The Transparency Files: CAT4 Results (Yes, Even During COVID) Part II

Welcome to “Part II” of our analysis of this year’s CAT4 results!  In Tuesday’s post, we provided a lot of background context and shared out the simple results of how we did this year.  Here in our second post, we are now able to begin sharing comparative data, however patchy.  It will take at least one more non-COVID year before we can accurately compare the same grade and the same cohort year after year.  But we can get a taste of it with Grades 5-8.  What you have below are snapshots of the same cohort (the same group of children) from 2019 to 2021 (with bonus data from 2018’s Grade 3):

What are the key takeaways from this comparison (remembering that any score that is two grades above ending in “.9” represents the max score, like getting an “8.9” for Grade 7)?

Now bear in mind, that the metric we are normally looking at when it comes to comparing a cohort over time is whether or not we see at least one full year’s growth (on average) each year – here we are looking to see two full year’s growth since we last took the test in 2019.  This would be the place one might expect to see the full measure of COVID’s impact – these are the two years of COVID between the two tests.  However, for all four cohorts in all categories save two (2019 Grade 3 to 2021 Grade 5 “Computation & Estimation” and 2019 Grade 5 to 2021 Grade 7 “Spelling”) you see at least two full year’s growth (technically 2019 Grade 5 to 2021 Grade 7 “Computation & Estimation” was just shy) and in may cases you see more than two full year’s growth.

I’m going to say that again.

During the time of the pandemic, with all the pivots back and forth, all the many challenges of both hyflex and at-home learning, all the prolonged absences by many students (and teachers), with all the social and emotional stress and anxiety, with everything we know about what COVID has been doing to children and to families, in almost each category that we tested our students in Grades 5-8 – spending no time or energy preparing for the exams and with diverse and inclusive classes – in 22 of 24 domains we see at least the pre-COVID expected two-year gain, and in many cases we see more than two full year’s growth.

As was true with our overall scores, I was expecting to see a significant number of gaps for all the reasons I just described, but surprisingly and encouragingly, that is not what the data yields.

Let’s look at one more set data points.  We can also get a taste of how the same grade performs from one year to the next as well.  Again, we only have Grades 5-8 to look at with (with a bonus 2018 Grade 6):

Now, remember that these scores represent a completely different group of children, so it is not unusual or surprising to see variances. Teachers can only grow students from the place they received them and it is that annual growth that we are concerned with.  But over time you are looking for patterns.  Ideally each domain settles in at least a full grade above with slight fluctuations from year to year depending on that year’s particular constellation of students.  Even-better would be to see slight ticks up each year as a result of new ideas, new pedagogies, new programs, etc.  And that is actually where much of the story currently is.

In the places where we aren’t quite where we want to be, we still have work to do.  If with additional data we come to believe that Spelling or Computation & Estimation are institutional weaknesses, we will want to know whether they are weakness in every grade or do they dip in certain grades.  Between COVID and gaps in testing, we simply have no way to conclude much more than we have already laid out.  But in another year or so, we will be able to plot the trajectory of both cohorts (the same students) and grades over time to see what additional stories they tell.

To try sum up both posts, we have a lot to be proud of in our standardized test scores.  We have two areas (Spelling and Computation & Estimation) to prioritize in two grades (Five & Seven).  With regard to Spelling, it is interesting to note that when we flagged it in 2019 as a more global concern, we began providing professional growth opportunities for language arts teachers in our school on Structured Word Inquiry.  The sample sizes are too small to make grand conclusions, but it is possible that those interventions help explain why Spelling is no longer a global concern, although we do need to pay attention to where and why it is lagging where it is.  With regard to Computation & Estimation, we will – like with Spelling – have an internal conversation which may lead to PD for Math Teachers.

This fits in with the work we began on our November PD Day which focused on “Data-Driven Decision Making”.  The Math and Language Arts Teachers in Grades 5-8 will be meeting to go through CAT4 results in greater detail, with an eye towards what kinds of interventions are needed now – in this year – to fill any gaps (both for individual students and for grades); and how might we adapt about our long-term planning to ensure we are best meeting needs.

The bottom line is that our graduates – year after year – successfully place into the high school programs of their choice.  Each one had a different ceiling – they are all different – but working with them, their families and their teachers, we successfully transitioned them all to the schools (private and public) and programs (IB, Gifted, French Immersion, Arts, etc.) that they qualified for.

And now again this year, despite all the qualifications and caveats, and in the face of the most challenging set of educational circumstances any generation of students and teachers have faced, our CAT4 scores continue to demonstrate excellence.  Excellence within the grades and between them.

Not a bad place to be as we prepare to open the 2022-2023 enrollment season…

The Transparency Files: CAT4 Results (Yes, Even During COVID) Part I

This may seem like a very odd time to be sharing out results from this year’s standardized testing, which in our school is the CAT4.  We are just finishing up our first days in this year’s most recent pivot back to distance learning and we are confident that everyone – students, parents and teachers – has more pressing concerns than a very long and detailed analysis of standardized tests that we managed to squeeze in during the in-person portion of our school year.  (The post is so long that I am splitting it into two parts, and each part is still a bit lengthy.)  But with our launch of Annual Grades 9 & 12 Alumni Surveys and the opening of the admissions season for the 2022-2023 school year, one might argue that there is not a better time to be more transparent about how well we are (or aren’t) succeeding academically against an external set of benchmarks while facing extraordinary circumstances.

There is a very real question about “COVID Gaps” and the obvious impacts on children and schools from the many pivots, hyflex, hybrid, masked and socially-distanced, in-person and at-home learning experiences we have all cycled through together since March of 2020.  (I wrote earlier in the year about some of the non-academic COVID gaps that we are very much experiencing, all of which I imagine growing proportionate to the length of this current pivot.)  And it seems logical that there should be and are academic gaps, at least at the individual student level.  One might ask why we even bothered taking the CAT4 at all this year; we didn’t take it last school year for example, so it will be really hard to make meaningful apples-to-apples comparisons.  So why take them?  And why share the results, whatever they may be?

We did it for a few reasons…

The first and primary reason is that we are curious.  Curiosity may not be a “North Star” at OJCS, but it is a value.  And we are very curious to see how our standardized test scores measure up pre-COVID and post-COVID, both by grade (2019 Grade 5 v. 2021 Grade 5) and by cohort (2019 Grade 5 v. 2021 Grade 7).  We would normally be looking for patterns and outliers anyway, but now we can also look for COVID impacts as well.

Why share the results?  Because that’s what “transparency” as a value and a verb looks like.  We commit to sharing the data and our analysis regardless of outcome because we believe in the value of transparency.  We also do it because we know that for the overwhelming majority of our parents, excellence in secular academics is a non-negotiable, and that in a competitive marketplace with both well-regarded public schools and secular private schools, our parents deserve to see the school’s value proposition validated beyond anecdotes.

Now for the caveats and preemptive statements…

We have not yet shared out individual reports to our parents.  First our teachers have to have a chance to review the data to identify which test results fully resemble their children well enough to simply pass on, and which results require contextualization in private conversation.  Those contextualizing conversations will take place in the next few weeks and thereafter, we should be able to return all results.

There are a few things worth pointing out:

  • Because of COVID, this is now only our third year taking this assessment at this time of year.  We were in the process of expanding the range from Grades 3-8 in 2019, but we paused in 2020 and restricted this year’s testing to Grades 5-8.  This means that we can only compare at the grade level from 2019’s Grades 5-8 to 2021’s Grades 5-8, and we can only compare at the cohort level from 2019’s Grades 3-6 to 2021’s Grades 5-8.  And remember we have to take into account the missing year…this will make more sense in “Part II” (I hope).  Post-COVID, we will have tracking data across all grades which will allow us to see if…
    • The same grade scores as well or better each year.
    • The same cohort 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.

Let me finish this section by being very clear: We do not believe that standardized test scores represent the only, nor surely the best, evidence for academic success.  Our goal continues to be providing each student with a “floor, but no ceiling” representing each student’s maximum success.  Our best outcome is still producing students who become lifelong learners.

But I also don’t want to undersell the objective evidence that shows that the work we are doing here does in fact lead to tangible success.  That’s the headline, but let’s look more closely at the story.  (You may wish to zoom (no pun intended!) in a bit on whatever device you are reading this on…)

A few tips on how to read this:

  • We take this exam in the “.2” of each grade-level year.  That means that “at grade level” [again, please refer above to a more precise definition of “grade equivalent scores”] for any grade we are looking at would be 5.2, 6.2, 7.2, etc.  For example, if you are looking at Grade 6, anything below 6.2 would constitute “below grade level” and anything above 6.2 would constitute “above grade level.”
  • The maximum score for any grade is “.9” of the next year’s grade.  If, for example, you are looking at Grade 8 and see a score of 9.9, on our forms it actually reads “9.9+” – the maximum score that can be recorded.
  • Because of when we take this test – approximately two months into the school year – it is reasonable to assume a significant responsibility for results is attributable to the prior year’s teachers and experiences.  But it is very hard to tease it out exactly, of course.

What are the key takeaways from these snapshots of the entire school?

  • Looking at four different grades through six different dimensions there are only three instances (out of twenty-four) of scoring below grade-level: Grade 5 in Computation & Estimation (4.4), and Grade 7 in Spelling (6.6) and Computation & Estimation (6.0).
  • Interestingly, compared to our 2019 results, those two dimensions – Spelling and Computation & Estimation are no longer globally lower as a school relative to the other dimensions.  In 2019, for example “Spelling” was a dimension where we scored lower as a school (even if when above grade level) relative to the other dimensions.  In 2021, we don’t see “Spelling” as scoring globally below.  (That’s a good thing!)  [We also have some anecdotal evidence that a fair number of students in Grade 7 may not have finished the Computation section, leaving a fair number of questions blank – in the case of this cohort, it might be more valuable to know how well they did on the questions they actually answered (which we will do).]

What stands out the most is how exceedingly well each and every grade has done in just about each and every section.  In almost all cases, each and every grade is performing significantly above grade-level.  This is NOT what I was expecting considering the impacts of COVID over the last two years – I was fully expecting to see at least .5 (a half-year) gap globally across the grades and subjects.  This is a surprising and very encouraging set of data points.

Stay tuned for “Part II” in which we will dive into the comparative data – of both the same grade and the same cohort (the same group of students) over time – and offer some additional summarizing thoughts.

OJCS Announces $1.5 Million Gift to Transform Classrooms & Learning Spaces

With the utmost humility and the sincerest of gratitude, it is my great honour and pleasure to announce what may be the largest single gift our school has ever received.  An anonymous donor in our community has decided to invest $1,500,000 to help ensure that our classrooms and learning spaces are as innovative as our teaching and programming.

This represents an extraordinary moment for our school – its students, parents, teachers, supporters and community – on our journey towards long-term sustainability.  Yes, of course, what happens inside the classrooms is more important than the rooms themselves.  But there’s no question that more innovative learning spaces allow for more innovative learning experiences.  This generous gift and the opportunity it presents will make a huge difference in the lives of OJCS students and teachers for a generation to come.

It is also worth saying that this new commitment to our school not only validates the hard work our teachers and board have put in over these past few years, but raises the bar for what we hope to accomplish in the years ahead.  We hope that it also puts a smile on the faces of our current and prior set of major donors, including the Jewish Federation of Ottawa,  without whose contributions would never have made this gift possible.  We accept this gift not as a celebration of what we have done, but as a charge for what we now must do.

So…what happens next?

A lot!  Especially if we are going to try to start the work over the summer so that at least some of our newly upgraded classrooms and spaces will be ready for use at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year!  There will be lots of behind-the-scenes work with architect firms, general contractors, construction firms and vendors as we work to design our “classrooms of the future”.  As we did with the construction of our OJCS Makerspace – funded by a generous grant from the Congregation Beth Shalom Legacy Fund – we will soon be convening groups of teachers and students for visioning sessions to ensure that “teacher voice” and “student voice” are appropriately included in the design.

It will be our pleasure to share designs as they come in and it will be our pleasure to show any current or prospective families the spaces we are discussing as it becomes more clear.  We are so proud at OJCS to have this opportunity to do such important and transformational work.  It is just another example of how OJCS is becoming an educational leader in our community.

Shining the OJCS Spotlight: JK – The OJCS Way!

[This post was co-authored with OJCS JK Teacher, Susan Wollock.]

During this “Festival of Lights” it seems very appropriate to kick off a new series of blog posts (to be written intermittently) that shines a spotlight on new, exciting or important things happening at OJCS.  It also feels appropriate to launch this series because even if we are (please God) in “late-COVID” times, our protocols have been in place for so long that we have parents who may have never stepped foot inside our building!  And if that is true, how much more so for the rest of our community.  That’s the big idea – to share out big things that are happening at OJCS that you may not be in the know about.

And yes, of course, it is not a coincidence that we are beginning with “Junior Kindergarten” as we ramp up for the admissions season for the 2022-2023 school year.  We are so proud of our new JK program and all the deliciousness that is happening there – what better time to share than now?

So, what are the most important things to know about JK @ OJCS?

Well, JK at OJCS is a trilingual program with lots of opportunities for cross-curricular activities.  Here’s a topically specific example: Chanukah.  In JK, we use Chanukah as an opportunity to learn numeracy (How many nights do we celebrate Chanukah?), vocabulary (How do you say sufganiyot in French?), and holiday songs in all three languages.

In JK we learn through play – with emphasis on social, emotional, cognitive, language, literacy, math, science, physical motor skills.  In addition our JKers have daily Physical Education indoors and twice-daily outdoor play (those that nap get out once a day in the beginning of the year but then as they drop their nap they will participate in the second).  Our beautiful JK classroom is anchored in Centres throughout the room that focus on art, science, sensory play, literacy, fine motor, cooperative play and dramatic play.

At OJCS, JK has weekly STEAM experiments and exploration where we follow the scientific method in an age-appropriate way in addition to other amazing weekly activities such as Art with Tashi (our Art Teacher), Music and Movement (guided and freestyle).

But most importantly, they’re just the most adorable kids in the school!  [Note from Jon: I know which classroom to visit whenever I need a smile!]

Do you want to see how JK at OJCS will set your child up for success in school?  Do you have a friend or relative with a child entering JK?  Please contact our Admissions Director, Jennifer Greenberg (j.greenberg@theojcs.ca), to find out more or to book a COVID-friendly tour.  You may also reserve your spot at our upcoming “JK Parlour Meeting” scheduled for Tuesday, December 17th at 7:00 PM (link made available when you RSVP).

Do you want to see (with your eyes!) what JK at OJCS looks like in action?  Stay tuned to social media and other outlets when we debut our new JK Promo Video next week!

OJCS Announces NEW Makerspace Consultancy

Again, for the second week in a row, I am tempting the fates by assuming that we have entered a period of somewhat normalcy and, again, hoping to avoid a jinx.  This week, it is to announce an exciting consultancy we have launched at OJCS that will – finally – allow us to truly roll out the Makerspace as it was originally intended to be.  Do you remember way back in March 2019, when we announced that thanks to a generous gift from the Congregation Beth Shalom Legacy Fund, that we were going to take on our first major project to make our physical space as innovative as our educational program – namely designing and constructing the OJCS Makerspace?

It feels like a lifetime ago!  After design, came construction and after construction came furnishing and timing being everything, you may recall that it took until about a full calendar year later, January of 2020, that we were finally able – even though there were (are!) still some design elements and furnishings not yet in place – to begin using the Makerspace.  That means that by the time Middle School Science relocated to their new space, we had about a month or so of contact time and then…COVID.  Thanks to COVID we either could not use the space at all or had such limitations on its usage due to safety protocols that its functionality was severely compromised.  Long story short…we built this amazing space and still haven’t had much of an opportunity to use it the way that it was designed.

But that’s about to change…

Knowing that for 2021-2022 we could return to the “soft launch” of the space, and believing that in 2022-2023 we ought to be able to officially launch, we decided to engage a consultancy to ensure that we wind up using the space in the best possible way.  And so I am pleased to share that thanks to a generous grant by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa‘s Fund for Innovative Capacity Building, OJCS will be working with Future Design School over the balance of this school year on a strategic makerspace consultancy.

What will we be doing?

Well, as was the case with our last two consultancies, we have identified a small cohort who will work with Future Design School to…

  1. Create a statement of principles, in collaboration with the OJCS team, that defines what the makerspace at OJCS is focused on, and how it will be leveraged.
  2. Provide scaffolded support to the Middle School Science teacher and two other teachers to develop an approach for designing lessons to be delivered in the makerspace.
  3. Provide recommendations in a final summary from consultancy on next steps to be taken with all teachers to integrate the use of the makerspace into their lessons.

The OJCS Makerspace Design Team will include Josh Ray, our Middle School Science Teacher, Faye Mellenthin, our Grade 4 General Studies Teacher, Mike Washerstein, a Middle School Jewish Studies and Grade 6 Language Arts Teacher, and will be headed up by Melissa Thompson, our Teaching & Learning Coordinator (and Grades 7 & 8 LA Teacher).  This ensures that the principles, the units, the standalone lessons, etc., cut across grades and languages and allows us to not only build content that we can use right away, but to build capacity that we can use to develop curriculum and programming into the future.

We have our first meeting next week and we will share results and updates as they start to happen.  Not only can we not wait to start using the Makerspace to its fullest potential, we also cannot wait to show you all that it can do and be.  Maybe even in person!  Stay tuned.

My 400th Post: Blogging “The Moral Imperative of Sharing”

I published my first blog post on July 27th, 2010, entitled “Southern Hospitality”.  It was during the summer that I transitioned from being the founding Head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas (z”l) to being the Head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, in Jacksonville, FL.

Why did I start blogging?

Our teachers are required to blog and, therefore, so should I.  So here I am.

If only I had remained that pithy!

What did I plan on blogging about?

We are a 21st century learning school invested in the continuity of a five thousand year-old tradition.  Our attempts to marry the past and the future into an engaging present will largely be the focus of my blog.

That still sounds about right.

Who did I imagine my blog’s audience to be?

Most of my blogging will center on experiences here at school, but I hope to be of interest to anyone interested in Jewish day school, Jewish education, education in general, and in the kinds of stuff I think happen to be interesting and worth sharing.  I guess we’ll find out soon enough!

Or I’ll still never really know if and who is reading!

Why did I call it “A Floor, But Not a Ceiling”?

Because it represents what I believe the purpose of education to be – to ensure each child fulfills his or her own individual maximum potentials in academic, emotional, physical, and spiritual terms.  For there to be no ceiling has direct implications about what we teach and how we teach it.  I hope to use this blog to discuss these ideas and more.

And so here I am…

…11 years, 399 blog posts, three jobs and one country later.

I did a little research into my stats and metrics, but because I didn’t actually take ownership of my own website until coming here to Ottawa, most of the stats and metrics are skewed towards recency bias.  But there are a few things that (at least) I find interesting.

…here are my “Top 5” categories (a post can be assigned multiple categories):

  1. 21st Century Learning (145)
  2. Jewish Education (133)
  3. Community Building (107)
  4. Thought Leadership (106)
  5. Teaching & Learning (92)

(Crowd favorite “Transparency Files” clocked in at 60.)

…here are my “Top 5” tags (a post can be assigned multiple tags):

  1. Transparency (28)
  2. COVID (21)
  3. Innovation (20)
  4. 7 Habits (9)
  5. Second-Language Acquisition (8)

My audience has grown each year I have been here at OJCS (just like our school!) and so it comes as no surprise that 4 of my “Top 5” posts all come in the last four years:

  1. The Disruptive Miracle of Silvia Tolisano (1,171)
  2. OJCS Announces $1,000,000 Gift (689)
  3. The Coronavirus Diaries: OJCS Plans for a “Five-Day, Full-Day” Safe Reopening (495)
  4. Choosing Ottawa Again: Writing My First Second Chapter (446)
  5. L’hitraot Y’all: A Farewell to Seven Years of SaltLife (432)

So, why do I still crank out 40+ blog posts a year with a completely absurd and unacceptable average word count of nearly 900 words?

Because last week a parent emailed me to share some thoughts about something I wrote and it meant something to both of us.

Because I still believe in Dean Shareski‘s “The Moral Imperative of Sharing“.

Because it makes me a better educator, a better communicator and maybe, just maybe, a better person.

Because Silvia told me to.  [Read the post, I am still not able to talk about her in the past tense.]

Because I really believe in this stuff – that the act of putting stuff into the universe matters, even if when and how it matters is unseen or unknowable.

Because it is still true that “Our teachers are required to blog and, therefore, so should I.  So here I am.”

Here I am and here I plan to remain.  Even when I am not sure anyone is reading.  Even when I am sure that almost no one is going to comment (no matter how desperately I plead).  Here is where I will continue to plant seeds and sow dreams.  Here is where I will continue to be transparent, even when what needs to be said is difficult.  Here is where I will work out new ideas.  Here is where I will (occasionally) let my true personality be seen.  Here is where I will advocate for teachers, for students, and for Jewish schools.

Thank you to everyone who ever read a post, subscribed, shared, commented, encouraged or helped.  It is both a privilege and a responsibility to have a voice.  I feel blessed to have been able to share mine over these 400 posts and I look forward to showing up and sharing out over the next 400 posts.

[Under 770 words! Nailed it!]

The Calm Before The Calm: A Brief Look at OJCS Faculty Pre-Planning Week

What a strange blip in the calendar to have Rosh HaShanah right after Labour Day Weekend!  For our parents and students, it may simply elongate summer by a couple of days.  For our teachers and staff, however, it creates this odd break between the intense week of “Faculty Pre-Planning” that we are finishing up now and the actual first day of school almost six days later.  As odd as that all may be, what is not odd is how wonderful it has been to be back in a physical building working with actual human beings (masked and distanced and vaccinated to be sure) in the service of preparing for the sacred and holy task of educating children.  We are certainly not back to normal with our COVID FAQs and assorted protocols, but we are sorta-kinda back to things that feel normal-ish – and that feels great!

Do you ever wonder how we spend this week of preparations while y’all are busy getting your last cottage days or summer trips or rays of sun in?  If so, this post is for you!

Seriously, I do think there is value in our parents (and community) having a sense for the kinds of issues and ideas we explore and work on during our planning week because it foreshadows the year to come.  So as you enjoy those last days on the lake or on the couch, let me paint a little picture of how we are preparing to make 2021-2022 the best year yet.

Here’s a curated selection from our activities…

The (Re)Building Communities Cafe

Each year (14 years, 5 at OJCS and counting!), I begin “Pre-Planning Week” with an updated version of the “World Cafe”.  It is a collaborative brainstorming activity centered on a key question.  Each year’s question is designed to encapsulate that year’s “big idea”.  This year’s big idea?  (Re)building communities!

After the last two years, we are eager to begin reconnecting and rebuilding across and between our various OJCS communities – students, teachers, parents, board, and community.  We spent the morning exploring what this might mean…for example…

Carrying Forward: Lessons from Hyflex

What can be true for students who may need to learn from home this year when we are not offering a hyflex program?  Home for a few days?  Home for a few weeks?  In order to share our plan with parents as we continue to prioritize students remaining at home for COVID-related reasons, we spent valuable time asking the following kinds of questions:

  • What from schedules, links, blogs and platforms will carry forward from hyflex learning?
  • Are there grades/subjects where virtual participation could be a value add for both student and teacher?
  • What should parents and students expect from different grades/subjects should they need to be kept home from school, but need to stay on track?

Parents can look forward to plans being shared during Virtual Back To School Night on Tuesday, October 12th.

Faculty EdCamp

One of our favorite PD activities is letting the excellence that is already on our staff be shared more widely.  For this activity, four of our teachers offered sessions to their colleagues on topics of their own choosing in a bit of a more relaxed, camp-style presentation:

  • Faye Mellenthin: “Disarming armoured leadership…”
  • Lianna Krantzberg:  Twitter Chats 101” 
  • Julie Bennett:  Global Connections and Authentic Tasks”
  • Melissa Thompson: “EdPuzzle”

Teachers got to choose two different sessions to attend and it is always great to watch teachers be inspired by the work of fellow teachers.

Book Tasting: The OJCS 2021 Summer Book Club

I think you can tell a lot by the books a school chooses to read together.  Here were the selections for this summer, which culminated in a “Book Tasting” session where lessons and wisdom were gleaned and shared:

If you want to know more about the big ideas that shape our work, feel free to read one or more of these books and tell us what you think!

Did I do one of my spiritual check-ins on the topic of the “Relationship between ‘criticism’ and ‘growth'”?  Sure did!

Did Mrs. Thompson and I do great differentiated sessions on use of classroom blogs and student blogfolios?  Yup!

Did our teachers spend meaningful time updating their Long Range Plans?  100%!

Did Mrs. Bertrend help us understand how we can (re)build community through Student Life at OJCS?  Yessiree!

Did Mrs. Reichstein lead a session on “Shifting the Spec Ed Narrative”?  You bet!

Did Ms. Gordon go over all the guidelines and protocols and procedures and rules and mandates to keep us all safe?  No doubt!

Did our teachers have lots of time to meet and prepare and collaborate and organize and do all the things needed to open up school on Thursday?  And then some!

All that and much more took place during this week of planning.  Needless to say, we are prepared to do way more than create a safe learning environment this year.  We are prepared to develop a rigorous, creative, innovative, personalized, and ruach-filled learning experience for each and every one our precious students who we cannot wait to greet in person on the first day of school!

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday weekend, a Shanah Tovah U’metukah and a successful launch to the 2021-2022 school year…

A (First) Trip Around the OJCS Student Blogfolio-Sphere

I can think of no better use of my blog on a snowy April day during a lockdown pivot of distanced learning than shining a light on the newest and fastest growing space on our OJCS Blogosphere, our Student Blogfolios.

For those who don’t like to click through, I’ll remind you that a “blogfolio” is a term of art that (I believe) 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.

We added “student blogfolios” to our blogfosphere a couple of years ago with a prototype in Grade 5 and now each current student in our school in Grades 3-7 has his or her own blogfolio.

I try to spend a couple of hours each week reading student blogfolios and 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.

This year, with the building largely sealed off due to COVID protocols, our classroom blogs and student blogfolios become even more important virtual windows into the innovative and exciting work happening at OJCS.  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, it is my pleasure to serve as your occasional tour guide of The OJCS Blogosphere.  I 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!]

This week I will focus for the first time on student blogfolios.  [Please note that due to privacy controls that some OJCS students opt for avatars instead of utilizing their first names / last initials which is our standard setting.  That may explain some of the creative titles below.]

From Audrey’s Blog (Grade 6 / click here for the full blog)

The Best Moment of My Life – Posted March 17

My class is learning all about sensory writing.

Sensory writing is really important to incorporate into your stories, paragraphs, etc. because it helps the reader imagine what you are trying to explain and it helps the reader picture the setting.

If I were to redo this assignment, I would try to make the writing longer and extend the paragraphs.

Here is my picture and my sensory writing

My Drawing

I had no idea where my parents were taking me that day. The suspense was overtaking me and I felt worried for what was to come. Was I walking into a trap or were they leading me to the most wonderful place I will ever go to? My parents refused to tell me where we were going which only fed my anticipation. The car slowed to a stop in a vacant parking lot, all I saw were willow trees around us. As I slowly stepped out of the car and my parents told me to walk through a path nearby. When I reached the other side of the trees I was flabbergasted with the sight.

I found myself standing on the beach, gazing at the outstanding sunset with a mix of yellow, orange and purple. The sun was low in the sky as if it was playing a game of hide and seek. The sun reflected on the waves that were crashing against the shore line, then very slowly creeping its way back to the water, creating a soothing noise. The air smelled like smoke from a hut in the distance. I could just imagine a family roasting marshmallows over a bonfire fire as they told scary stories. The sand was very soft on my feet as if I were standing on a pill of feathers. The sand was molding my feet making it a reasonable thing to decide to stand rather than sit. The taste of sea salt on my lips created the illusion that I was swimming in the water. As i sat down on the sand i could feel the warmth overfilling me. I could tell already that this was hands down, the best moment of my life!

I hope you enjoyed this story

Have you ever been to an outstanding place?

If so where? What happened while you were there? What were your feelings about the sight?

From TE’s Blog (Grade 4 – click here for the full blog)

Innovation Day – Pulley Project – Posted March 18

[Jon’s Note: TE’s teacher nominated this blog post in part because she is new to OJCS this year and is just learning English.  Part of the magic of blogfolios is how well it allows you to chart progress over time!]

ELEVATOR

What did I need for the elevator I built: wire, 2 long pieces of cardboard, a box, 2 short pieces of cardboard, and a stick
How I connected all the parts: I took the hot glue and the 2 long parts and the 2 short parts I put 1 of the long parts
And on both sides I glued the short parts
And over the short parts I glued the last long part
  1. How I started the structure of the elevator: I took the box and made 2 holes up the holes and inserted the stick into the holes.
  2. How I build the evaluator pulley: I take the string and fold it. At the end of the fold, I glued it to the dowl (wooden stick). at the other end, I glued the elevator box
  3. How I built the flag pole: take a large wooden pole and glued it to the base. I take more wooden sticks and glue them to the top. I take two small pieces of cardboard and make a square shape to make a pulley. Between the small cardboard, I put the rope through and on one end draw a ‘T’ and two swords on the square flag. I glue the flag to the rope.

From Maytal’s Blog (Grade 7 – click here for the full blog)

Hebrew/Photo – Posted April 20

[Jon’s Note: I never choose my own children to highlight; this came as a recommendation from her Hebrew Teacher.  However, as student blogfolios were a big part of my last headship, Maytal’s blogfolio shows what it looks like when you start in Kindergarten.  Any OJCS parent who wants to see what it will ultimately look like should take a peek.]

בכיתה שלנו לעברית מורה רותי נתנה לנו 3 תמונות לבחירה. היינו צריכים לבחור אחת ולכתוב עליה. אני בחרתי בתמונה הזאת. אני מתארת את מה שאני חושבת על התמונה.

In our Hebrew class Morah Ruthie gave us three options to write about. I chose this photo down below. I described what was happening in the photo.

בתמונה יש 5 חיילים ויש חייל אחד עם מדים עם דם. החייל הזה נהרג והחיילים מאחור זה הוא עצמו שמבקש לא לבכות לבכות עליו. הוא גם מבקש סליחה על מה שהוא עשה והוא מנסה לדבר אל החיילים שלא נהרגו.

In the photo there are five soldiers and there is one soldier who is a different colour with blood. The soldier was killed and in the background you can see the exact soldier asking not to cry for him. He is asking for forgiveness for things he has done, and trying to communicate to soldiers who are still alive.

From Hermione’s Blog (Grade 3 – click here for the full blog)

French Blog Post – Posted February 5

Quel est le nom du dernier film que tu as vu?

Lightning Mcqueen

Combien de lettres contient ton nom de famille ?

J’ai 6 lettres dans mon nom de famille.

Qu’as-tu mangé pour déjeuner ce matin ?

Des céréales avec du lait

As-tu des animaux à ta maison ? Si oui, lesquels ?

J’ai un chien.

Quel est ton sport préféré ?

Natation

Quelle est ta nourriture préférée ?

Pain dore

Quelle est ta couleur préférée ?

bleu

Nomme ton livre préféré.

Harry Potter

Quel mois est ton anniversaire ?

decembre

Quel est ton animal préféré ?

Lou arctic

Quel est ton sujet préféré à l’école ?

Les sciences

Do you want more?  Here is a curated playlist from our Teaching & Learning Coordinator Melissa Thompson:

Grade 3

Grade 4
Grade 5
Grade 6 
Grade 7

English, French and Hebrew; Language Arts, Science, Math, Social Studies, Jewish Studies and so much more…our students are doing some pretty fantastic things, eh?

I will continue to encourage you to not only check out all the blogs on The OJCS Blogosphere, but I strongly encourage you to offer a quality comment of your own – especially to our students.  Getting feedback and commentary from the universe is highly motivating and will help this snowball (no pun or passive-aggressive take on what is happening outside my window!) grow as it hurtles down the hill of innovative learning.

Where will our next tour take us?  Stay tuned!

The Transparency Files: Long Range Planning

Today is our second “PD” (Professional Development, although in our internal language we prefer “Professional Growth”) Day of the school year.  Like the prior one, most of the time is being given over to our teachers in light of the high bandwidth that hylex teaching and learning requires.  A lot of the day will be spent catching up and working on second trimester report cards.  We, will, however be spending a little time in both horizontal (grade-level) and vertical (subject matter) conversations around what I am calling “Curriculum Mapping – Year Zero”.

If you read this blog – or know me – then you already know that I tend to think in terms of stories and narrative arcs.  And in living and telling the story of OJCS, I have tried to make explicit what chapters we are in and how those chapter come together.  For example the financial story of the school has been moving from “Crisis” to “Fragile Stability” on our way towards “Sustainability”.  When it comes to the educational product – what matters most to students, parents and teachers – we have documented in my blog and lots of other places the story of our journey.  Without revisiting all that territory, with the extraordinary contributions of three different consultancies, we have…

…2017-2018: Embraced transparency, clarified our value proposition [NoTosh consultancy / North Stars], defined our Jewish mission/vision and named our challenges around French outcomes.

…2018-2019: Built faculty capacity around “NOW Literacies” [Silvia Tolisano consultancy], aligned our classroom management program and our homework philosophy to our North Stars.

…2019-2020: Was supposed to be a year to PAUSE and let everyone catch up with all the changes, with the exception of launching our TACLEF Consultancy to impact French outcomes and a task force to help align our teacher evaluation process with our North Stars.  And then COVID…

The story of those three years (my first ones at OJCS) was largely about the HOWS and WHYS of teaching – what does OJCS uniquely believe to be true about teaching and learning and, then, what does “excellence” look like?

This year was supposed to begin a transition to an equally important topic – the WHATS of teaching.  As a private school we have freedom (and I would argue an obligation) to only use the provincial standards and benchmarks as the “floor” not the “ceiling”.  To make that true, we have a responsibility to be very clear about what our benchmarks and standards are for each subject in each grade.  The shorthand for that process is often called “curriculum mapping”.  In a non-COVID year, 2020-2021 would have been the first in a two-year curriculum mapping consultancy, the end result being a clear and detailed description of the “whats”.  And because I like round numbers, it would have meant that after five years, this chapter of the school would be complete and we’d be ready to start writing the next exciting one.  But still COVID…

In order not to lose momentum, however, we did this year ask our teachers to commit to putting on paper their long range plans for the year.  Before you can have a conversation about what should be, it is helpful to all be on the same page with what is.  That brings us back to today.  Today, our teachers are sharing with their grade-level teams and their subject matter teams the results of their long range planning.  Their discussions will focus on the following questions:

  1. What have you noticed in your own plans now that you have had a few months to reflect on the gap between what you planned and what actually happened?  How is your pacing with regard to meeting all of your learning expectations over the span of the whole school year?  Does anything need to be adjusted to meet those outcomes?
  2. Do you notice any gaps in your own plans?  What do you think needs to be added?  Are there opportunities to offer more detail?
  3. Do you notice any overemphasis or overlapping in your own plans? What do you think needs to be trimmed, cut or adjusted?
  4. Do you notice any gaps in the collective plans?  Is there content or learning skills that are critical for your students that don’t live in anyone’s (JS/FS/GS) plans?   Is there content that is critical for your students that doesn’t live in any grade’s plans below yours? Are there learning skills that are critical for your students that don’t live in any grade’s plans below yours?
  5. Do you notice any redundancies in the collective plans?  Is there content or learning skills that are duplicated across your plans?  How might you better collaborate and/or assign those goals/skills/experiences across the team?  Is there content or learning skills that are duplicated across your plans?  How might you better collaborate and/or assign those goals/skills/experiences across the grades?

We are grateful to have a day of conversation and collaboration.  We are excited that the work our teachers will be doing today will have real impact on teaching and learning at OJCS in the years ahead – COVID or no COVID!

One more dot to connect!

About 600 words or so ago, I mentioned a task force to align what we now believe to be true about teaching and learning with our evaluation process of teachers.  I also mentioned that we now had a clearer picture of what “excellence” in teaching and learning truly is.  Those things are connected.  The first deliverable from the task force was the creation of a new “Learning Target” for OJCS.  This “Learning Target” is the instrument of alignment – meaning we can now make big and small decisions based on whether they bring our school closer to the target or not.  If our “North Stars” represent unchanging aspirational endpoints of our educational journey, our “Learning Target” functions as a map and a compass.  I am very pleased to share it with you here for the first time:

We have a separate document providing detailing each cog in greater detail, which I will be happy to share upon request.

Celebrating Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month (JDAIM)

February is Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month (JDAIM) and OJCS is excited to celebrate – even if those celebrations (like everything else these days) has to come filtered through COVID protocols.  “Inclusion” is not simply an issue to discuss once a year, of course, and because it might have gotten lost earlier in the year, I actually want to start by highlighting an extraordinary post from way back in November by our Director of Special Education, Sharon Reichstein.  Entitled “Shifting the Spec Ed Narrative,” the posts opens by declaring the term “special needs” somewhat problematic:

The mere word ‘Special Education’ comes with a whole series of preconceived notions and ideas, often different for each person who hears it. For me, Special Education is a gift, a passion, and a commitment to ensuring every child gets what they need in order to succeed. I’ve spent my entire career building on this concept. For others, Special Education is viewed as something negative, something to hide, to be embarrassed about, or even ashamed of, and I hate that! For others,  Special Education is something placed in a box over to the side, an ‘other’, a silo, something that is about them and shouldn’t have anything to do with me. But what if we shifted that narrative so that everyone – administrators, teachers, parents, and most importantly, students – felt pride, empowerment, and understanding when they heard the term Special Education. I love to imagine a world and a school where Special Education becomes so ingrained in the normal, that no one sees it as “extra work” on the part of the teacher, something to “be ashamed” of on the part of the student, or something to “be worried” about on the part of the parent.

After a lengthy post that you should really read, she concludes with

At the OJCS we are well on our way with this shift. We strive to personalize instruction and encourage students to own their own learning. Understanding how each student learns and using their strengths to improve weaknesses is what we aim to do.

There is a bit of a delicate dance we do with issues like “inclusion”.  To the degree that we state that “everyone has special needs,” you run the risk of only focusing on who you presently serve and not look to see who you do not / cannot and then explore why.  To the degree that we state “every month is about inclusion,” you run the risk of missing a critical annual opportunity to reflect, to learn, to grow and to change.  We want to acknowledge the daily, weekly, and yearly work that we do to incrementally become better able to meet the needs of current students and to increase the circle of inclusivity.  But we also want to use JDAIM as a measuring stick and an inspiration – to have our thinking challenged, our minds opened and our hearts stirred.  We are blessed to be part of an interconnected Jewish community with partners to lovingly push and support us on our journey.

Last year, we were a little more easily able to celebrate in big ways and small.  (Here is a link to last year’s post if you are curious.)  This year, we have to be a little more careful, but the month is getting started with a few initiatives…

…Deanna Bertrend, our Student Life Coordinator, rolled out a Padlet to our faculty that includes all the links and ideas that have been collected, thus far.  As she put it, “While we spend time each day fostering kind and inclusive communities in our classrooms, it is our hope that you can add a spotlight to JDAIM in your classrooms throughout the month of February- pick and choose from the Padlet activities and/or create your own.”

…Brigitte Ruel, our Librarian, has a post on books that focus on “inclusivity”.

…we will again participate in Jewish Ottawa Inclusion Network (JOIN)’s “Youth Leadership Award Challenge”:

…new this year is the exciting opportunity for our students to participate in the Friends of Access Israel (FAISR) Speaker Series for students in Grades 5-8.  Every Monday through Thursday this month there will be a different and free JDAIM guest speaker.  The lineup of speakers is incredible!

Classroom blogs and student blogfolios will be a great place to find examples of how OJCS lives JDAIM this year.

It bears mentioning that our ability to meet existing needs with enhanced COVID safety protocols is only possible thanks both to generous supplemental grants from Federation and from its “Emergency Campaign” that provides flexible furniture, assistive technology, and diagnostic software to benefit learners of all kinds whether they are learning in-person or at-home.  As increased personalization is carried forward from all our COVID pivots, OJCS aspires to live a pedagogy of personalization that allows each student in our school to find the appropriate floor and to fly as far as their God-given potential permits without a ceiling.

This Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month, let us be reminded that to truly believe that each is made in God’s image requires that we apply the filter of inclusivity whenever possible.  The work of becoming more inclusive has no beginning and has no ending.  Inclusivity is both a process and a journey, one that OJCS has proudly been on for a while and one that we intend to keep walking with our community into the future.

Ken y’hi ratzon.