What Is Social-Emotional Learning Anyway…and Why Does It Matter?

By Dr. Sarah Sumwalt, Director of Social and Emotional Learning at The Langley School

What’s all the buzz about SEL?

The term social-emotional learning (SEL) has become ubiquitous in the field of education. SEL also dominates the mainstream media, with articles peppering news sources about the role of SEL in the classroom. Just last week, the D.C. Schools chancellor, Antwan Wilson, argued that students need to feel “loved, challenged, and prepared” and shared his vision for bringing an increased focus on social-emotional learning into the District’s classrooms.

Despite the intense current interest in the topic, the term social-emotional learning is not new. In fact, it has been a widely used term since the late 1990s. Definitions of the term typically include references to intrapersonal (e.g., self-awareness and self-management) and interpersonal (e.g., social awareness and relationship skills) competence. However, there is not one agreed upon definition and many differ on exactly what skills SEL entails. Continue reading

Summer Is Like Childhood

By Dr. Elinor Scully, Head of School

“Summer is like childhood. It passes too fast. But if you’re lucky, it gives you warm memories from which you take strength in the cold days ahead. Summer is also like childhood, in that you may not think what you are doing matters very much while you are doing it, but later you realize it mattered far more than you knew.” -from The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness by Edward Hallowell

I was blessed early in my educational career to hear Dr. Ned Hallowell speak on the topic of childhood and raising authentically engaged, happy, and healthy young adults. I certainly didn’t know it at the time, but Dr. Hallowell put me on an educational journey as a teacher that ultimately resulted in my coming to lead The Langley School, a place with a mission at the heart of what I believe is most essential in education, and frankly, in life. Continue reading

Can We Make More Hours in a Day?

by Phil Petru, Assistant Head of School

I am sure you have thought to yourself, maybe more than once, “I wish I had more hours in the day.” I know I have. While balancing both personal and professional responsibilities, many times I find myself wondering, “Where has this day gone?”

I wish I had more hours in the day

I can tell you from personal experience that teachers are always trying to find new and innovative ways to maximize the instructional minutes during the school day. Excellent schools, like The Langley School, look for ways to balance the academic program (math, language arts, social studies, science, and specials) with our students’ well-being (structured and unstructured times for student interactions such as lunch, breaks, and recess). Though school schedules might look simple, they are really complex road maps that truly impact teachers’ decisions about their instruction. The length of the class period, the time of the class during the day (morning or afternoon), and the sequence of classes (does it come before or after lunch or recess?) during the day are just some of the considerations that teachers think about when planning lessons.

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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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Performing with Joy

by Sheila Malcolm, Music Teacher

When it comes to my youngest students, musical performances are much more about showcasing their joyful exuberance than achieving a “perfect” show. And that joy is what parents saw last week during our Primary School spiral unit performance, “Let’s Go to the Zoo.” It was a true reflection of what the children learned in class, rather than a staged show. My aim was to create a safe and fun environment in which even the shyest of children felt comfortable.

Our performance reflected the culmination of a month-long study of age-appropriate, zoo-themed activities undertaken by each Primary School grade across subjects, including P.E., Spanish, technology, library, and of course, music. It represented a genuine team effort, not only from the faculty, but also from the children as they learned how important it was to work together, be considerate of others, and always strive to do their best in order to make their performance successful.

The songs and movement activities were chosen with great care to ensure they were age-appropriate and enjoyable for the children. There were lions roaring, kangaroos hopping, penguins waddling, elephants trumpeting, and monkeys playing, just to name a few. The songs were also linked to their classroom studies. For example, the junior kindergarten classes learned about how the welfare and well-being of the animals was important, so one of their songs was about the training requirements and work responsibilities of a zoo veterinarian. The kindergarten classes learned about how zoos help endangered species, so one of their songs was about the gorilla. They also learned how to differentiate between a monkey and an ape.

Musically, much of what was seen on stage was a direct reflection of skills the children had learned in music class. They played their instruments to a steady beat, used dynamics in the songs, learned about verse and refrain, focused on keeping together by listening to others, learned to recognize and listen for phrases in music, and learned how to count beats and listen to musical cues for their choreography and dances.

Performing in front of an audience, no matter how scary for some, helps build the confidence our students will need to flourish in the wider world. We’ll see this growing confidence on display on stage in the coming weeks as our first-graders take us Down Under to Australia, our second-graders give their “Coming to America” performance, and our Middle Schoolers present the musical, “Willy Wonka.”

Inspiring Ideas at the STEAM Fair

by Mollie Morneau, Junior Kindergarten Teacher and Chair of the STEAM Fair

More than just an acronym, STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Arts-Mathematics) represents a way of thinking, growing, and learning through hands-on experimentation and critical-thinking challenges. STEAM projects are inherently interdisciplinary – they drive us to develop methods or propose solutions through actions like creating, designing, building, and testing.

This past weekend, The Langley School hosted hundreds of enthusiastic community members at our second annual STEAM Fair which offered families the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and dig into the integrated business of work and play.

Here are a few STEAM projects that you can do at home. Note that the instructions are deliberately vague:

  • If you were given 20 sticks of dry spaghetti, one yard of tape, and one yard of string, what kind of tower would you build that could suspend a marshmallow in the air? This type of activity is based in the reality of limited resources, but allows for children – and their parents – to approach it in a multitude of ways.
  • Offer your child a selection of materials such as popsicle sticks, plastic spoons, rubber bands, and binder clips. Challenge him or her to create a catapult that will fling a cotton ball or a marshmallow across the room! Can you create one that launches straight up in the air, or does the cotton ball go sideways? Is it possible to focus your aim in order to hit a specific target? You may be surprised at how creative your child can be when given raw materials and a goal grounded in his or her natural sense of experimentation and play.
  • Gather a handful of objects to build an “artbot” that moves across the table with marker “legs” that draw as it walks. The Digital Harbor Foundation has basic instructions for several different models; the version we made at the STEAM Fair requires a 4.5V round mini motor, a AA battery casing with wire leads, an eraser or cork to destabilize the movement, a cup, markers, and tape. Slight variations in the placement of materials had a great impact on the artwork created, and students at the STEAM Fair delighted in discovering how their robots could operate!

In addition to incorporating physics-based thinking like how shape and spatial relationship affect a structure’s design and a process of scientific experimentation, these types of challenges encourage social-emotional growth, an area we nurture in equal measure at Langley.

It can be frustrating when something breaks or when a carefully conceived design has the opposite of the intended effect. We build resilience and a growth mindset when we see these supposed “failures” as anything but – in fact, as children’s book character Rosie Revere realizes, these initial prototypes are often the “perfect first try.” Throughout our STEAM Fair, families could be found tackling the posed problems with a spirit of collaboration and innovation that only grew with each temporary roadblock they encountered.

Langley STEAM Fair 2017In addition to hands-on challenges, the STEAM Fair provided a venue for young scientists to present their work and for families to explore all that Langley has to offer. As the site of the science fair for grades 6 and 7, the auditorium was filled not only with the buzz of students eagerly explaining their findings to judges and parents, but also with the literal buzz of remote-controlled robots using claws to move objects across the stage.

Families were treated to technology demonstrations of our 3-D printer as well as a myriad of iPad-based educational games offered by Osmo. Our librarians staffed a carefully curated selection of STEAM-themed books geared for all ages in our book nook. Free LEGO play and magnetic tiles provided an outlet for creativity to visitors of all ages, and free tickets to the awe-inspiring planetarium show “sold out” as families jumped at the opportunity to take a detailed look at constellations and planets in our night sky.

154Truly, there was something for everyone at Langley’s second annual STEAM Fair. Ours is a community of students and parents whose spirit of imagination and ingenuity seems boundless and we are thankful for the chance to continue to explore and grow alongside them!

“Planning” Ahead for 2017

By Amy Jones, Director of Resource at The Langley School

I love the comics. Here’s a strip from Luann by Greg Evans. The girl exclaims, “This is great!  No homework!!”  Her classmate stares at her in disbelief, “What about that huge science project that’s due in two days?  You haven’t even started it!”  She replies with delight, “I mean no homework TONIGHT!”

Executive functions, the thinking which takes place primarily in the pre-frontal cortex, are the functions responsible for planning — or lack thereof as we see in Luann. Many refer to these brain functions as an air traffic controller or the conductor of an orchestra. Students and adults alike use these functions not only to plan, but also to prioritize, organize, remember, reflect, and shift attention from one task to another. These functions help regulate emotions, inhibit desires, and attend to tasks. These capacities don’t mature until the mid 20s, but can be strengthened with practice — and it’s a perfect time to practice with a new year ahead!

Here at The Langley School, we are teaching these skills from an early age. In the Primary School, children are learning about time management and planning as they discuss the “before and after” as well as the present. During morning meeting, the children and their teachers review the calendar. “Today is Tuesday, December 20, yesterday was Monday, and tomorrow will be Wednesday.” In Lower School, the work continues. Schedules are on the board and teachers help students break down long-term assignments. Teachers give students more opportunities for reflection, allowing them to develop their metacognitive skills. In some grades, students keep track of their goals on their desks as well as use checklists for important routines.

Executive functions Skills Building

Middle School often presents challenges and opportunities for students, as they are changing classes and keeping track of homework in at least five different subjects. During sixth-grade orientation in the fall, teachers explicitly work with students to understand planning, time management, studying, and metacognition. In advisory at the beginning of the year, students “map” their week so they have a better understanding of the time that they have to manage. Self-reflection is built into many assignments, and students prepare to lead parent-teacher conferences by spending time in advisory thinking of their strengths and areas for improvement.

You can help your children develop better executive functioning at home. To learn more about executive functioning, and executive dysfunction, click here to view a recent PALS talk given to Langley parents by Kathy Essig of The StudyPro and to access other resources.

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.

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: