as “soft skills” or “non-cognitive,” suggesting that they are somehow less important and even easily achieved. In point of fact, being able to regulate negative emotions, to deeply appreciate the perspective of others, and to simultaneously balance the ability to assert oneself and work collaboratively and effectively with others are not simple, “non-cognitive” tasks. They are essential, and most successful adults I know continuously work at perfecting the art of these so-called “soft skills.”

We are in the fortunate position at Langley to start building these skills with our youngest students on day one. Research supports that this is when to do it, by kindergarten for sure. We have a mission that sees the mutually reinforcing and equally essential dependence of academic and social and emotional skills. And we have parents who share in a commitment to raise academically sophisticated students, who act with heart and mind in equal measure. Schools should not privilege academic achievement over social/emotional competence and moral goodness. My summer reading, whether from The Huffington Post or The Washington Post, The New York Times or Kim Marshall’s excellent Educational Digest, reinforced once again that that is a false choice. And this new research reminded me that our mission at Langley to raise students who can lead lives of self-defined meaning and purpose requires we attend to these skills deliberately and comprehensively as soon as students arrive on our campus.