The Transparency Files: Annual Parent Survey

This is probably a couple of weeks later than I had hoped, but I am pleased to share with you the results of this year’s Annual Parent Survey!  If you want a full comparison with last year, you can reread those results or toggle back and forth.  What I will try to do here, is to capture the highlights now that we have a baseline for comparison.

The first thing to name is that the percentage of students represented in this year’s survey is lower than last year, even if it captures slightly more students.  Last year’s survey covered 81 students and this year’s covers 84.  Also, the survey is per student, not per family, which means that it is even less representative than that.  In the service of anonymity, we have no way to know how many families the survey actually represents.  Finally, for most of the sections below, only 70 students – or roughly 40% of the school – is represented in the results.  (Surveys of 14 students did not include data outside the opening and closing questions.)  We would love to see that number at 70% or higher in the future to be more sure that the results are valid, but as always, we believe that all data is valuable data.

Whereas it is common wisdom that folks with concerns are usually more likely to fill out these surveys, the truth is that it would only strengthen these numbers, because by and by they are pretty good!  More than being worried about the motivations for why families do or don’t fill out surveys, we are most concerned that our families feel that they have an opportunity to provide us with feedback and, even more important than that, that the school factors in parent voice as it makes decisions.  We can only hope that we prove to families each year that we do take voice seriously, we do lean into healthy critique, and we do want to hear from them.  We will revisit when we give the survey, how long we keep the survey window open and how we could incentivize folks to fill them out.  We will aim for over 50% next year and 70% in the years to come.  In the meanwhile, let’s celebrate the parents who did participate and try to make meaning of what they are telling us.

As was the case last year – and is usually the case everywhere – it is the parents of our youngest students who are the most invested with decreasing participation as the years go on.  It is, however, a bit more representative than last year’s group.

This percentage is higher than last year and is confounded a bit by the fact that families who are moving out of Canada for example, or who are graduating would sit in the same “No” with families who attritting before Grade 8.  That the percentage is higher has some logic because our attrition rates are down again heading into next year, but I cannot unpack the “No” box while maintaining anonymity.  All of this to say is, if it is true that our most critical parents are filling out this survey, the overwhelming majority intend to continue at OJCS.  That says a lot about them and about us.

Let’s look at the BIG PICTURE:

So I will remind/tell you that for this and all categories, we look at the range between 7-9 as the healthy band, obviously wanting scores to be closer to 9 than 7, and looking for numbers to go up each year.  Last year, our score was 7.13 and this year it is 7.20.  Is it healthy?  Absolutely, although still closer to the low end of the band than we would prefer.  Did it go up?  Yes, although not as much we would like considering how much better a school we have become by a variety of other measures.  Is there a disconnect between what the school believes is true and what parents see and believe?  Is this a failure of communication?  These will be important questions for us to chew on.  Let’s dig deeper…

A few things jump out…

  • The topline number is essentially unchanged (7.17 to 7.11), while remaining lower in the healthy band than we would like to see.
  • Unlike last year, the score for “learning LEVELS” and “learning STYLES” is exactly the same, which leads me to wonder if people understand what we’re actually asking about (are these actually good or clear questions).
  • Even the ones that are below the healthy range (in the 6s) are actually all up from last year, which hopefully means they will enter that range soon.
  • I am pleased to see parents have pushed the question about individualized attention into the healthy range (7.09) as it is a core value of the school.
  • Our lowest score (6.56) is connected to homework, which we had already identified as a critical concern.  We hope that the new Homework Philosophy we shared out just a few weeks ago will help see that score rise when it is implemented next year.

  • So here is where having comparison data is actually helpful.  Each score in this section is lower than we want it to be and each score in this section is higher than it was last year.  (Remember that we think 7-9 is the healthy range; a “5” still means “satisfied” on the scale).
  • The topline number is still below a 7 and that still remains unacceptable.  It may round up, but next year it has to get there on its own.
  • The biggest improvements in this section are connected to our ability to meet the needs of students with IEPs and we know it is connected to our having hired a Director of Special Education this year.  We also know that it is not yet where we want it to be, but this is a clear example of where parent voice, aligned with teacher and student voice, leads to meaningful action.  (Fill out those surveys y’all!  We really do pay attention.)

As was the case last year, there are no huge bombshells, but there are some things worth pointing out…

  • The topline number is essentially the same (7.27 to 7.24).
  • Our lowest scores (and we added two new sub-questions in this category) deal with French and we are excited to see those numbers begin to approach healthy levels as we move forward next year with the intense professional development for our French Faculty that we announced earlier this week.  We are a bit disappointed that the added contact time and rigor have not yet registered, but we know they were steps in the right direction.  Our newest families have the same high expectations of us that we have for ourselves, and now it is time for the school to deliver on its promises.  This is another clear example of where parent voice, aligned with teacher and student voice, leads to meaningful action.  (Fill out those surveys y’all!  We really do pay attention.  We even wrote it twice to be sure you noticed!)
  • From the comments in the experimental section on French outcomes, it is very clear that we do, in fact, have three populations at OJCS.  We have families who are satisfied with what we presently offer with a “Core” and “Extended” program.  We have many families who want to see the quality of those programs increase, especially the ones who are counting on our ability to graduate students out of “extended” into Grade 9 immersion programs.  We also, however, have families who would like to see us – at least as an option – provide an analogous immersion experience to the public board.  This conversation, as we said, is just beginning.
  • We noted last year that we were counting on Art, Music and PE to be improved by assigning them teachers who could focus more exclusively on these specialties and we are pleased that each score has gone up!

  • With regard to Jewish Studies, we are very pleased that all our numbers are significantly up from last year and have entered the healthy range (one score needs a little rounding to get there, but still)!  Reading last year’s results, I said that, “I fully expect that the changes we proposed for Jewish Studies – emphasis on Hebrew fluency, reinstitution of structured tefillah, etc. – will lead to higher scores in the year to come.”  Well…we made those changes and it is wonderful to see that they landed with our families.
  • We clearly have work remaining to bring our hot lunch program, our field trips (both quantity and quality), and helping our friends at the JCC with feedback about after-school programming to bring those scores into the healthy band…speaking of after-school programming…

From our experimental section, we gain this data point.  If we have at least 40 students, as is indicated, expressing interest in a French after-school experience, we have a responsibility to figure out the how and the what.  Stay tuned.

  • I will hold most of my comments on my own scores for an upcoming “Transparency Files” with my full self-evaluation.  Here, I will simply say that I am relatively pleased with stable scores in the healthy range.
  • My lowest score is in providing learning for parents…and I agree!  I am legitimately struggling to figure out how to do this better with the busy lives of our parents.  Last year I tried to teach a weekly class, but we couldn’t carry a critical mass week-to-week to make it viable.  I’m open to suggestion (like, please do) on how to do this better.  Help me to help you to help me.
  • Our lowest score in this area (ticked slightly down from last year’s 6.97) is about our “code of conduct” and we are pleased to share that we are working on launching a new, school-wide behavior management system next year based on the “7 Habits” and anchored in our “North Stars”.  I will be surprised if this score doesn’t go up next year.

Last data point:

Remember this question was scaled 1-5.  Our score is interestingly unchanged at 4.14.  I’m not sure how much more room to go up there is, but it is a windmill we will gladly tilt at.

So there you have it for 2018-2019!

Thanks to all the parents who took the time and care to fill out surveys!  In addition to the multiple choice questions, there were opportunities for open-ended responses and a couple of experimental sections.  Your responses added an additional layer of depth; one which is difficult to summarize for a post like this.  Please know that all comments will be shared with those they concern as you have seen that we really do use this data to make enhancements and improvements each year.  By the by, we are pleased with how well satisfied our parents are with how the school is going…but be assured, just like with everything else, we expect to see growth and progress in a school where there is “a floor, but no ceiling”.

In the next few weeks, I will look forward to sharing my self-evaluation, an exciting enrollment update, and to introducing the 2019-2020 OJCS Faculty!

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 Gift to Strengthen the “J” in “OJCS”

We are thrilled to share with the community that an anonymous family has stepped forward to allow OJCS to continue to keep the promises it has made by making a new $50,000 gift to strengthen the “J” in OJCS.  This gift feels extra special considering it has come during this liminal moment in the Jewish calendar between meaningful Jewish holidays.  As we reflect on what our People has experienced throughout its history, as we celebrate our collective triumphs and as we commit to securing the Jewish future of our children and our community – it is a blessing and a sacred responsibility for our school to receive a gift of this magnitude.  This will allow us to further strengthen and deepen our commitment to the Jewish studies and Jewish experiences that help make our school a laboratory for Jewish living and help ensure our community continues to have Jewishly literate and committed leaders into the next generation and beyond.

This now makes the third and final commitment that connects the dots between the three major areas we designated for attention in Year One, invested resources and made significant changes in Year Two and now stand ready to go deeper and farther in Year Three: the OJCS value proposition, French outcomes and Jewish mission/vision.

Each of these three has had its own cycle of candid honesty of what was, an exploration of what could be, an investment to clarify and move the work forward to what presently is and now set up for a new round of investment to continue to shape what will be, as we move together into a third year of an OJCS reimagined and revitalized.  In a nutshell…

In Year One, we identified the need to define what OJCS uniquely believes to be true about teaching and learning, we secured an anonymous gift (in partnership with Federation) that allowed us to begin a consultancy with NoTosh which led to our “North Stars”.  In Year Two, benefiting from a different anonymous gift (also with help from Federation) we were able to complete our work with NoTosh, begin our work with Silvia Tolisano and have launched a ton of innovative prototypes to transform teaching and learning at OJCS.  In Year Three, thanks to a grant from the Congregation Beth Shalom Legacy Foundation we will open the first Makerspace in any school in Ottawa, among other new and returning prototypes that will help us live our North Stars.

In Year One, we identified the need to clarify our French outcomes.  We conducted research and held an initial Town Hall.  We made certain commitments to changes in the schedule and the program that we have been living in Year Two, while continuing to add to our research.  We reported back to our parents recently on our progress and then announced a huge investment in French Language PD to ensure that we take significant steps in Year Three to better address ongoing questions and to make long-term strategic planning decisions.  [We are finalizing contracts now and will share out very soon in greater detail as to the who we are partnering with and what the partnership will consist of…stay tuned.]

In Year One, we identified the need to better determine our Jewish mission and vision.  We formed a robust Rabbinic Advisory Committee with active participation from our entire, diverse rabbinic community.  We conducted research, did work, and held a Town Hall to declare our plans to strengthen our program for Year Two.  We have been living those commitments this year – daily minyanim in each grade with options in the Middle School to satisfy differing needs, increased contact time with Jewish Studies, increased rigor and immersiveness in Hebrew Language, introduction of a revised, text-based Middle School Jewish Studies Curriculum, prototyping Torah Trop classes in Grades 5 & 6, and so much more.  And now, thanks to today’s gift, we know that we will go into Year Three with an amazing opportunity to build on our successes and introduce new and deeper Jewish engagement for our students and our families.

So.

What might this investment lead to in 2019-2020?

We have only begun to dream the new dreams, but we do have ideas!  As we prepare to say goodbye to our beloved Dean of Judaic Studies Rabbi Finkelstein, we will be revisiting our leadership team.  I will have more to say about this when it becomes concrete, but we are very excited about the possibilities we are exploring.  We also have – similar to French – opportunities to import second-language acquisition professional development so that our teachers of Hebrew will have the same resources available to them as our teachers of English and French do and will.  Updated curriculum, more Hebrew-language books and materials, and expanding our Jewish Studies Resource are all worthy to consider for investment.

This gift reminds us that it is important not only to count your blessings, but to make your blessings count.  We have a responsibility to steward these gifts with care and to ensure that they are being invested strategically.  We have to have clear expectations, measurables and deliverables to be sure that we are not only charting an exciting and innovative course towards the future, but actually finding our way there.

Spoiler alert.

We are.  And, yes, say it with me, that’s “The OJCS Difference”.

OJCS Parents: I emailed out the Annual Parent Survey this morning.  Please do fill it out!  Due back May 10th if you want your feedback included in reporting.

This is my 300th blog post!  There are no words to express to Silvia Tolisano and Andrea Hernandez how much they have impacted my journey as an educator and as a professional.  I have tremendous appreciation to the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School (MJGDS), the Schechter Network and Prizmah for letting me carry my blog from organization to organization and to use it as a platform for learning and connection.  Special thanks to my Mom, my Aunt Donna and Nancy Davis for ensuring that at least three people read it.

In all seriousness, to anyone who has ever read, commented, or shared my blog…thank you, thank you, thank you.

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.

OJCS Building First School-Based Makerspace in Ottawa! (Wait…what’s a “makerspace”?)

It just got real.  Real exciting.

As we announced last year, thanks to the generosity of the Congregation Beth Shalom Legacy Fund, we were going to take on our first major project to make our physical space as innovative as our educational program.  Or rather, we are now able to think about designing spaces that will best allow the unique vision OJCS has for teaching and learning to best come to life.  [With a building as “seasoned” as ours, we don’t lack for options!]  We intend to completely redo our “computer lab” and transform it into a tech-friendly collaborative workspace.  We intend to completely redo our “library” and transform it into a 22nd century media literacy center. Etc.  But we have decided to lead with a makerspace.  Why?  Glad you asked!

Although more and more schools have invested in makerspaces, it is still rare enough that it is okay if you are asking yourself an obvious question: What is a makerspace?

Makerspaces are popping up in schools across the country. Makerspaces provide hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent as they deeply engage in science, engineering and tinkering.

A makerspace is not solely a science lab, woodshop, computer lab or art room, but it may contain elements found in all of these familiar spaces. Therefore, it must be designed to accommodate a wide range of activities, tools and materials. Diversity and cross-pollination of activities are critical to the design, making and exploration process, and they are what set makerspaces and STEAM labs apart from single-use spaces.

When you think about many of the exciting prototypes in play this year at OJCS – Genius Hour, VR, 21st Century Judaica, Robotics, Blogs, Recreating Biblical Artifacts and QR Codes for Art Projects, just to name a very few – they share one feature in common.  They all require our students (and teachers) to make something.  These are all learning prototypes that include or result in a tangible (including digital or virtual) product. They are also projects that are both cross-curricular and collaborative.  A classroom is not always designed to house learning of this kind.  Our school needs a place where students can come as a class or in teams or on their own to be inspired.  Our school needs a place where teachers can come with students or in their own teams or on their own to be inspired.  Our school needs a learning commons designed as a hub of creativity.  Our school needs an incubator of innovation.  Our school needs a makerspace.

And so the work has begun!  Our first step was to identify a partner to bring our dreams to life.  We interviewed a few architecture firms, but found in our new friends Ryan and Wendy, from Project1 Studio, a partner who brings enthusiasm, creativity and expertise to the work. Our next step, which was this week, was to convene a group of teachers, students and administrators for a “Visioning Session” to allow them to begin to identify the kinds of activities we believe should take place in our new OJCS Makerspace.  What will be the right blend of…

  • movie-making equipment (green screens, sound mixing, movie editing equipment, etc.)
  • robotics,
  • coding,
  • 3D printing,
  • VR,
  • state of the art presentation space (TED Talk-style),
  • woodworking,
  • crafts,
  • science/STEM/STEAM,
  • brainstorming/mental-mapping/collaborating spaces,
  • inspiring/relaxing/creativity-inducing spaces,

…activities, tools and zones to maximize our space and enhance energy and enthusiasm for learning at OJCS.

[Where is this space going to be located, you might be wondering (if you are an OJCS parent)?

We are working with the footprint of our current Science Lab and adjoining offices.  That gives us about a 1,300 square foot space to play with, but it does require that we factor in our current Science needs within the design.]

Once we settle on our priorities, we will move to design.  From design we move to furniture and fixtures and from there we move to construction itself.  Our current schedule has us breaking ground in July and on target for a grand opening on the very first day of the 2019-2020 school year!

It will be our pleasure to share out designs as they come in and it would be our pleasure to show any current or prospective families the spaces we are discussing.  Although we know the building isn’t the most important factor in a quality education, we also know that the right kinds of spaces can have a meaningful impact on the educational experience.  We are proud at OJCS to be creating innovative spaces to match our innovative program.  It is just another example of how OJCS is becoming an educational leader in our community.

And we are still just beginning…

A Trip Around The “Cohort 2018” OJCS Blogosphere

Wait, didn’t we just do this two weeks ago?

Nope!  We teased it two weeks ago when we said that,

For our next tour, I’m going to give you a taste of what the cohort of teachers working with Silvia Tolisano (our OJCS DocuMentors) have been working on.  Stay tuned!

Well, as we head into our February Break with a Friday PD Day facilitated by our friends from NoTosh, this seems like a good opportunity to share out the amazing work our DocuMentors are doing.  Which teachers are part of this cohort again?

Glad you asked!

Ann-Lynn, Melissa, Shira, Bethany, Josh, Keren, Chelsea, Jon & Silvia.

We are so pleased to have a diverse (grade level, subject & experience) group of new teachers (folk who were not part of the NoTosh Design Team; excepting Melissa, Keren & me) who are learning new paradigms, NOW literacies and innovative skills and practices which are not only impacting their work, but the larger work of the school.

Don’t believe me?  Well…let the tour begin!

“Cohort 2018” has a home page  where you can see summaries and insights from Silvia herself.  “Cohort 2018” has a landing page where you can get links to each teacher’s professional blog.  That’s where the magic lies.

From Ann-Lynn’s Blog (click here for the full blog)

Who Own’s the Learning? Daily 5 Chronicles – Posted on January 27th

Daily 5 is a literacy framework that instills behaviors of independence, creates a classroom of highly engaged readers, writers, and learners, and provides teachers with the time and structure to meet diverse student needs. Because it holds no curricular content, it can be used to meet any school, district, state, or national standards. ~ The Daily Cafe

This week I asked myself, “Is the Daily 5 literacy framework allowing my students to achieve the ultimate goal?” Are they a classroom of highly engaged readers, writers and learners? Do they truly own their learning? As my Grade 2s completed their  literacy block this past Wednesday morning and headed off to their next class, I remained in the empty classroom long enough to browse through my phone and look at some photos I had recently added. Were they just photos of compliant students doing what was asked of them, or did I have a classroom of students who now own their learning? Let’s examine four components of the Daily 5 and the photos which I believe captured my students owning their learning.

Work on Writing 

I will confess, if I did not take a few minutes to quickly walk around the room and ask questions, I might have deleted these photos, not truly understanding the evidence I possessed in my photo album. In the photos below, both students were working on their writing, yet neither student was getting their inspiration from a class list of topics. One was very eager to complete a biography on a famous basketball player, Kawhi Leonard and another student was busy completing a narrative on a special family event. Yet a third student, who sadly will be leaving us in a few weeks, took this opportunity to write an account of her experience here in Canada for the past two years. Who owns the learning? They do!

Word Work

My students understand the importance of expanding their vocabulary. The photo below captures a student wanting to learn more and being self-motivated to do so. The student chose to spend our literacy block  reading chapter 2 of our novel study “My Father’s Dragon”, stopping to jot down words she is unfamiliar with. I know I am hoping to see these vocabulary words added to our live dictionary on Flipgrid. The group photo below is evidence of two things; an example of Win Win, and a group of students who chose to play the competitive level of Osmo words. Before the Osmo spelling game could begin, however, the students had to resolve a conflict, brainstorming a solution where everyone wins.

Who owns the learning? They do!

Read to Self/Read to Someone

Finally, as all these wonderful things were taking place in my classroom, I had the opportunity to do some one-on-one conferencing with some students. Where were the others you ask? They took this opportunity to make a quick trip to the library to add to their book bins. They were using the Star Reading program to help them choose a “Just Right” book. This last photo in my post needs no words to describe what is taking place. But three words come to mind, highly engaged readers.

From Chelsea’s Blog, “The Chrysalis Chronicles” (click here for the full blog)

Feeling Sketchy? – Posted on January 17th

What is Sketchnoting? This is today’s topic on my learning journey with my cohort the DocuMentors  with our in-house visit with Silvia Tolisano.

  • Is drawing and doodling a story with pictures?
  • Is it making my thoughts visible with symbols, pictures, arrows, ideas?
  • Could this be a way I have my students take notes to enhance their thoughts and learning about how math concepts are related?
  • Can I video/record the sketchnoting process (stop motion) to show my doodles and thoughts over time?
  • How will sketchnoting change my learning?
  • How will it change it and throw me to do something different?
  • How am I going to take my examples and practices of sketchnoting and use it to sketchnote for learning?

These questions are running through my head as we gear up to begin this new learning process.

Opening up and getting ready to begin my first Sketchnote using the Paper app.

       

Doodling has a profound effect on creative problem-solving and deep information processing. ~ Suni Brown

And I’m off…

On my third sketchnote…getting the hang of this..as we learn and “live” sketch…it’s hard…very hard… listening and sketching at the same time…

challenging my multi-tasking skills….

Let’s keep going….

 

so…here I am…

…look at everyone else…
They are doing so well! We are learning so much!

…but…how am I feeling…this is going on too long…I’m feeling very uninterested…not by my lack of artistic skills (Tip #1 You don’t need to be an artist)…but I’m starting to tune out and not enjoy this process..but I’m hanging in there.

What does this tell or say about me?

First, that drawing may not be for me…but I’m open to try new things and work through it…

Second, that as much as I am a visual learner…I’d much rather express my own thoughts through words to communicate my output. This makes me think to a colleague sharing their learning DNA. I can have more than one learning competency, and this means; so can our students!

Back to more questions…now with some answers!

  • would some of my students really enjoy this…YES!
  • is it a skill that may be helpful and beneficial for some students to grow…YES!
  • is this another avenue, tool, and skill to learn, and create from and with… YES!

So…back at it…and let’s try some more sketching…

I’m in this to learn…not just for me, but for my students…

Tip 8! WHY!?

Sketchnoting For…. This is it! This is why I’m continuing to do this…through my personal frustration and disengagement: for the students!

…to contribute, to give skills, to make meaning, to enhance memory, to tell a story, make connections, to reflect, to display content….to CREATE!

Here is my final sketchnote from…the big reveal…

10 Tips for Sketchnoting from a Sketch”novice”

       

I’ll continue to try sketching more…and provide an update of my progress.

If you want to try to sketchnote yourself, I encourage you to try it out! If you’re looking for inspiration and ideas.. check out the following places and links.

You may surprise yourself, learn something about yourself, and perhaps a new skill to surprise and encourage others!

Sketchnothing

Teach Thought

@sketchnotesclub

#sketchnotes

From Shira’s Blog, “Finding the Light” (click here for the full blog)

Capturing Resilience – Posted on January 16th

Today the Documentors were invited into a Grade 3 math class with the goal of making learning visible. The students were assigned open-ended multiplication problems, and demonstrated their knowledge of 1 or 2 digit multiplication, using pictures, words, and numbers to demonstrate their thinking.

During the pre-documentation phase, I decided to focus on capturing the students resilience. How do they continue when they hit a barrier? What tools do they use? Do they persevere or do they give up? Resilience has been proven to be a strong measure of students success.

This trait is also attached to one of our school’s North Stars…We Own Our Own Learning. 

The students were amazing! They were eager to get to work and tackled their problems with enthusiasm. Even with 9 extra adults in the room snapping photos, taking videos, and writing notes, they weren’t deterred. Even the first demonstration began with a student detailing how she began again as her first trial wasn’t working.

Then they broke into groups of two and the work began. It was beautiful to see the students working together, listening to each others ideas, and using trial and error multiple times to figure things out.

When some groups got stuck, they raised their hand for help or patiently waited for their teacher to come and support them. She reminded them to break the question down and use trial and error. They immediately got back to work.

I observed students continuing to work to figure out what was missing. They kept trying even though it was hard, and when one group felt down, with a little encouragement they continued to work with enthusiasm.

During the gallery walk we had a chance to ask the student leading questions. The resilience shone through in each and every group I spoke to.

When explaining her work, one student told me that there were lots of possibilities for the answers. I asked if she was finished and she said:

“There are still more possibilities. I am working on the math.”

Another pair explained that they tackled the problem by just starting to experiment different ways to solve the problem. When they got stuck their strategy was:

“We kept experimenting stuff.”

When there were problems one group said:

“We each did half.” When they got stuck, “We talked to each other, we erased it and did it another way.”

Was resilience evident?

ABSOLUTELY!

I want to share examples of Bethany, Josh, Melissa & Keren’s blogs as well – which I will do on our next tour – but you can view all their blogs by starting at the landing page and diving in.

Do you see how excited our teachers are about learning?  Can you imagine how exciting it is for our students to have teachers like this?

We can!  Because that is what life is (now) like at the Ottawa Jewish Community School.

A Trip Around The OJCS Blogosphere

You know what?  Enough about me!

How about this week, we take a trip through The OJCS Blogosphere and kvell about some of the excellent projects our students and teachers are engaged in. Perhaps it is too much to expect folk to check all the blogs all the time – especially if they are not parents in a particular class. So allow me to serve as your tour guide this week and visit some highlights…

From the Grade Three – Kitah Gimmel Blog (click here for the full blog)

Grade 3 Introduces Blogging to Grade 1 – Posted on January 23rd

After all their hard work and preparation, Grade 3 presented their blog posts to Grade 1 and taught them about how to comment in an effective and meaningful way. The grade 3 blogging group prepared a ‘stations’ layout and the grade 1 students were split into groups and visited each station. Upon arrival at each station, the grade 3 blogging group had prepared a speech, introducing their blog and how one may go about commenting. They shared rules and a model example, alongside comment sentence starters and comment boxes.

Grade 3 even took the time to reflect and reply to the comments, responding to questions and developing answers.

They were mini teachers in action, with their lesson plans, resources and differentiation. Well done Grade 3! And thank you Grade 1 for being such good commentators, we really appreciate your kind and encouraging words!

 

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

Une tempête de neige! – Posted on January 17th

Il fait tellement froid dehors qu’il a commencé à neiger à l’intérieur! Aujourd’hui en 5T, nous avons eu une bataille de “boules de neige» pour mettre en pratique notre nouveau vocabulaire!

 

From the Grade Seven – Kitah Zayin Science Blog (click here for the full blog)

Grade 7 Virtual Reality Presentations – Posted on January 14th

Grade 7 students building their communication, collaboration, digital media, researching, and coding skills as part of their CoSpaces Ecosystems presentations for judges.

 

From the Grade Four – Kitah Dalet Blog (click here for the full blog)

Guest Blogger of the Week – Shylee – Posted on January 18th

I hope you have fun looking at what Grade 4 did this week. Our class is doing the school reading challenge, and so far we have read 396 books. Our goal is to read 600 books. We might even have to make our goal higher.

In English class we have been practicing our interviewing skills. This week we interviewed our reading buddies from Ganon on what they liked to do, their hobbies, etc….  We are going to be interviewing the residents of Hillel Lodge for an upcoming project.

We also took part in a Research Workshop about using key words instead of typing long questions into Google. We have also been practicing our research skills in class too.

In French, we have been working on a new unit. The new unit that we are working on is sports. We have been doing a little project at home about an athlete.

In Art, we have been doing a project about a fox. We will be putting the artwork in the hall of the school.

In Hebrew we have been practicing for the Tu B’Shevat Seder that we will be having at Hillel Lodge. We have been practicing a play to perform for the residents. Liam and Inbar have been helping us get ready. We will be performing a song as well. This is a video of  some of my classmates singing (notice Dr. Mitzmacher  listening in the background)

Today we did a special activity with Morah Ada. For ‘Ivrit Be’Kef (fun in Hebrew) Devorah (Joey) and Ma’ayan (Mia) translated a recipe to Hebrew and gave us the instructions of how to make the cookies.

This is Mrs. Bertrand who helps us organize with all the Knesset meetings. I am the class rep for Grade Four, and I love going to all the meetings and helping organize activities at the school.

Being a blogger was an awesome experience. It was hard taking the pictures during the classes because people were moving a lot. Putting it together on the blog taught me how to embed pictures and videos and learn how to type better and edit my work. I am looking forward to being a blogger again.

 

Pretty amazing stuff, eh?

I encourage you not only to check out all the blogs on the OJCS Blogosphere, but I 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 the cohort of teachers working with Silvia Tolisano (our OJCS DocuMentors) have been working on.  Stay tuned!

The Transparency Files: Why Do We Give Homework?

That’s not rhetorical.  It is an actual, live question that we are finally ready to begin answering here at the Ottawa Jewish Community School, as promised.

It is reasonable to conclude that there are various philosophies about what the purpose of homework ought to be and that there is ample research to be found supporting just about all of them.  For our school, however, the conversation comes with a context.  Considering who we are and what we believe to be true about teaching and learning, what ought to be the role of homework here?

What is our current homework policy?

We have a simple 10 minutes that incrementally increases by grade level (outside of reading) formula for estimating the appropriate time it should take a typical student to complete his or her homework.

Part of the impetus for taking this on is that not only does that policy seem not to hold true often enough, it fails to address the whys and whats of homework.  It only speaks to, “how much?”  We can do better.

 

The purpose of an OJCS Homework Policy, once re-imagined, will be 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 will need to address the purposes of homework, amount and frequency, and the responsibilities of teachers, students, parents, and administrators.  The OJCS Homework Policy will be based on research regarding the correlation between homework and student achievement as well as best practices for homework.

Without having had all the conversations we will be having, I do think based on the conversations we have had, that there are philosophical conclusions consistent with who we are that we can put up front that will inform the policy once complete.  The philosophy at the Ottawa Jewish Community School regarding K-8 homework is that it should only be assigned if it is meaningful, purposeful, and appropriate. 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.

There are also some commonsense practices we believe will help to 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 a flipped pedagogy is being employed).

…..it is on a consistent schedule.  It can help busy students and parents remember to do assignments when they are consistent.

…..it is explicitly related to the classwork.

…..it is engaging and creative.

…..it is authentic.

…..feedback is given.  Follow-up is necessary to address any comprehension issues that may arise.

…..it is personalized.

 

This is not to suggest that we are not presently trying to live up to the above in our current practice.  But it is to suggest that our written policy fails to provide teachers, parents or students with sufficient guidance to ensure that all students in all grades are doing appropriate homework – appropriate quality, appropriate content and appropriate length.

As with every other initiative or project we undertake at OJCS, our conversation and conclusions about homework will be done collaboratively and transparently.  We look forward to these conversations, to doing the work, and to sharing it out when done.

The Transparency Files: CAT*4 Results

In the lull between parent-teacher conferences, I spent my time reading and analyzing the results of this year’s CAT*4 testing.  [I strongly encourage you to reread (or read for the first time) my philosophy on test-taking and how we planned on both sharing the tests with parents and utilizing the data in our decision-making.]  We are in the process of providing our teachers with the data they need to better understand their students and to identify which test results fully resemble their children well enough to simply pass on and which results require contextualization in private conversation.

In terms of sharing out the results publicly, which I will happily do, there are a few things worth pointing out:

  • Although we do have prior years, they are not “apples to apples” enough to plot as comparison data.  This is mostly because of our decision to change our testing window and partially because we don’t have enough grades taking the test often enough.  (I have data on spring tests from two and three years ago for grades 3 & 6.)  If that changes, part of this annual analysis will consist of tracking the grades over time to see if…
    • The same grade scores as well or better each year.
    • The same class grows at least a year’s worth of growth.
  • The other issue is in the proper understanding of what a “grade equivalent score” really is.

Grade-equivalent scores attempt to show at what grade level and month your child is functioning.  However, grade-equivalent scores are not able to show this.  Let me use an example to illustrate this.  In reading comprehension, your son in Grade 5 scored a 7.3 grade equivalent on his Grade 5 test. The 7 represents the grade level while the 3 represents the month.  7.3 would represent the seventh grade, third month, which is December.  The reason it is the third month is because September is zero, October is one, etc.  It is not true though that your son is functioning at the seventh grade level since he was never tested on seventh grade material.  He was only tested on fifth grade material.  He performed like a seventh grader on fifth grade material.  That’s why the grade-equivalent scores should not be used to decide at what grade level a student is functioning.

One final caveat about why share out grade and class averages at all when so much of our focus is on personalized learning and individual growth…

Here, my thinking has been influenced by the work I was doing prior to coming to Ottawa, in my role as Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network and then part of the transition team which helped create Prizmah.  I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had with colleagues about the different challenges Jewish day schools often have from their secular private school and high-achieving public (and/or gifted programs and in the States and/or magnet and/or charter) school neighbors.  The biggest difference comes down to a philosophy of admissions.  [Please note that although a primary audience for my blog are OJCS parents, other folk read as well, so I am including references to forms of public education that are commonly found in the States.]

Most Jewish day schools attempt to cast the widest net possible, believing it is our mission to provide a Jewish day school education to all who may wish one.  We do not, often, restrict admission to a subset of the population who score X on an admissions test and we do not, often, adjust birthday cutoffs or recommend grade repeating to maximize academic achievement. However, schools who we are most often compared to in terms of academic achievement often do one or both.  If you then factor in whether or not you exempt special needs students from the testing and whether or not you explicitly teach to the test, you may have quite an uneven playing field to say the least.

To reframe and reset the discussion:

Jewish day schools have an inclusive admissions policy, but are expected to compete equally with elite private and high-achieving public (and gifted and, in the States, magnet and charter and suburban public) schools who have exclusive admissions policies or homogeneous populations.

So, in light of all of that – if a Jewish day school with an inclusive admissions policy, a non-exempted special needs population, and a commitment to “not teach to the test” – if that kind of school could demonstrate that it was achieving secular academic excellence on par with elite schools; well to me that would be news worth sharing.

So with all those caveats in mind, in the spirit of full transparency, and with the attitude that all data is valuable data, allow me to present this year’s results:

The bottom line of this graphic is that each grade in the Ottawa Jewish Community School scored, with a few exceptions, at a mean grade equivalent a full year higher than their current grade.  There are a few (Grade 3 Writing, Grade 3 Spelling, Grade 6 Writing, Grade 6 Spelling and Grade 6 Computation) that are closer to their current grade.  [Part of our ongoing analysis and annual comparison would be to learn more about our current spelling and writing outcomes.  Part of our deeper investigation is whether there is a way to layer on standardized French and possibly Hebrew tests to learn more about those important outcomes.]  There are a lot of grades/topics whose averages are significantly higher than that, but let the boldface sink in for a bit.

Too much time dedicated to Jewish Studies?  Nope – a high-quality Jewish Studies program enhances secular academics.  Too much time dedicated to Skyping or blogging?  Nope – an innovative learning paradigm not only positively impacts student motivation, but leads to higher student achievement.

I can sense the tone of triumphalism in my writing and, although I am extremely proud of our students and teachers for their achievements, I do not wish to sound boastful.  But with the state of Jewish day school education being what it is, when there is good news to share…share it one must!  I firmly believe that Jewish day schools with dual-curricula (and in our case tri-curricula!) and innovative pedagogy and philosophy produce unmatched excellence in secular academics.  Here in our school, we will have to prove it year after year, subject after subject, and student after student in order to live up to our mutually high expectations, but what an exciting challenge it shall be coming to school each day to tackle!