Quality Comments: Welcome to OJCS Student Blogfolios!

I spend about an hour each week commenting on our student blogfolios.

What’s a “blogfolio” you ask?  Well it is a term of art that (I think) my former colleague Andrea Hernandez created, and in her words:

Portfolios give students a chance to develop metacognition, set goals and internalize what “good work” looks like.  Blogs offer a platform for creativity, communication, connection and the practice of digital citizenship. “Blog-folios”are the best of both worlds- using a blogging platform to develop writing skills, provide opportunities to connect with an authentic audience and increase reflective practices. Instead of using the entire site as a portfolio, students will use the category “portfolio” to designate those selections that represent high-quality work and reflection.

Having begun last year with Grade 5, we have now added this year’s Grade 5 as well.  [Spoiler Alert: We will be expanding the use of blogfolios in both directions in the not-too-distant future.]

During the time I set aside for my reading, I typically start at the beginning of each blogroll and make my way through as many as I can. During that hour, I can see which spelling words are being emphasized in a particular grade.  I can see which kinds of writing forms and mechanics are being introduced.  I learn which holidays (secular and Jewish) are being prepared for, celebrated or commemorated.  I see samples of their best work across the curricula.

But what I enjoy seeing the most is the range of creativity and personalization that expresses itself through their aesthetic design, the features they choose to include (and leave out), and the voluntary writing.

This is what we mean when we talk about “owning our own learning” and having a “floor, but not a ceiling” for each student.  It is also a great example of finding ways to give our students the ability to create meaningful and authentic work.  But, it isn’t just about motivation – that we can imagine more easily.  When you look more closely, however, it is really about students doing their best work and reflecting about it.  Look at how much time they spend editing.  Look at how they share peer feedback, revise, collaborate, publish and reflect.  [Spoiler Alert: When we shift into “Student-Led Conferences” the blogfolios become a critical anchor.]

Seriously.  Look at it.

If you are a parent in one of these classes, we hope that you are already subscribed to your children’s blogfolio(s) and that grandparents and special friends are as well.  But if you are not a parent in one of these classes (or a parent in our school or a parent at all), but are (obviously!) reading my blog, I ask that however much time you would have spent reading one my typically overlong, 1,000-word (plus) posts, that you please use that time now to read one of their posts.  Even better, post a comment! It brings them such joy!  Just pick a few at random and make a burgeoning blogger’s day.

If you are interested in perusing the Grade 5 Blogroll, please click here.

If you are interested in surfing the Grade 6 Blogroll, then please click here.

With enrollment for 2019-2020 now fully open [Don’t forget to take advantage of the opportunity to lock in this year’s tuition rates by enrolling on time!], I am looking forward in upcoming posts to providing meaningful updates on two major initiatives:

  • How has the work with TACLEF impacted French at OJCS?
  • How has the gift to strengthen the “J” in OJCS impacted Jewish Studies (and Life) at OJCS?

Stay tuned!

Annual BlogCloud – A WordCloud in the Hand…

Ah late November…

…while my internal thermometer still thinks it should be shorts weather and my internal clock still thinks it is almost time for turkey and football, the truth of things is that here, in wintry Ottawa, I am making my way through each and every report card as we gear up for Parent-Teacher Conferences.

In light of the season – Report Card Season – and in light of the many (long) serious blog posts I have been cranking out, it seems like it is just the right week for my annual word cloud post, complete with awful puns.

If you missed last year’s punny post

I do love to take an opportunity once a year to run my blog through a word cloud app or website.  If you are unfamiliar with the idea, in a nutshell, word clouds (through an algorithm only they know) take any piece of written text and represents it graphically in a way which highlights frequently-used words.  It is a fantastic device for visually summarizing the essence of a written text.  Another great feature is that, not only can you cut-and-paste in any written document, you can type in blogs, websites, etc., and it will go back and search them for content, add it all up, and spit out a word cloud representing the sum of all its written content.

This is my third such annual post here at OJCS and I have done them each at approximately the same time of year.  So, what does this year’s BlogCloud look like and what does it reveal?  [If it is too small on your screen/device you can go ahead and zoom in.  Or just scroll up!]

I love the nexus of time-Jewish-teachers-parents-students!  I like seeing words like “Community”, “Learning”, “Meaningful”, and “Forward” increase in size.  I think it is great to see “Questions”, “Conversations”, and “Feedback” make an appearance.

What words would you have expected to see?  What words are you disappointed to see?

If you see something interesting in my OJCS BlogCloud, let us know in the comments!

Liveblog of OJCS 2019 Winter PD Day

Another PD Day is ramping up at OJCS and we are looking forward to a day of growth and a day of community-building with our teachers. Days like today are critical pitstops on our learning journey towards our North Stars; they give us the mini-break and the mini-boost we need to keep our rhythm and our momentum.  And, as always, it is my pleasure to give you a peek inside with one my seasonal “liveblogs”.

How are we beginning our day (after breakfast)?  Let’s check in with our Vice Principal, Keren Gordon:

9:00 AM “The OJCS Way” Strategy GooseChase

What is a GooseChase you may ask?  Well GooseChase is an app for creating your own online, collaborative scavenger hunt that allows you to create teams, develop missions, track live scoring, etc.  It is something we experienced in our work with NoTosh and are now using with our full faculty.  When used in an educational setting, you can create missions that require students – or in our case teachers – to learn something, do something, show something, etc., all in service of growth.

Our Faculty GooseChase today is to help our teachers better understand how to teach and learn according to “The OJCS Way”.  You have heard a lot over the last few years about our “North Stars” and they are really important.  Our North Stars are our core values and, as such, remain permanently fixed in the sky as our guide towards being the best school we can be.  But how do we get there?  What is our path?  Well.  Those are our Strategies.  If you want to see how the Good Ship OJCS sets sail towards its objective – guided by North Stars through Strategies – this amazing sketchnote by our Teaching & Learning Coordinator Melissa Thompson puts it all together:

So, in order to help our teachers better understand the Strategies…

  • Champion the Wellbeing of Each Person
  • Be Open to Critique
  • Challenge Assumptions
  • Work is Part of a Jewish Learning Journey
  • Include Student Voice

…what kinds of missions are our teachers running around the school trying to complete?  Here’s a sample:

Each time a team completes a mission, they upload the evidence – a text, a picture, a video, etc., – and they get points.  There is a live leaderboard that scrolls all the uploaded content and the scoring as you make your way through.  Our teachers are running around the school, taking pictures, making videos, learning, laughing and having a great time.

Want proof?

Mission: The Jewish Wedding
Mission: Artfully Strategic
Mission: Sparking Strategy
Mission: Speed Pineappling

There are lots and lots of hilarious videos and pictures that I cannot show here, but needless to say, our teachers had themselves quite the GooseChase!  We are excited to see how their deep dive into strategy will impact teaching and learning and we are excited to see how many of them will try a GooseChase of their own in their classrooms.  Stay tuned.

11:00 AM Structured Conversations

For the last part of our formal program, we divided our faculty into four structured conversations, differentiated by department:

  • TACLEF for French Faculty
  • ALSUP for Middle School Faculty
  • VoiceThread for Jewish Studies Faculty
  • STAR Reading for Language Arts Faculty

TACLEF for French Faculty

With all the professional development our French Faculty has been receiving through TACLEF (our work with TACLEF is generously supported by a grant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa), we definitely thought it was a good idea to give them an opportunity to take stock and think together about how to move the work forward.  Today the team explored how to use our new assessment tool as part of our process for determining both original placement in our Core and Extended Programs, as well as when it may be appropriate to switch from one to the other.  Here’s what else was on the board:

ALSUP for Middle School Faculty

As part of implementing our new Behaviour Management program, our whole faculty are frequently asked to conduct an ALSUP for goal-setting purposes as we prioritize growth in all areas of their learning, including social-emotional wellness.  What is an ALSUP?  It is an Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems (ALSUP) and it is used to help identify what is behind the behaviours we are seeing and how to strategically support the student with goal-setting that invites different outcomes.  Today Middle School conferenced about the ALSUP, the process for goal-setting and how to invite meaningful follow-up conventions with students and their parents.

VoiceThread for Jewish Studies Faculty

I led this one myself and so I have nobody to blame for not having take any pictures!  We spent time looking at VoiceThread – a sophisticated, versatile recording tool that creates lessons which include video, images and sound.  Although we already utilize a variety of other apps and tools that have some similar features, we really believe that VoiceThread may give us an easy and exciting way to provide students with opportunity to practice listening and speaking in Hebrew.  We brainstormed ways we could use VoiceThread in class, as personalized homework, to enrich, to remediate, and enhance second language acquisition.  We will be getting a license so that our teachers can begin to play – and perhaps prototype.  We also believe this could be a great tool for French as well.

STAR Reading for Language Arts Faculty

Our Language Arts Faculty looked at Star Early Literacy/Star Reading Assessments and learned how to read reports to find the focus skills that will help guide lessons, as well as plan differentiated, personalized lessons for individual students based on their personal reading comprehension needs.  They had a great discussion around reading for the love of reading and reading to grow.  There’s a time and a place for both and both can be true in our classrooms and at home. This diagnostic is ONE tool that exists for our teachers to help learn a little more about our students and support their ever-growing journey as life-long learners.

For the rest of our day, we gave our teachers the most precious gift of all…time!  Time to finish those report cards, to plan for meaningful parent-teacher conferences, time to catch up and time to get ahead. We are looking forward to resuming school on Monday renewed, rejuvenated and ready to reach for those (north) stars!

Another Trip Around The OJCS Blogosphere

With all the workshops and meetings and slides and conversations about our blogs, it is sometimes easy to forget (at least for me) that the best way of showing the power, the impact, and the learning on the blogs is to actually show it!  Recognizing that it still may be a new routine for families and that most families surely don’t have the bandwidth to visit all the blogs, let me serve as your occasional tour guide of The OJCS Blogosphere.  I hope to do this a few times a year to inspire OJCS families to invest a little time, to inspire other schools and thought-leaders who may visit my blog from time-to-time, and to forge connections between our work and other fellow-travelers because we really do “learn better together” [North Star Alert!]

From the OJCS (Middle School) Mathematics Blog (click here for the full blog)

Math Escape: Grade 8 Dinner Party! – Posted on October 28th

Grade 8 participated in their first Math Escape Room of the year on Friday.

They got a taste last year, and loved it so much, that I had to put together another one and bring it back to life this year!

October’s theme: a Dinner Party! How much food? When to start each recipe? How to set the tables? ….and picky eaters!

Students were “Trapped in Math Class” for 60 minutes in small groups. They had to beat the clock to correctly answer four tough and tricky questions that pushed them to squirm and struggle. Topics included logic problems, algebra, and area of circles.(had to figure this out from notes and clever resources-since we haven’t learned it formally yet!)

So with the room set, and the students eager with positive attitudes they took on the challenge…and as the struggled through, they came out on the other side all escapees from this month’s escape room!.

Here’s a peak into their “struggle,” and now thanks to my over using my “dontstealthestruggle”phrase, students are often heard saying back to me, “Mrs Cleveland, no, don’t help, don’t steal my struggle, I can figure it out.”

Could I be more proud?!  Let’s see what they got what it takes to escape in November’s room, I’m already preparing it! Bring it, grade 8! Show me what you’ve got!

…stay tuned….grade 7 takes on their first escape room tomorrow! They’re ready for the challenge!

Take a look…

 

From the Grade One – Kitah Alef Blog (click here for the full blog)

Proud Teacher Moment – Posted on November 1

What an amazing feeling it is to walk in on my students during recess and find  a few of them playing (IN HEBREW) a game I used with them yesterday to practice hebrew vocabulary.

They truly exemplify OJCS’s star – “We own our own learning. We own our own stories.”

And to make matters BETTER. As I was writing about this, I heard my students using the Hebrew song I taught them for lining up during transition time in another class.

My heart feels so fulfilled at this moment! My dream (having OJCS students using Hebrew NOT ONLY in Hebrew class) is coming true…

I am truely soooo proud!

TODA YELADIM! 😘

From the Grade Five – Kitah Hay Blog (click here for the full blog)

Student Vote 2019 – Posted on October 18

We had a great turnout for our Student Vote yesterday! The grade 5 students prepared and delivered! It was a long morning, where lots of patience was needed, but they stepped up to the challenge and were true model students and citizens.

We started the morning learning how to fold and initial the ballots to ensure they were all “kosher” and hadn’t been tampered with. They also witnessed and confirmed that the ballot boxes were empty before they were sealed.

And then the fun began! We welcomed all the classes from grades 3 to 8 into our room, presented important information on the main party platforms, and then worked as Poll Clerks and Deputy Returning Officers to guide voters through the voting process.

 

We can’t wait to share the results with you, after the polls close for the rest of the country, on Monday evening. We will be counting the votes on Wednesday so stay tuned!

From the OJCS (Middle School) Francais Blog (click here for the full blog)

Nos futurs politiciens? – Posted on September 20th

Nos étudiants et étudiantes de la classe de la 8e année de Mme Bertrend et de Mr. Cinanni ont eu l’honneur de participer à deux tables rondes, avec le Parti Conservateur et le Parti Vert, respectivement.  Les élèves ont pu vivre une expérience unique, en écoutant des politiciens répondent des questions auxquelles font face la communauté juive, à Ottawa et à travers le Canada.

Ils ont aussi la chance de poser une question aux deux partis, en trois langues !  Vive le trilinguisme à OJCS !

Our teachers and students are doing some pretty fantastic things, eh?

I will continue to encourage you to not only check out the blogs on The OJCS Blogosphere, but I strongly encourage you to offer a quality comment of your own.  Getting feedback and commentary from the universe is highly motivating and will help this snowball grow as it hurtles down the hill of innovative learning.

For our next tour, I’m going to give you a taste of what is happening with our Grades 5 & 6 student blogfolios.  Stay tuned!

OJCS Parent Connect: The Future of Learning

Who is excited about having a full week of school?

In addition to the joy of restarting our year and restoring our routines, we also had an opportunity this week to reconnect to our parents.  As promised back in September, we took some time this week to offer what we hope will be the first in a series of “Parent Connect” workshops to better inform parents, to solicit feedback from parents and – in the future – to help parents with hands-on guidance for navigating the educational journey at OJCS.

This week’s focus was following up on specific questions and concerns that have arisen as a result of our embrace of innovative technology, online platforms, etc., as part of our larger work of preparing students for their next schools of choice and beyond.  The slideshow below guided these conversations.  Although not everything may be perfectly clear from the slides alone, you will hopefully note that we attempted to anchor the conversation in our “North Stars” and in ongoing changes in education.  We then pivoted into ways those changes are taking shape at OJCS and ended with targeted conversations about issues of parental concern such as “Privacy”, “Screen Time”, and “Supervision”.

We are grateful to the parents who attended for their feedback!  We also welcome your feedback – either by commentary here on the blog, or email, phone calls, etc.  With what we have heard, thus far, we believe there would be continued value in providing interested parents with hands-on advice on how to navigate the internet at home (firewalls, apps for supervision, etc.), and a dedicated workshop to homework support.  Stay tuned.

We can’t wait to see what we can accomplish with five whole days of school!

2019 OJCS Middle School Retreat

Woo-hoo!

That’s pretty much all I can say.  We left exactly one week ago for our second annual three-day Middle School Retreat at Camp B’nai Brith Ottawa (CBB) and it was everything we could have hoped for in a Jewish informal educational experience.  We had learning, games, athletics, prayer, social bonding, community building, hiking, white-water rafting, and a campfire to boot!  It was like we squeezed a summer’s session of camp into just three days…and we were all tired enough to prove it!

After having spent a good chunk of time putting together a video of our experience, I will let the video do the talking.  We didn’t necessarily know what we would come out with, so I apologize to parents and students that not everyone may have made it in – it is not a reflection of anything other than happenstance.  We will more than make up for it with photos and videos throughout the year.  It is, I hope, a taste of why this retreat has become an important part of our middle school.  Our relationships are forever changed – for the good. We will be able to do things within the walls of the classrooms that we never would have without having spent time together outside of them.

Here’s a taste:

Here is a final reminder about September 25th…

In order to encourage attendance in both parts of the evening, we are (for the second year) combining our AGM (Annual General Meeting) with a hands-on parent workshop to ensure parents are able to be meaningful partners in their child(ren)’s education.

The evening will begin at 7:00 PM in the CHAPEL with an approximately 30-minute AGM.  We will begin the Hands-On Workshop at 7:30 PM, beginning in the GYM, where we will start with some hands-on learning, exploring and subscribing that will help you know exactly where to find the information about your chid(ren)’s class(es), including homework/quizzes/tests/projects that you want and need to be wonderful parents and advocates.  We will then move into a choice of topics for parents to attend featuring “Homework”, “Behavior Management” & “Extending Jewish Learning” – all facilitated by members of our Educational Leadership Team.  The evening is intended to conclude by 8:30 PM.

This evening is about ensuring that parents know how to find, access and use all the tools we have available to help keep them in the know.  We are scheduling a different day – October 24th (8:45 AM & 7:00 PM) – to engage in a more substantial conversation about the what and the why of our approach to technology and innovation.  Why is the school moving to BYOD and what does it (really) mean?  What are blogs and blogfolios and how are they used in service of learning?  What role should schools play in developing media literacy and digital citizenship?  What does the latest research tell us?  If these questions, or others, are on your mind, we hope that you are able to join us at one of these conversations.

Habits of Kindness: Sharpen the Saw

We introduced the LAST of our 7 Habits of Kindness during our OJCS Maccabiah (it fell on Rosh Chodesh Sivan) yesterday and it may have gotten a little lost in all the Maccabiah excitement (congratulations to us all for having gone past our $10,000 high dream for the student fundraising component and for an amazing day of ruach at OJCS!).  So let me take a moment to revisit…

When our school introduces a new Habit of Kindness, I take it upon myself to blog about the new Habit.  (Last month was “Synergize“.)  We have been enlisting our Knesset to prepare and present the new Habit at our monthly Rosh Chodesh Assemblies.  (You can stay on top of all our Community of Kindness activities by checking out its blog.) They have been very creative!  But with all the work being put into the Maccabiah, let’s turn this month and see what it says from the “Leader in Me: 7 Habits for Kids” page (which was shared with the students during the opening ceremonies):

Habit 7 — Sharpen The Saw

Balance Feels Best

I take care of my body by eating right, exercising and getting sleep. I spend time with family and friends. I learn in lots of ways and lots of places, not just at school. I find meaningful ways to help others.

So you can think of what it means to “sharpen the saw” as being divided into three categories: “Spiritually Fit”, “Mentally Fit”, and “Physically Fit”.

We hopefully do our best to encourage all of those kinds of fitnesses in our school.  Certainly being a Jewish day school provides plenty of opportunity for spiritual fitness, which is one of its many benefits.  Despite our challenging schedule, we continue to hold on to three-days-a-week PE in the Lower School and five-days-a-week PE in the Middle School, as well as recesses and a robust intramural sports program.  We do our best to offer healthy options with our hot lunch program, but do struggle with the amount of sugar and snacks that the many birthdays and holidays bring with them.  This is something we plan to revisit next year.

Of course mental fitness goes along with schooling, but one advantage to being a leader in innovative learning is that it provides tons of opportunity for kids to “learn in lots of ways and lots of places, not just at school”.  We agree!

Part of my goal of blogging about the habits is not just to demonstrate how the school attempts to foster them, however, but to model my own attempts to foster them.  So how am I doing?

I have loved the opportunity our new Tefillah curriculum in the Middle School has provided me to re-engage with daily, morning prayer.  As challenging (and rewarding) as it may be to get middle schoolers psyched for prayer, it is been great for my own spiritual fitness.

Mental fitness?  If I reinterpret the language for children into workaday life, mental fitness here would mean that I find opportunities to learn outside of what I am required to learn or think about to perform my job.  For years (many years), my graduate work and my dissertation-writing were more than sufficient to ensure mental fitness.  But for the last few years?  Outside of many robust games of Words with Friends, my mental fitness may be lacking!  I love the opportunity Shabbat affords me to be with family and friends, but they are also my only hours to read and I would hate to have to choose between those two!  Plus, by the time we finish cleaning up from Shabbat dinner, I’m asleep before my kids.  So I definitely need to “Be Proactive” and do some goal-setting for future mental fitness.

That leaves physical fitness…

I shared back in a blog post about Habit #3, Putting First Things First,

I have made two commitments to wellness this year that are a constant source of teasing…

…I purchased a mini-standing desk for laptop users.

…I purchased a seasonal affective disorder lamp.

I have seen the articles all about how “sitting is the new smoking” and if that is even partly true, I am sadly stage something with sitting.  So I am now standing a few hours a day at my desk and we’ll see what happens!

It is dark when I get to school and dark when I leave school. And for fun, for about half the year it is pretty dark while I am at school too!  So I have decided to see if one of these SAD lights will keep me un-SAD during the long winter months.

Well, did they make a difference?  I can definitely say that they did not not make a difference!  I definitely think the standing desk has helped and I am thinking about getting a standing mat to go with it next year so that I can comfortably stand for even longer.  My SAD light helped during the long winter months (I am only going by “light” and not “temperature,” otherwise, I would be tempted to still call it “winter”).  My wellness goal for the summer is to ride my bike to work each day.  My physical fitness goal for next year is to add some weight training or a sport to whatever cardio I can manage at home.

So that’s how plan on sharpening my saw…how about you?

OJCS & CFORP Launch 1st Private School Partnership

As a follow up to the announcement OJCS recently made to invest nearly $50,000 to enhance French education, we promised to share back once we actually signed the contract to let our families and community know how we plan to spend that investment.  It took a little longer than anticipated to dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s”, but now that everything is signed, we are thrilled to let you know that the Ottawa Jewish Community School will be the first private school in Ontario to partner with the Centre Franco-Ontarien de Ressources Pédagogiques (Franco-Ontarian Centre for Educational Resources) or CFORP to implement the TACLEF program.

CFORP will introduce TACLEF, La Trousse D’acquisition de Compétences Langagières en Français (loosely translated as a “French language acquisition ‘kit'”) to the French teaching staff at the Ottawa Jewish Community School and to offer individual mentoring in its use for a period of two school years.  This approach strengthens team building and permits a better understanding of a skills-based teaching/learning approach as it develops language proficiency in French language learners.

Here are the highlights from the contract:

The plan entails a gradual implementation of TACLEF covering two school years that targets the use of the resource tool through the two processes presented on the TACLEF website:

  • la précision initiale des acquis langagiers (Initial Assessment of Language Proficiency)
  • la planification des interventions ciblées (Planned Intervention)

Implementation supposes:

  • a detailed implementation plan for the school,
  • graduated training sessions for staff,
  • individual coaching sessions for each teacher using the resource tool in his or her classroom (focus on skills such as use of resources, planning and choosing strategies based on data, communicating outcomes, curriculum alignment, etc.),
  • an open dialogue based on commitment, strategic planning of learning outcomes, data analysis, reflective practices and professional dialogue.

At the end of the consultancy, the OJCS will have built the staff’s capacity to assess, support and guide French language learners in the development of their French language skills and in improving outcomes in all subjects taught in French.

Approach

The following steps will ensure the efficient implementation of TACLEF:

  • initial planning session between project leader and the school’s leader and/or administrative staff to determine details;
  • technical integration of the website into the school’s system with the CFORP;
  • two full day training sessions during the first school year;
  • on site coaching for each teacher attending the training sessions;
  • follow up meetings between the project leader and school leader (on or off site) to assess needs during implementation;
  • coaching follow-up (on or off site) according to assessment,
  • year-end meeting between project leader and the school’s leader to review success of implementation, modify according to needs and plan the next steps.

Deliverables

  • detailed implementation plan;
  • two training sessions on the use of the resource tool: (September – October or according to school calendar);
  • individual coaching for each teacher attending the training session:
    • year 1: ½ day following each session and the equivalent of ½ day during the rest of the year (on or off site); total of 1½ scheduled days per teacher,
    • year 2: equivalent of one full day during the year, scheduled according to the second-year plan, total of 1 scheduled day per teacher,
    • follow up support with curriculum planning and resource selection as they pertain to the skills and strategies used during the implementation of TACLEF;
  • planning session at the end of year one (May 2020);
  • activity report during implementation (June 2020);
  • identification of benchmarks and key performance indicators;
  • final report at the end of the contract (June 2021).

 

To take it out of jargon, what is most important to us is that this consultancy provides two years of professional development for OJCS French Faculty from the same folk who train the immersion and Francophone programs in the public boards, including multiple in-person observations and direct training.  It gives us shareable tools for benchmarking and tracking individual students over time.  We will end the consultancy with new and updated French curriculum and with the tools to build individualized paths forward for high achieving students from the OJCS “Extended” program to full immersion programs at their next schools of choice.  These tools, the curriculum and the paths would be ours after the consultancy and would become part of the budget moving forward.

I’d like to give a lot of credit to our current French faculty who invested a lot of time and energy researching growth opportunities and have shown a willingness for honest reflection that is both rare and refreshing.  It takes strength to make yourself vulnerable and to be open to critique.  It is a quality we have to model if we are to ask it of our students, and here, with a topic that can elicit strong emotion, I am proud to have a school where we can name we are a work in progress – and, more importantly, chart a path towards greater excellence.  We look forward to walking that path towards greater excellence in French education, informed by parent voice, in the years ahead.

I did want to take a moment to provide a bit more data with regard to how the hours of French instruction are divvied up at OJCS and the French immersion programs that our graduates of “Extended French” are eligible to transition into when they get to Grade 9.  There were, understandably, a lot of questions from parents (particularly parents at the younger grades) at our last gathering and, disappointingly, we did not have all the answers at the time.  We have spent (a surprising amount of) time on websites and on the phone to confirm both the hours and how they are spent and just so folk can have accurate data upon which to inform opinions, we did want to report back.

Our understanding, if we want an “apples to apples” comparison, is that students in French immersion at SRB in Grades 7 and up have 750 weekly minutes in French allocated as follows:

  • French 200 min
  • Physical Education / Dance 200
  • Health 40
  • Science 150
  • History / Geography 150

In comparison, students in “Extended French” at OJCS in Grades 7 and up  have 400 minutes in French allocated as follows:

  • French 240 min
  • History / Geography 160

Clearly, 750 is more than 400, and no one is making an educational argument that when it comes to language acquisition that more isn’t better.  However, if we are looking to see how to close the gap and/or what best prepares our graduates for success in the high schools that 90% or more of them will attend, what jumps out is “Science” and “PE” for different reasons.  We have always understood that use of PE, Music, Art, etc., could provide an easy opportunity for additional language support and could provide an easy way to close the French gap.  (Even if we haven’t always capitalized on the opportunity.)

Science is more complicated (both because we appear to offer more contact time in Science than SRB and because it would require additional staffing/tracking), but knowing that it is essentially science vocabulary that our students are lacking to bridge the gap may, through the consultancy, open up solutions that don’t automatically require us to reinvent the school.

What remains clear – and I’ll have more to say when I share back the Annual Parent Survey data – is that we actually have three groups of parents when it comes to French education.  There remains parents for whom this is not their most pressing issue and remain satisfied with “Core French”.  There are parents who are primarily invested in seeing their children be successfully prepared for Grade 9 French immersion in their next school of choice.  That has, up until now, been the stated goal and that outcome has been the one that has perennially been questioned.  In many ways, this consultancy was originally conceived to address that challenge.  But what came through in the French Town Halls (and survey data) is that we additionally have parents who are as concerned, if not more, by French outcomes arguably more significant than high school readiness.  Meaning, that although it might be necessary that our graduates be adequately prepared for high school, it may not be sufficient for the French education they believe their children should receive.

Part of our desire to use this consultancy is because of the work they do with Francophone schools in our province.  We will have the opportunity to better understand what we presently do and to chart a path forward to wherever we believe we should be headed.  This conversation is just beginning and we are excited to see where it goes…

Postscript: This will not be my only blog post this week!  The promised post on the Annual Parent Survey is still coming out.  I thought it important to close this loop, as promised.

The Transparency Files: NEW OJCS Homework Philosophy

In January, I blogged about what was then a pending conversation our faculty was going to have in order to revisit and realign our school’s homework philosophy with our “North Stars”.  In that post, I suggested some likely ideas that I imagined would make their way in, based on all the work we have done these last two years making our beliefs about teaching and learning more explicit.

We created a “HW Task Force” consisting of both teachers and administrators.  We surveyed parents, teachers and students to better understand what currently is and what each stakeholder group is looking for in the future.  We examined current research.  We met multiple times and then drafted a document for the full faculty to review and edit, which they have now done.

So without further adieu, I am pleased to share out…

OJCS Homework Philosophy & Guidelines

  1.  Introduction
  2.  Philosophy
  3.  General Homework Principles
  4.  Homework Guidelines in Lower School Grades
  5.  Homework Guidelines in Middle School Grades
  6.  Characteristics of Effective Homework Practice
  7.  Parent, Student, Teacher, and Administration responsibilities
  8.  Homework Philosophy & ‘7 Habits’
  9.  Implementation Strategy [To Be Created]

1.   Introduction

The purpose of the OJCS Homework Policy is to provide guidelines for teachers, provide for consistency through the grades, and to educate parents who have questions about homework.  A school policy regarding homework, along with clear expectations for teachers as to what constitutes good homework, can help to strengthen the benefits of homework for student learning.

This policy addresses the purposes of homework, amount and frequency, and the responsibilities of teachers, students, parents, and administrators.   

The OJCS Homework Policy is based on research regarding the correlation between homework and student achievement as well as best practices for homework. 

2.  Philosophy

The philosophy at the Ottawa Jewish Community School regarding K-8 homework is that homework should only be assigned that is meaningful, purposeful, and appropriate.  Most learning will take place during the school day (except when utilizing an explicitly “flipped pedagogy”). Homework will serve to deepen student learning and enhance understanding.  Homework should be consistent with the school’s “North Stars” and strive to incorporate creativity, critical thinking, authenticity, and student ownership.

Legitimate academic purposes for homework include:

  • practicing a skill or process that students can do independently, but not fluently,
  • elaborating on information that has been addressed in class to deepen students’ knowledge,
  • enabling students to finish classwork that they were unable to complete in class, and
  • providing opportunities for students to explore topics of their own interest. 

Non-academic purposes for homework include:

  • developing better study habits and skills,
  • developing independent problem-solving skills and better time organization, and
  • greater parental appreciation of, and involvement in, schooling.

We understand today’s busy schedules and demands on parent and student time.  Most learning is done in school, but like learning a foreign language or learning to read, reasonable and age-appropriate practice and repetition is exceptionally beneficial in certain subject areas.  We also recognize that in the 21st century the barriers between bounded times and spaces for learning are ever-shifting and, so, we remain flexible to new ways to provide our students with authentic opportunities to learn and to explore.

3.  General Homework Guidelines for all Grade Levels

  • Homework is not to be used to teach a new skill (with the exception of explicitly “flipped pedagogy”).
  • Teachers may not assign regular homework if it is not purposely enhancing their program expectations.  
  • An average amount of daily homework – not including nightly encouraged reading, but including daily/weekly homework assignments, preparing for quizzes/tests/exams and work on long term projects – should not exceed:
    • 20 minutes for Kindergarten
    • 30 minutes for Grades 1 – 3
    • 45 minutes for Grades 4 & 5
    • 60 minutes for Grades 6 – 8.
  • Homework should be purposeful and meaningful to students.  Legitimate purposes for homework include practicing a skill or process that students can do independently but not fluently, elaborating on information that has been addressed in class to deepen student knowledge, and providing opportunities for students to explore topics of their own interest.
  • Reading is an integral part of learning should be encouraged separate, above and beyond required homework.
  • Practicing second-language and third-language skills is a consistent part of homework in a trilingual school.
  • Homework will reflect the accommodations and modifications of curriculum that are stated in a student’s IEP or Support Plan.
  • Homework will not be assigned over holidays.
  • Teachers should distinguish for students (and parents) between homework that is required and work that is recommended to support learning.

4.  Homework Guidelines in Lower School (K-5)

In these grades, with the exception of reading and being read to, there is little proven correlation between homework and achievement.  

  • In the primary grades (K-3), homework should consist primarily of reading, plus a limited number of independent exercises to reinforce previously taught basic skills.
  • At the upper grades (4-5), homework may additionally consist of completing, practicing, preparing, or extending core academic skills and is designed to build independent study habits.
  • It is recommended that homework assignments in the Lower School be given out on a weekly basis for the following week.  (For example, the week’s assignments are given on a Monday and are due the following Monday.) This allows families to coordinate schedules and identify the blocks of time for homework that make sense.
  • Except for reading, homework at the elementary level should not be given over holidays or extended school breaks.
  • Long-term assignments should be limited in number and duration.  Project-based assignments should primarily be undertaken and completed in the classroom. These tasks should not require significant assistance from parents or costly materials.  These assignments should include clear checkpoints to monitor progress toward completion.
  • If your child is becoming frustrated or not able to independently complete the homework, please indicate this in an email to the teacher so that additional support can be offered the following day.
  • Please note that in order for homework to be authentic, to be meaningful, personalized, etc., that the amount of homework will likely ebb and flow naturally during the year.

  5.  Homework Guidelines in Middle School Grades (6-8)

In the Middle School grades, in addition to reading, research indicates that there are benefits to a moderate amount of meaningful, specific and deliberate homework to develop independent work habits, cultivate a sense of responsibility and help reinforce and enhance learning expectations.  

  • Homework should be assigned during the school week on a regular basis.
  • Teachers should coordinate scheduling of tests and projects.
  • Long-term assignments for Middle School grades should be limited in number and duration. These assignments should include clear checkpoints to monitor progress toward completion.  All deadlines will be posted on the class blog.
  • When assigning group projects, teachers should allow in-class collaboration time with specific tasks to be completed independently; however, these tasks should not require significant assistance from parents or costly materials.  [We recognize that projects like STEAM Fair and/or Genius Hour can sometimes inspire a desire to do more. Our commitment is to manage expectations with students to keep this within reason.]
  • Except for reading, daily/weekly homework at the middle school level should not be given over holidays or extended school breaks.  [There is some discretion for students to use breaks towards longer term projects, but without any expectation of work being done on religiously proscribed days.  This is especially important for group projects.]
  • Adjustments to a homework program can be made for middle school students preparing for their b’nei mitzvot as they are spending (at least) 10 minutes per night during the year leading up to their b’nei mitzvot and more than that in the month prior.
  • Study Hall, with teacher support, will be offered during Nutrition Breaks as an added support, should it be needed.

  6.  Characteristics of Effective Homework

This section addresses practices to help increase the benefits of homework while minimizing potential problems.  Homework is more effective when…

  • …the purpose of the homework assignment is clear.  Students should leave the classroom with a clear understanding of what they are being asked to do and how to do it.
  • …it does not discourage and frustrate students.  Students should be familiar with the concepts and material (unless it is an explicitly “flipped” pedagogy, i.e. Math).
  • …it is on a consistent schedule.  It can help busy students and parents remember to do assignments when they are consistent.  (Of course, it must be necessary and not just because “it’s Wednesday”.)
  • …it is explicitly related to the classwork.
  • …it is engaging and creative.
  • …part of the homework is done in class.
  • …it is authentic.
  • …feedback is given.  Follow-up is necessary to address any comprehension issues that may arise.
  • …it is differentiated and, ideally, personalized.
  • …it reviews past concepts to help retention over the course of the year.
  • …it provides student choice (when applicable) and distinguishes between required homework and recommended homework.

7.  Responsibilities

Students are responsible for:

  • knowing where to find homework on the blogs and sharing with parents.
  • ensuring understanding of homework expectations and asking for clarification or help when needed before leaving the classroom.
  • keeping track of what is expected through an organization strategy (agenda book, e-agenda, calendar, etc.)
  • regularly completing assigned homework in a timely manner.
  • managing time by staying focused, on task, and planning effectively for long-term projects.
  • bringing home all necessary materials
  • putting forth their best effort to produce quality work.
  • completing or making up missed assignments and tests if required by the teacher.
  • contacting a teacher in advance of a due date to request an extension and to provide a valid explanation.

Parents/Guardians are responsible for:

  • helping to oversee what is for homework as child develops habits (this could be checking their agendas, e-agendas, classroom blogs, etc.).
  • being an advocate for their child, while encouraging the child to advocate for himself/herself.
  • encouraging reading, which might involve accessing audiobook to accompany the book, at all grade levels.
  • providing an appropriate environment, including necessary supplies, for homework to be done.
  • providing a healthy balance between homework, extra and co-curricular activities, and family commitments.
  • contacting the teacher if their child is not consistently able to do the homework by himself/herself within the time guidelines, or if challenges or questions arise.

Teachers are responsible for:

  • sharing expectations for homework with students and parents early in the school year.
  • designing homework assignments that clearly articulate their purpose and expected outcome, allowing for student questions and planning.
  • providing timely feedback to students.
  • ensuring any homework assigned is directly related to the classroom instruction and consists of clear, purposeful, and authentic activities.
  • assigning homework that is appropriate and differentiated as needed.
  • teaching the skills necessary for the students to complete the homework and become successful independent learners.
  • being careful not to assign too much homework or homework that frustrates or discourages the students.
  • communicating with other teachers of the same grade to be mindful of their overall workload.

Administrators are responsible for:

  • monitoring homework quality and quantity.
  • communicating homework expectations with parents.

8.  The OJCS Homework Philosophy & Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits’

At OJCS, we want to empower students with key leadership and life skills through our continued adoption of Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’.

The chart below outlines how our homework policy and philosophy is aligned with each habit:

  9.  Implementation Strategies

And this section was – and still is blank.

Why?

Because this is the hard part!  It is easy(-ish) to write out a philosophy and guidelines.  Putting it into practice in a way that is consistent and clear to all?  That is hard work!

This is why the task force is still moving forward!  Our goal is to finalize an implementation strategy in time for it to be shared with our faculty as part of preparing for the 2019-2020 school year, along with additional information for parents.  The conversations so far have been especially rich and I am looking forward to seeing how the project comes to conclusion.

Watch this space…

OJCS Announces $50,000 Investment in French Education

File this under “promises made; promises kept”.

We are thrilled to share that our school will be making a $50,000 investment to ensure an increasingly excellent French education, to grow the number of students who successfully transition into French immersion programs in Grade 9, and to increase the odds of their success once placed.  This comes directly from the hard work of our French Language Faculty, the changes we began this year as a result of beginning this conversation last year, the leadership of our Board and the generosity of our donors.  This is a great day for those who already know a Jewish day school education does not preclude an excellent French education; it is an even better day for those who want to believe it, but needed a little more than anecdotal evidence to go on.

If you are new to this conversation, I encourage you to read my blog post from last February which lays out a detailed history of French education in Ontario, how it impacts OJCS and what the state of affairs was like when we began this work last school year.

Here are a few reminders and updates:

We continue to acknowledge that small sample sizes make statistical analysis complicated.  We remain committed to annual surveys of our alumni and frequent check-ins with the high schools in our community.  We do know, for example, that 50% of the students who graduated OJCS last year from French Extended are currently in Grade 9 French Immersion in high school (the other 50% opted out).  They report being successful and having been adequately prepared.  It may not be statistically significant (this was not a large class), but it lines up with last year’s data and the ample anecdotal evidence we do have that OJCS students can and do successfully transition from “Extended” to “Immersion” in Grade 9.

Here is what we committed to for this school year:

  • Conversations with parents about their hopes and expectations for maximal French contact time will begin during the admissions process.  Students who may require additional support to place into “Extended” need to be identified early.
  • The selection process in Grade 3 will be more rigorous, begin earlier, come with more parental engagement, etc., so that students who do continue into “Extended” for Grades 4 and higher are even better prepared for Grade 9.
  • We will increase the rigor and immersive experience of what contact time we presently make available.  We need to squeeze every moment of immersive French possible.  This includes a philosophical shift in K-3 that raises the bar – rather than aim towards the middle and wait to see who rises up, we will aim towards immersion and stream those who struggle.
  • We adjusted our schedule to increase contact time with French.  Students in OJCS have more contact time with French in each grade (except K which was already frontloaded).

Here is how our French Language Faculty put it when we met with parents twice yesterday at our “French Q & A Sessions”:

Vivre en français à OJCS

  • At OJCS, the FSL (French as a second language) faculty has made a commitment to speak French with their students everywhere in the school, so if you walked through our hallways, you would hear us speaking French to our students, increasing the interaction and contact time with our students.
  • Our enhanced FSL program with its consolidated class time (blocks of periods), all within a trilingual school where the francophone culture is alive and regularly celebrated, produces students capable of successfully communicating and learning in French.
  • Students practice their language skills in various environments, such as on the playground, and during coaching on our various OJCS sports teams.
  • Our FSL faculty is committed to offering authentic OJCS learning experiences.

While we believe we are on a gradual path towards clarity around French outcomes and increased excellence in French education, we are also aware of how serious an issue this is for a meaningful percentage of our families.  We have also seen how the use of consultancy has jumpstarted innovation and growth at our school.  What we are announcing here is going to do for French what our other consultancies have done for OJCS – dramatically speed up the process of moving from good to great.

We have identified a few different consultancies that would provide OJCS with the following features:

  • One to two years of professional development for OJCS French Faculty from the same folk who train the Immersion and Francophone programs in the public boards, including multiple in-person observation and direct training.
  • Shareable tools for benchmarking and tracking individual students over time.
  • New and updated French curriculum.
  • Individualized paths forward for high achieving students from the OJCS “Extended” program to full Immersion programs at their next schools of choice.

The tools, the curriculum and the paths would be ours after the consultancy and would become part of the budget moving forward.

We are in the process of finalizing our consultancy and will share out additional information when confirmed.  Additionally (not part of the $50K), we are also committed to adding French Resource.  We feel this will bring much needed support not only for students who have IEPs, but for any student who struggles.  [Yes, we are committed to adding Hebrew Resource as well.]

We enjoyed the opportunity to share our progress and our plans with parents.  We appreciated the candor and the tough questions we were asked.  We are pleased to share it more widely here.  Interestingly, we heard similar feedback that we heard last year about three areas.  One we tried to do something about and couldn’t get it off the ground; two we need to pay even closer attention to…

  • There was a very positive response to the idea of OJCS offering French enrichment as part of an after school program and/or as part of a summer day camp experience.  We surveyed parents last year about it for this year and did not get a critical mass.  We will try again.
  • There was a strong feeling that using Grade 4 as our arbitrary split into “Core” and “Extended” is unnecessary and that we are missing an opportunity to increase the immersive exposure in Grades K-3 when it could potentially have even more value.  We addressed this issue this year with a philosophical shift (aiming higher), but we could also choose to address it structurally (actually streaming earlier).  This will be worth exploring through consultancy.
  • There remains a meaningful percentage of our families (particularly ones who are from and/or are familiar with the model in Montreal) who would like to see us offer a full immersion track, if not embrace a full immersion model.  Although our cultural context is different, we do have a responsibility to pay attention to these families.  We will continue to survey and assess this need; we will also try to better calculate the opportunity cost of not having it – who is not coming to OJCS (and, thus, not getting a Jewish day school education) because we can’t offer it.

This is where you come in.  We desperately want to know what you think…

…what questions did this answer for you?

…what questions did this raise for you?

…what do you want to know more about?

…what else do you want us to know?

We cannot encourage you more to email, comment or come in for a conversation.  We need all voices heard as we work towards clarifying and enhancing our French mission and vision – next year and in the years ahead.