Middle School News
By Richard Boerner, Superintendent
The concept of a think tank is not a new one, but it is rather uncommon in schools. Why is this the case? Why don’t schools look more outwardly and leverage outside expertise and research to drive improvement?
Graded has been a vanguard in international education for nearly 100 years. As a leading academic institution, we continue to push, grow, and improve upon our strengths. It was this desire that inspired our design of Think Tank 2019. As we shared in early-April, Graded brought together some of the world's best thought leaders to help us prioritize and implement our next steps toward continuous school improvement. What was refreshing was that we chose to do this not because we had to, but rather because we had the capacity to do it.
So, what did we learn? What advice and expertise did our guests share that we, as a learning community, could act upon to enhance the experience of our students? To determine this, we needed to listen, reflect, and think. After Think Tank concluded, we talked to the participating faculty and administrators, as well as our Board of Directors. Then on Thursday evening, two weeks later, 85 faculty voluntarily gathered to learn, understand, and offer input.
Through these extended dialogues, additional outreach, and further discussions with our Think Tank experts, we have distilled and synthesized what we learned and have thoughtfully developed our path forward.
A repeated piece of advice offered by many of the Think Tank experts was to resist doing too much. Dr. Kevin Mattingly, professor of science of learning at Teachers College, Columbia University, said it best, “Great schools try to do too much, so select a singular focus, with evidence of result, and be unrelenting in making progress.”
As I previously stated, Graded's students are excelling. Teaching and learning are strong. In short, results are impressive. However, Graded can be even better. We can create more meaningful and lasting connections between what students learn and what they do with that information. In fact, I would argue this is why education exists: for students to gain knowledge, develop skills to interpret the knowledge, and apply those skills in real-world, lived experiences.
To accomplish this objective, Graded will apply cognitive science research known as the "science of learning.” It will help us ensure that students, via inspirational instruction, harness deep, enduring, and transferable learning that will be evidenced in their work, their thinking, and their lives. In partnership with Dr. Mattingly and Columbia University, our faculty will begin in-depth training in the science of learning.
Additionally, we will share with students the strategies and approaches to making learning stick. Students will gain a deeper understanding of the content they learn and discover ways to apply and transfer their learning to new situations. The depth and quality of student work will serve as evidence of these new ways in which they “think about their thinking.” As we utilize the best approaches for students, we will measure how these neuroscience strategies positively impact their learning.
During a recent conversation with our Leadership Team, Dr. Mattingly said that “Graded is undertaking groundbreaking work in the science of learning.” He strongly encouraged us to publish the work.
While keenly focused on deepening learning experiences for our students, we cannot and should not ignore the critical role that belonging plays in the success of a learner. So, we will also focus on ensuring that students and faculty belong – that they feel connected, valued, engaged, and heard. This initiative, in partnership with the Institute for Social Emotional Learning, will ensure that students have the mindset, well-being, and sense of purpose needed to engage more passionately in their work and transfer what they learn into meaningful experiences after Graded.
Think Tank served as a catalyst that allowed our faculty and administration to reflect on and engage with the research around learning. It helped us develop a thoughtful plan to continue our improvement on behalf of the students we serve. As we near 100 years as an academic institution, we build upon Graded’s strong foundation.
I am honored to lead our school through this exciting and compelling time of growth, and I look forward to your active engagement with us on this journey. If you are curious to learn more about the science of learning, I encourage you to read Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, a book by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel.
One School, One Community, One Graded,
VLADMIR CRUZ, DIRECTOR OF TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION
JAMES FORSTER, HIGH SCHOOL MATHEMATICS TEACHER
ANNA HAMMERNIK, LOWER SCHOOL ASSOCIATE PRINCIPAL
PAUL HAVERN, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF COLLEGE COUNSELING
KEVIN KOOIENGA, LOWER SCHOOL COUNSELOR
JENNIFER RIBACHONEK, LOWER SCHOOL OPTIMAL LEARNING SERVICES TEACHER
TIM TROTTER, HIGH SCHOOL MATHEMATICS TEACHER
By Colleen Boerner, Upper School Librarian
Graded will welcome acclaimed author Alan Gratz in September 2019. During his week-long visit, Alan will work with students in grades 5-10. With support from the Graded Annual Fund, we have ordered 600 copies of the novel Refugee, one of Alan’s books. Prior to the holiday, rising 6-10 graders and staff will each receive a copy of the book and dive into the story. Over the break, students will be expected to finish reading Refugee and share their responses to it. Students will receive bookmarks with instructions. In August, grade 5 teachers will read Refugee aloud to their new classes as part of Reader Writer Workshop. Our visit with Alan Gratz will be enriched by the shared experience of everybody reading and discussing one of his novels.
Over the vacation, as your child is reading Refugee, we encourage you to engage in conversation around the book and its important themes. When school resumes in August, we are planning a variety of activities to deepen our understanding of the factors that compel individuals to flee their homes and their plights as they seek refuge.
Refugee tackles topics that are both timely and timeless: courage, survival, and the quest for home. The following review from Kirkus provides an excellent synopsis of the story:
Kirkus Reviews starred (June 1, 2017)
In the midst of political turmoil, how do you escape the only country that you’ve ever known and navigate a new life? Parallel stories of three different middle school-aged refugees—Josef from Nazi Germany in 1938, Isabel from 1994 Cuba, and Mahmoud from 2015 Aleppo—eventually intertwine for maximum impact. Three countries, three time periods, three brave protagonists. Yet these three refugee odysseys have so much in common. Each traverses a landscape ruled by a dictator and must balance freedom, family, and responsibility. Each initially leaves by boat, struggles between visibility and invisibility, copes with repeated obstacles and heart-wrenching loss, and gains resilience in the process. Each third-person narrative offers an accessible look at migration under duress, in which the behavior of familiar adults changes unpredictably, strangers exploit the vulnerabilities of transients, and circumstances seem driven by random luck. Mahmoud eventually concludes that visibility is best: “See us….Hear us. Help us.” With this book, Gratz accomplishes a feat that is nothing short of brilliant, offering a skillfully wrought narrative laced with global and intergenerational reverberations that signal hope for the future. Excellent for older middle grade and above in classrooms, book groups, and/or communities looking to increase empathy for new and existing arrivals from afar. Poignant, respectful, and historically accurate while pulsating with emotional turmoil, adventure, and suspense.
Reading history books and news articles gives students a sense of the events that have shaped our world. Statistics can provide numbers that might help students quantify the effects of those events. However, “When we can turn numbers into names,” Alan Gratz says, “then we can begin to build the empathy our country – our world – needs to survive.”For more information about Alan Gratz, visit his website: https://www.alangratz.com/.