4 Cs and an R:
The talented members of the Priory Innovation Committee (Yvonne Faisal, Damian Cohen, Crystal Yang, Tina Paulson and Matt McWright) spent two years intensively researching, interviewing experts and critically evaluating the skill related graduation outcomes that students in the 21st century need. As an addendum to the inviolable Benedictine Values, we will be using the 4 Cs and an R: Critical Thinking, Communication, Creativity, Collaboration and Resilience, as the lenses through which we will review all that we do in relation to teaching and learning. We will define those principles specifically for the Priory. We will also clarify how we know that the students are gaining proficiency in those areas. This work will continue into next year.
We spent a lot of time looking at student learning from the perspective of backwards design this year. Crystal Yang has exceptional training and expertise in both backwards design and authentic assessment. She is the leader of a process that supports the faculty in reviewing their courses from the perspective of the backwards design planning model. The first step of the practice involves the teacher identifying the enduring understandings for each unit of instruction. An enduring understanding is a big idea that students will retain, 3, 5 and 10 years down the road. These enduring understandings are separated into essential knowledge and essential skills. These EK and ES enduring understandings will shape the culminating assessment as well as the learning objectives of daily lessons. Crystal will serve as the Coordinator of Curriculum and Instruction next year, to allow her time to continue this vital work.
Crystal Yang has also been leading us through an exploration of authentic assessment this year. An authentic assessment is a form of assessment that asks students to perform real-world tasks demanding the application of essential knowledge and skills. In comparison to traditional assessments, which typically focus on information recall and measure student learning by such means as multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, or true-false questions, authentic assessments require students to apply knowledge and skills in a meaningful, relevant context. Instead of taking a test at the end of a geometry unit on 3-D shapes, students would apply their knowledge of shapes and formulas for surface and volume to construct emergency shelters for the Red Cross. Rather than answer questions about the Mexican American War, students would demonstrate their understanding of historical arguments and biases by making a documentary video. As such, authentic assessments challenge students to demonstrate deep, multi-faceted understanding of content and skills in ways that foster critical and creative thinking. Ultimately, authentic assessments can encourage students to appreciate the real-life significance of what they learn in and across subject areas.
Questions about Advanced Placement:
As we have delved further into 21st century skills, backwards design and authentic assessment, we are increasingly wondering whether our large range of AP offerings are serving students in the development of those vital skills. Many independent schools are moving away from Advanced Placement as a standardized measure of rigor. Most recently, Crystal Springs joined Exeter, The Fieldston School, Dalton, Lick-Wilmerding, Marin Academy, Urban, and many other independent schools, in shifting the entirety of their AP curriculum from AP designations to Advanced Topics in each of those curricular areas. These Advanced Topics courses are granted the same Grade Point bump as the AP courses. This transition has allowed the teachers at these schools to go into more depth, use more project-based learning and use the entirety of the school year for productive instructional experiences. We are continuing to wrestle with the role of AP in a 21st Century independent school context.
iPads in the Middle School:
Ms. Ambler and the Middle School faculty are excited to announce the expansion of the iPad program in the Priory Middle School for the 2014-15 school year. At the Priory, we feel strongly that 21st century skills, such as collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking and digital literacy are integral aspects of education today. We challenge our students to take risks, try new things, and develop into lifelong learners. Hand-in-hand with engaging curriculum and hands on lessons, our 1-to-1 iPad program has allowed quick access to technology in the classroom which has enabled our students to grow as 21st century collaborators, researchers, and learners. We have seen great success with our pilot program this year (6th grade), including wildly creative projects, innovative presentations, frequent research, and both independent and collaborative digital assignments and authentic assessments. We are excited to expand this program to include the entire middle school.
BYOD in Upper School:
On the heels of extensive research, we have discovered that students moving into high school have strong preferences as to the technological support device that they wish to use in the classroom. iPads have proven to be very effective through the end of eighth grade. Thereafter, students like the flexibility of choosing their own device. In the parlance, BYOD refers to bring your own device. Priory Upper School is de facto operating in this context now. We will likely formalize that structure for the fall of 2014. As an interesting ancillary observation, the conventional wisdom in high-end schools is to have enough bandwidth to support three to four devices per person on campus.
In response to less-than-stellar parent feedback regarding teacher to parent communication in last year’s Parent Satisfaction Survey, Corie Fogg and Kathy Gonzalez have graciously volunteered to unpack the entirety of our institutional parent communication procedures. Ideally their work will help us clarify our protocols for guiding faculty in those vital communications. We will be looking at PowerSchool, Haiku, comments, individual websites, email, and phone calls to try to streamline and enhance parent communication.
The indomitable Matt Lai, working in conjunction with Service Coordinator Mike Loftis, have completely revamped the structure of service at the Priory. Service is at the very core of the Priory’s Mission. We want to prepare our students to “serve a world in need of their gifts.” To this end, we have taken steps to reemphasize service here at the school – sports teams doing service projects together, new partnerships with outside organizations, and service trips. Next year, we will roll out a number of other changes that will create more opportunities for our students to learn the importance of service. Some of these new ideas include: further integration of service activities into the classroom, student groups, and sports teams; more service-themed trip offerings; and a Service Week for the 9th and 10th grade class. More details about these programs will come soon.