Resolving to be better global citizens

Imagine a generation of young people working to create a better world. This is the invitation from High Resolves, a program that originated in Australia for grade 7-12 students about how to act as global citizens. This year, KCS became the first school outside of Australia to participate in this program! We were anticipating an affirmation of what we are doing at KCS in the area of active citizenship. We were not disappointed!

With funding from the KCS Pickard/Bulger Family Citizenship Fund, all grade 7 students participated in three workshops: Collective Identity, Independent Thinking, and Social Justice. In each of the sessions, our wonderful instructor and Canadian Program Director, Chantelle Kohn, captured our attention and expertly delivered the vital messages in a respectful, open-minded fashion. Students were initially curious, and even apprehensive about these new workshops, but very quickly they became engaged in these timely, interactive activities. Students were able to move around and engage in collaborative group challenges. This made the 2 hours workshops fly by! They learned about: attributes of global citizens, how to think critically about messages in the media, and how to work towards social justice. At the end of each session, students were encouraged to reflect on their learning and write “I Resolve” statements. These statements demonstrate how students plan to incorporate their learning into daily life as global citizens.

In addition, we welcomed over 25 teachers, administrators, parents, board members and social justice champions from across the GTA to KCS so that they could learn more about High Resolves. We shared our positive experiences with colleagues from other schools so that they too may participate in this program. It was an excellent time for all of the adults to discuss: social justice, student leadership, and how to inspire students to make a difference. Here are some of their insights from the students via an anonymous survey conducted after one of the sessions:

  • “I think that the workshop was an amazing learning opportunity for everyone in grade 7. I learned a ton and will keep putting that learning forward to help the earth and the people that live there. I have a feeling that I can make a change in the world.”
  • “The workshop was fun. The whole concept of the learning process really engaged me in the activities. The presentation was great and overall I learned a lot. Everything was also explained very thoroughly in a way that we could easily understand.”
  • “It was stimulating, and made you think. I enjoyed it!”
  • “The workshop was a life-changing and opinion-switching experience. The instructor/presenter was amazing and taught me and many of my peers about the world and how we can make it better.”

We took a responsible risk when we invited High Resolves to KCS, but we’re thrilled that we did! We are already looking forward to continuing our learning next year in grade 7 and expanding the program to grade 8! Thank you to Chantelle for the wonderful learning experiences and thank you to the Pickard/Bulger family for their continued support of citizenship education at KCS.

Shelley Gaudet
Citizenship Education Coordinator

Grade 4 Students Enjoy Very Dramatic Literacy Workshops!

What happens when you combine classic literature with a touch of creativity, dramatic arts and technology?  Kingsway College School’s Grade 4 classes answered this question with an exciting activity that brought our reading program to life.  Building on the elements of literacy in action, learning by doing and taking responsible risks, the Grade 4 students participated in one of two fantastic workshops facilitated by The Directors Cut and the Stratford Student Player’s Festival.

The Directors Cut and The Wizard of Oz

The Directors Cut is a teacher-designed, full day workshop that engages students in collaborative, hands-on, digital/media literacy.  Technology-based, the key goal of this workshop is to promote 21st century communication skills in a fun and interactive way. Under the guidance of Ms. Dulmage and Ms. Holyck, the first group of Grade 4s researched, planned and created a graphic novel style presentation using scenes from The Wizard of Oz.

The students teamed up to define each character’s traits, then captured the plot’s twists and turns using a professional style storyboard. Their collaboration and problem solving also included organizing costumes and carefully plotting out camera angles using the drama style of tableaux.  The critical challenge that defined each group’s task was to communicate the mood of a particular scene using only still images and no dialogue.  Some excellent scenes were captured as the tableaus were exported using iMovie and then transformed into rich graphic presentations complete with transitions, sounds, voice overs and awesome special effects.  As the students shared their artistic creations, it was great to watch Dorothy, Toto and her three companions come to life travelling along the Yellow Brick Road.

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The Stratford Student Player’s Festival and Midsummer Night’s Dream

Meanwhile, a second group of students travelled to Stratford, Ontario to participate in the Stratford Student Player’s Festival Teaching Shakespeare. Based on an inspiring professional development summer workshop, Ms. Pollett-Boyle and Madame Barchuk looked forward to having the Grade 4 students learn about Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream via an interactive stage performance. In addition to reading the play together, the group investigated the life and times of William Shakespeare and discussed key literary devices, vocabulary and a student-friendly version of iambic pentameter.  The Grade 4s were very excited when professional actor Lara Jean Chorostecki (X Company, Hannibal) took time from her busy schedule to work with the eager KCS performers.

The Stratford workshop included stage combat choreography from West Side Story, followed by an analysis of characters, mood and themes from the Stratford classic Hamlet.  The most exciting part of the day was yet to come as the Grade 4s were called down to the theater to act out their scenes with a professional stage crew. Complete with one of the Grade 4s in the “booth” directing cues for lighting and sound, the KCS players took a responsible risk and performed their dramatic scenes in front of a live audience.  “I was nervous, yet very excited at the same time” commented one Grade 4 student as the entire KCS crew were congratulated for their stage presence, clarity and skillful interpretation of each scene.  The Stratford facilitators were doubly impressed when they discovered that the group from KCS was one of the youngest at the Festival.

As a fitting conclusion to the workshop, the students followed up by sharing their experiences with their classmates.  More importantly, when it was announced that funding for the Student Festival was expiring, the students rallied to the cause by writing persuasive letters to Stratford’s Educational Committee urging them to continue with the program!  After such a fun and enriching experience, the Grade 4 team looks forward to continuing with this wonderful celebration of literature and drama in action.

Everything a School Should Be – Part 2

Teachers join the profession to do their best for students. Doing one’s best includes a vast array of efforts, a sample of which were shared in Part 1 of this post.

Doing one’s best also means a determined, responsible commitment to constant improvement, wherever merited and as manageable.

At KCS, we’re constantly looking at what we do, identifying where we wish to grow, and taking measured steps forward from year-to-year. Many steps are identified by individual teachers, or grade partners, or divisions of teachers. Some steps are school-wide. Some are new initiatives; while others are ongoing efforts that began in previous years and continue to be an area of focus.

Here is some of what we’re focusing on this year:

  1. Living the Mission – Always our #1 focus, our mission is to be the defining force in developing lifelong learners. Currently, this effort includes Project-Based Learning; direct efforts to teach questioning skills; the growth of KCS as a Makerspace, with our new Innovation Lab and increased “making” throughout the school; the use of design thinking for deeper thinking, learning and problem-solving; and the launch of a new program called “High Resolves” in our senior grades as part of our global education efforts.
  2. Assessment – This is a multi-year area of focus. We launched a new report card last year and some adjustments will be made this year. We also launched our new secure electronic portfolio, Sesame, and we continue our roll-out to include all students from PK to grade 3. A blog will soon follow to explain why this is an exciting addition to KCS!
  3. Movement Project – This is also an ongoing area of focus under the leadership of our Director of Student Life, Tamara Drummond. Standing desks, chairs that allow for movement, fidget toys, and new practices that invite more frequent movement in the school day are becoming increasingly widespread throughout the school.
  4. Reading Evolution – A number of years ago we introduced a reading program that helped many of our students better consolidate the fundamentals of reading. The cumulative effect of this program is now a very noticeable increase in the reading skills of all of our students. Driven by internal data, reading instruction is evolving to meet the growing readiness for greater challenge.
  5. ELP and Reggio-inspired programming – Following widespread professional development, visits to other schools, and engagement of a consultant, the PK, JK and SK faculty have enthusiastically embraced Reggio-inspired programming as a strong complement to the Ministry of Education curriculum. While direct instruction on core skills will continue, students will also be given more time to practise being deep thinkers and learners through self-directed inquiry.
  6. Professional Development – PD has always been a regular feature of employment at KCS. All teachers have a generous budget for PD and they pursue various opportunities of relevance to their role. This year we launched a new means of sharing PD that allows all staff to see what others have done, and get a glimpse into what they learned. This is an efficient and effective new way to share professional learning and encourage greater awareness of the various PD offerings available to all.
  7. Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS preparation) – This merits a blog of its own, and one will follow later in the year. CAIS oversees a comprehensive accreditation process for independent schools that aspire to excellence. KCS is CAIS-accredited, and all staff will be working this year on an internal review in preparation for our upcoming accreditation review in November of 2017.

At KCS we’re constantly learning so that we can keep improving in all ways that matter, each and every year. Creative thinking is inspired when multiple challenges synergize into innovative solutions. Progressing thoughtfully and responsibly, changes aren’t always immediate. They’re discussed, and if considered worthy they’re piloted. If successful, they spread. When imperfect, they’re tweaked. And they’re not limited by the notion that we can only focus on a few areas. Collectively, there are positive changes happening throughout the school, based on what teachers feel needs improvement, and what they can manage well. Being everything a school should be includes constantly trying to do better. Doing our best means we won’t accept anything less.

Pourquoi apprendre le français? / Why learn French?

« Why learn French? » If your child asked you this question tonight over dinner, what would your answer be? And how might your own experiences with learning the language influence that response?

The truth is there are many reasons to learn French, as our Grade 7 students recently discovered during a brainstorming session with graphic recorder, Disa Kauk. Their individual ideas contributed to the creation of two stunning visual reminders of ‘Pourquoi apprendre le français?’ and I encourage you to have a closer look at them the next time you are in the school.

In order for learning to endure in any subject area, we must see the value in what we are learning and understand our own reasons for learning it. This is especially important in the French as a Second Language classroom as most students only have a chance to practice their skills here at school. Students need to realize that French exists outside the walls of the classroom as well. With a curriculum now focused on authentic communication and real-life situations, this is truer than ever and families can play a vital role. Simply having a conversation with your child about the importance of learning French is a great starting point as it shows your child that French is valued outside of school. But you don’t have to stop there.

Parents often ask how else they can support their child’s French learning at home. Consider family movie nights in French by picking a DVD of a movie already familiar to your child in English and watching it together in French. Instead of watching the Leafs game in English, choose a station with French commentary. Point out French words on packages, in magazines, in stores and during your travels when you come across it. Visit a museum or gallery and take a tour in French. Listen to a French radio station. Take out French library books. You may even consider joining an organization like Canadian Parents for French which furthers bilingualism by promoting and creating opportunities for youth to learn and use French. Detailed information on exchange programmes, summer camps and many other unique language-learning opportunities is available on www.frenchstreet.ca. The possibilities are endless!

As a French teacher, I have seen a real difference in the classroom when students buy into their learning by taking opportunities outside of school to enjoy learning French. When they have more chances to practice their skills in the real world, they are more inclined to transfer that enthusiasm to the classroom and beyond.

Pourquoi apprendre le français? It’s never too early – or too late! – to start this conversation. When will you have yours?

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Everything a School Should Be (Part 1)

Let’s take a moment and think about everything a great school should be doing for students. There’s the curriculum – collectively many hundreds of pages of content and skills, wrapped up in subjects, that schools need to make sure all students learn. Then there’s tailoring the curriculum, because ensuring all students learn requires adjustments for each and every one. On top of that there’s enrichment programming, character education, learning skills, collaboration skills, critical and creative thinking, leadership and citizenship, appreciation of nature and the arts, and so much more. Schools need to engage minds, inspire physical health and activity, develop resilience, and nurture the artistic spirit. Direct instruction matters. Project-based learning matters. Clubs, teams, field trips, inspiring speakers, cross-grade integration activities, and spirit-raising events matter. Throughout the delivery of all of the above, a school needs to help students with the inevitable bumps – social, emotional, mental, academic, physical – that happen and directly interfere with everything else if not well addressed. And all of this, and more, needs to happen in an aligned, whole-system manner so it’s optimal both in how it’s experienced and in the difference it makes. Without a doubt, a great school must do many things exceptionally well.

Yet to follow the dialogue, one might think it’s otherwise.

We hear boasts of schools that are outstanding on singular measures, but left wondering how these feats are achieved without sacrifice in other areas of the school. We read that schools should focus improvement efforts on only a small number of areas at once, as if all other important things can wait, for years. We learn of exciting new programs that have great appeal, but represent just a tiny fraction of what’s needed for deep, longstanding impact. This is fine reading, but none are the story that students most need. None are the story we should want for our children.

At KCS, we’re transparent in our unrelenting commitment to being everything a school should be. Our Four Doors to Learning program in academics, arts, athletics and citizenship reflects years’ worth of creative, collaborative effort so that our story is the full story students need. Our faculty are constantly adding new professional learning so that this effort reflects the wisest judgment we can muster. And we’re constantly striving to improve in as many ways we can, and in all ways that matter.

KCS is committed to being everything a school should be. If there’s anything singular about where we strive to be outstanding, that’s it. We know that other schools strive for this as well, but it’s a story we don’t hear often enough. It makes for a long story, with many lengthy chapters. In a busy world and crowded social media space, it’s a story that takes time to tell and time to hear.

That’s okay. Children love long stories. So should we.

Part 2 of this post, to be published shortly, will share the story of how KCS is constantly striving to improve in its effort to be everything a school should be.

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The Call to Be a Defining Force

Goodness, these are unusual times. Anyone following world news, regardless of political leanings, knows that remarkable things are happening. For years now, it’s been said that the future will be increasingly unpredictable; that global interdependence will be increasingly entrenched and often uncomfortable; and that the challenges we’ll all have to face will be increasingly complex. It’s looking like the future is here.

That’s why we all, increasingly, need to step in.

Eight years ago, KCS made its intentions clear. Our vision and mission statement, adopted then, captured our aspirations:

To be a defining force in developing lifelong learners
By stewarding a learning environment that inspires us to reach our ultimate potential.

This statement is rooted in our longstanding determination to do our best for our students. It’s equally rooted in something else, something that many of our families may not have thought much about, and something worth pointing out.

Teachers join the profession to do their best for students. All KCS staff share that dedication to the children and families we serve. Doing our best means we also need to help realize the potential in education as a whole. There is a tremendous effort that goes into the education of every child. And while there is much that is sound and good in the profession, there has always been significant room for growth. As the world becomes increasingly complex to navigate, the room for growth expands. KCS is not a school that simply strives to offer what other schools, even great schools, offer. We’re a school prepared to push the boundaries of the profession, in ways that are balanced, impactful, and progressive. KCS is a school prepared to wrestle with challenges, be patient when the time for change isn’t right, and to act when creative, valuable ideas are ready. We are willing and able to be a defining force in developing lifelong learners.

Over the past eight years (and more, to be honest), KCS faculty have introduced many new practices that, to our knowledge, were either unique or rare in the profession. The small-group instruction in our Super Skills and Workshop classes; our Wall of Service; our Habits of Mind, Body and Action; our Young Authors of KCS program; our multiple approaches to Student Leadership and service; Wake Up with the Arts; our use of design thinking for innovative learning and student-staff collaboration; and more came to be because our faculty wanted to go further. Pushed by pioneers in the field, remixing promising practice, and following the inspiration from others to create brand new solutions, we keep pressing forward.

Students have always deserved the best education. What’s best is changing and the need for growth is imperative. And it’s not about one school. Our vision statement “To be a defining force in developing lifelong learners” makes clear that it’s not about KCS being ‘the’ defining force. Frankly, such a limited vision would underserve students. Our wish is that all educators work together to make education the best it can be for now and for this increasingly unforeseeable future. We’ll keep doing our part. And we look forward to another year of learning and inspiration from all others who heed the call.

Layers for Learning

I often think of the show Wipeout, and its unconquerable obstacle course, as a metaphor for what we do. The more appropriate way to describe how KCS works, I suppose, is to talk of layers. Whichever works for you, it speaks to the big back story of what happens at KCS and it’s what needs to happen in any school striving to reach all students.

Every school has objectives, many dozens in fact. We have academic objectives in every subject and grade. At KCS, we have equally significant arts, athletics and citizenship objectives, though that doesn’t necessarily set us far apart from numerous other schools. Our Habits of Mind, Body and Action are a further set of objectives, but having them is not what matters. What matters are the layers of effort designed to achieve them – the number, the variation among each, and the ongoing commitment to keep adding layers to make sure no student leaves before our objectives are achieved.

I’m regularly reminded of this. The other week, I popped by one of our grade 5 classes. They were in the midst of an impromptu speech-giving activity, where students volunteered to pick a topic from a bag and give a 45-second speech in front of their classmates. Having already done this previously, some students assumed a semi-Rex Murphy polish, naming their moments in the spotlight “Nonsense with Noah” or “Yapping with Yarema”. Tomorrow we will experience our monthly “Wake Up With the Arts” showcase, where students volunteer to perform in the lobby. Friday mornings are typically spectacular student-led assemblies that have students from SK to grade 8 speaking to the school, including everything from reading a brick to leading school-wide contests such as “Minute to Win It”. This month was the impressive Primary Project Fair. French plays in most grades are around the corner and we just recently enjoyed the annual Café Couguar, our French café for the KCS community hosted by grade 8 students. I could go on at great length. Let this suffice as a peek into a few of the many layers that go into just public-speaking, one of many key objectives that we work endlessly to achieve with every student.

Too often, discussion on the topic of education centres on one practice over another. It supposes, erroneously, that one approach could be enough. In reality, education that makes a difference with every student needs a multitude of approaches, layers if you will, so if one layer doesn’t work for one child then the next one might, and if not that one then the next. Anything less than that will likely reach some students but be insufficient to reach all.

Wipeout isn’t my go-to program for professional development, but I’ve joined my boys at the TV often enough to see how, by design, no contestant can make it from start to finish without being “caught” somewhere along the way. That’s where the metaphor works. School has to accomplish many things with each and every student, and must ensure it does so before those students move on.  It’s no easy task, and something the profession continues to struggle with. The answer won’t be found in one approach, or two or even three. It’s in the multiple various layers of intervention, and the ongoing commitment by teachers to never end in their quest to find the layers that work for each of their students.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Reaching Readers with Reading Mastery

It’s not sexy and we know it.

Reading Mastery in Grade 1Three years ago KCS introduced Reading Mastery to our primary and junior grades. Our pilot followed a year’s worth of exploring the programs of multiple publishers and looking for hard data to show that the chosen program would meet our needs. Our teachers have always been following professional dialogue and delivering a program designed to develop engaged, competent readers. Never ones to shy away from problems, they weren’t satisfied, and so began a quest that led to the pilot of Reading Mastery.

Reading Mastery is a teacher-led, prescriptive program that ensures mastery of all aspects of foundational reading, leaving no skill-gap behind. It includes choral reading, standard cues, ongoing assessment and constant reinforcement of acquired skills so they stick. To use it requires significant training, and, despite the detailed teachers’ manuals, non-stop decision-making on the part of the teacher. In a school with enticing project-based learning and the unpredictable spice of student voice and choice, Reading Mastery is the yin to our yang.

So be it. What’s exciting for students is that they all see it working. What’s exciting for our teachers is the data showing the difference it makes. Standardized assessments done three times a year show struggling readers progressing quickly through the skill levels. According to our data:

  • By introducing Reading Mastery to SK we’ve increased the percentage of students ready to start the Grade 1 Reading Mastery program in September of Grade 1 by 106%.
  • Teaching Reading Mastery daily in grades 1 and 2, students are reaching the grade 2 reading level 2.7 times quicker than it took in 2012.
  • We’ve shortened the time it takes for most of our youngest students to build foundational reading skills by 83%, from 18 months to three.

Small-group instruction in our Super Skills and Workshop classes ensure all of our students get instruction at the right level for them, and as soon as students demonstrate appropriate mastery, they move on to the infinite learning possibilities awaiting strong readers.

We won’t stop addressing problems and we won’t stop following professional dialogue, with a discerning eye. Most importantly, we won’t stop doing whatever it takes to help our students be the best they can be.

ReadingReading Mastery isn’t terribly sexy, but making a difference is. So is reading. And at least in the minds of our determined KCS teachers, so is data.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

What a Term

Andrea is quiet.Lately, I’ve been keeping quiet. Our assemblies over the past number of years have gotten longer and longer, full of student presentations, leadership projects and other special events that are now blissfully common at KCS. Since late last year, I’ve spoken less often at assemblies so the students can speak more.

At last Friday morning’s assembly, I desperately wanted to speak to the students about how proud I was of all their efforts over first term. Then I learned what was in store for the student-led assembly: grade 1 and 3 presentations, a Reason for the Season presentation, a Yoga presentation for an upcoming school-wide unit, Compliment Friday, other leadership project presentations and more. I stayed in the audience. The activity of our students and the greater KCS community was much more important than anything I intended to say.

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about our intended journey for the year. I’ve written previously about athletic successes, our unique Wake Up with the Arts, new math initiatives, and our ongoing efforts to expand project-based learning at KCS. All these things are well underway. The momentum in our Four Doors to Learning continues to grow and the students increasingly impress. For specifics from the term, our KCS Facebook page best tells the detailed tale.

I’ve found other ways to let the students know how much I appreciate their efforts to do their best, and enrich KCS in doing so. Next week at interviews, parents and teachers will have time devoted to doing the same. Even from struggles and mistakes, there has been significant growth and learning. For the many students who’ve thrown themselves into a project, club, team, or subject, they’ve learned that with exceptional effort comes exceptional results.

It’s been a great journey so far. And I couldn’t be happier than to let the students, and all that happens at KCS, do the talking. I’ll keep quietly watching and bursting with pride.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Students Speak Through Music

Tracking Change Tracking ChangeIn the elective, Tracking Change, students are in the midst of composing a music track that connects to a social justice movement for change. Students have composed music tracks that connect to issues of education, equality, anti-bullying, and animal rights. The complexity of these issues is further highlighted by the multiple layers and texture of the compositions themselves.

Seeing these tracks on the computer screen and seeing the students working collaboratively and creatively is inspiring. The issues, while different, are linked. Students somehow find ways to connect to one another throughout the process. Using Apple’s GarageBand, it’s amazing to see and hear how students have managed to create a track that speaks to us through music.

A visit to Humber College Studios introduced students to the exciting world of sound engineering. It was interesting to learn that our work with loops, controlling dynamics, balance, and instrument recording were similar to what was being done in a professional studio.

Since our visit to Humber, students have begun editing their final tracks. Instrument levels are being adjusted, voices are being recorded, loops are being softened. The tracks are growing and changing just like the issues they represent.

Now in our eighth week, some students have decided to take their tracks another step further. In order to really drive home their messages, some are incorporating the music tracks into an iMovie project.

It is incredible to observe this creative process and to see how passionate the students are when it comes to creating a track for change.

Who knows where the next couple of weeks will lead us? Stay tuned!

Matina Mosun
Music teacher