Tag Archives: Grades 7-12

Summer Reading, part one

Ah, summer. That magical time when teachers get to sit by the pool sipping drinks in tall glasses filled to the brim with ice and muse on…

… all the things they want to do differently next year.

And in my case, that musing needs to start with an excellent book I finished months ago, Whole Novels for the Whole Class by Ariel Sacks. It’s the sort of book where your respect for the author deepens with every chapter, where you want to highlight far more than the 25% you know is recommended, where you want to run right out and start implementing what the author suggests – and where you know you and your students will be far better off if you wait and take your time and do it right. Late June and early July is the perfect time to read this book, when you can pause and reflect at will, pool or no pool, and so here I am returning to it.

At its simplest, the whole novel approach is a way of enabling students to optimally benefit from the books that they share together as a class in part by holding off on discussions until they have finished reading. Ms. Sacks recognizes the fundamentally important role that independent, self-selected reading can play in a good reading program, citing in particular the excellent work of Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer). She notes the additional importance of a shared experience both in building skllls and in building community. And she urges that we rethink how we approach teaching novels so that the experience no longer resembles being caught in stop and go traffic but rather feels like looking back and reflecting on a just-completed trip. Her methods, developed along with Madeleine Ray of Bank Street College of Education, are deeply grounded in research and experience.

Chapter by chapter, we see her make a case for the practice and then talk about selecting books, teaching note-taking, holding discussions, and connecting the book to writing. In the second part, she talks about how to prepare students for whole novel study and set expectations, develop their critical reading and comprehension skills, ensure you are accounting for the full range of diversity in your classroom, and analyzing the results to make changes in the future. As I read, I tried to imagine how my students would react to whole novel studies.

And I’ll be honest – I think their first reaction would be to resist the approach because they truly adore talking to each other. But I can envision myself telling them that they are already read to every day and so already get to talk about books every day. I can point out we would still be doing group activities as we build to the days we discuss the book. I can quote some of Ms. Sacks’s own ideas in making the case. And I am 99.999% sure I can get them excited about note-taking.

Yes, you read that right. Ms. Sacks works with her students to teach them about literal thinking vs. inferential thinking vs. critical thinking, and uses notetaking as a vehicle not just to help them think about the book itself and prepare for discussions but also to think about their own thinking. My kids love having their thinking stretched, understanding how their minds work, and being able to clearly see progress they are making; by following Ms. Sacks’s example, I would be able to facilitate all of this for them. I think they would also appreciate having additional lenses through which to self-reflect, as we frequently ask them to do.

When you consider this is just one short section of the book, you begin to get the sense of how comprehensive it is and why I see this as a resource that all secondary-level reading teachers should have. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to my (non-existent) pool with my (also non-existent) (for the moment) drink to keep thinking about how I might integrate these ideas into my own students’ learning next year.

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Filed under On Education, The Faculty Perspective

Olympic Heights

The hills up into Conway are starting to feel a little longer than I would like, and I can feel my leg muscles straining to keep the pace I’ve set, a little faster than I would normally choose. But I dig deep and force myself to keep going, maybe even step up the pace slightly. “You don’t get to the Olympics by giving up on yourself,” I tell myself. Eventually, I’m at the spot about two miles out where the road flattens out a bit before finally giving way to a longer downhill, and I enjoy a brief moment of exhilaration as my body shifts into cruise control.

To be clear, I have absolutely no illusions that I am going to the Olympics at my age and fitness level. But that doesn’t mean I can’t draw inspiration from those who are. It’s a scenario that plays out every four summers, one that reminds me of my childhood. How many last-minute buzzer beaters did I sink in the driveway while practicing on my own? How often did I complete a pass to my friend Paul that brought invisible crowds to their feet cheering at the top of their lungs? Whether I was Tony Conigliaro up at bat or Chris Evert nailing a cross-court forehand, there was often an inner sportscaster narrating my every move. It’s a phenomenon noted by Garry Wills in his introduction to The Doonesbury Chronicles, observing that we all have that inner voice and that part of the genius and humour of those early Doonesbury strips was extending that inner sportscaster’s voice to narrate everything we do.

In an episode of “Modern Family” I saw recently, Claire (a mother of three) wryly observed (I am paraphrasing here), “You know that inner voice you have growing up that tells you you’re not good enough? That voice was outside me, and it was my mother’s.” The joke hits home not just because of the delivery but also because of the fundamental truths about girls’ and women’s lives that it reveals. That voice outside them might be the Australian and Japanese Olympic committees determining that men will be flying business class and the women in premium economy. It might be woman beach volleyball players sporting QR codes advertising websites on their bikini bottoms (although the IOC has forbidden this during the actual Games). It might be the Melbourne Herald Sun publicly questioning whether swimmer Leisel Jones has gained too much weight and initiating a reader poll on whether or not she is fat. It might be the continuing disparity in the percentage of photos of female athletes in action vs. male athletes. All this in an Olympic year commonly dubbed “the year of the women.”

Frank Bruni nailed it in his excellent op-ed piece “Women’s Time to Shine” when he wrote, “There’s much to savor in the quadrennial spectacle of the Olympics, which will begin in London next weekend, but perhaps nothing more exhilarating than the way it showcases and celebrates the athleticism of women almost [italics mine] as much as it does the athleticism of men.” We’re certainly getting closer. For the first time, all countries involved are sending female athletes, even Saudi Arabia, and for the first time there will be equal numbers of female and male athletes competing. Women’s boxing is making its Olympic debut.

All this being true, the ultimate goals of true equality and true equity are still a long ways off in many ways. At times, it seems an uphill battle that we will never win. And then we dig deep and refocus in hopeful anticipation of the moment of exhilaration when we realize we have made it.

Or so says my sportscaster within.

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Filed under Athletics, Gender, On Athletics, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Uncategorized

Getting Past Partisanship

When I walked in to the Faculty Meeting room on the first Thursday after Winter Break, I noticed two of the middle school students hovering uncertainly and as inconspicuously as possible in a corner of the room. They were the Student Council Representatives, ready to make their presentation to the faculty on why 7th graders should henceforth be granted the right to vote for Student Council President (a right which all other currently enrolled students already had). I went up to them and asked how they were doing; they held out several pieces of paper with scribbled and periodically crossed-out notes alternating in pen and pencil and asked if I could look through what they planned to say. Curious as to what they had chosen to emphasize from the conversation we had had in MOCA (middle school student government) after Student Council had given preliminary approval to their proposal, I glanced through their notes for them and (maybe crossing my fingers a little bit on a couple of points) told them it was fine. They relaxed for a second and then asked me – implored me, really – if I would give their proposal support when the faculty discussed it. I smiled and told them they already knew where I stood on the issue.

The students were first on the agenda and, though clearly nervous, spoke well. There were a few questions from the faculty including at least one which they had not anticipated (nor had I). Their responses were, for the most part, clear and cogent, and even the one time they were clearly improvising as they went along, their initial soft-spoken meandering gradually gained focus and volume and finished strongly. After the students received applause and left, the faculty discussed the proposal. A number of people were commenting on the maturity and poise the students had shown, and Jeremy Deason, our Athletic Director, leaned over to me and whispered, “Every single day. If they visited the middle school, this is what they would see every single day.”

Today in housemeeting, the Student Council President called up both the current and the past middle school representatives to Student Council for a special announcement. Though they knew the content of the announcement, three of the four middle schoolers kept straight faces; the fourth would periodically notice she was smiling again, shake her head, shuffle her feet, look down and re-compose her face in studied neutrality. Meanwhile, the StuCo President described briefly what MOCA’s proposal had been and what had been necessary to get it approved. With a warm smile and to supportive applause, she congratulated them on having succeeded in winning the 7th graders the right to vote for all future StuCo Presidents.

We first created MOCA when the current Student Council President was in 7th grade. Originally, it was conceived to run in parallel with StuCo, which would continue to serve the Upper School while MOCA served the middle school. As they felt (correctly) that many of StuCo’s decisions affected the entire school, over time the middle schoolers successively argued for and won the right of 8th graders to vote for StuCo President and the right to have representatives attend StuCo meetings. But the right of franchise for 7th graders proved to be a three-year struggle. One major stumbling block was a number of upper schoolers who had moved up from the middle school and who felt that current middle schoolers should have no more privileges than they had had.  Among this group, at one stage in the process, was the StuCo President herself.

This made it extra meaningful that she was so inclusive in her announcement, calling up in front of the school not just the current MOCA representatives to StuCo who made the final, successful push but also the fall representatives who had originated the proposal and taken it through the early stages. Her warm and genuine smile offered to the middle schoolers and her graciousness in praising the middle school and identifying the decision as an important one in the life of the school went a long way toward both building bridges and healing any scars that may have possibly remained from earlier, often intense discussions.

With political partisanship so much on our minds these days, especially in the wake of the tragedy in Arizona, one can’t help but wish that many adult politicians and political pundits could have observed, and learned from, this young woman.

Once the applause died down, she went on to point out that this was a good example of how Student Council could take student ideas and work with them to make them happen, encouraging all students present to share their own ideas and help StuCo work to improve their school.

Little does she know that another group of middle schoolers has already been hard at work discussing possible changes to the dress code!

-Bill Ivey, Dean of the Middle School

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Filed under School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Whizbabies Take the Lead!

Friday January 15, 2010 was the second in a series of competitions for the House Cup. It brought more than 30 day and boarding students enrolled at the Stoneleigh-Burnham School together to participate in a series of competitions from relay races to songwriting competitions to scavenger hunts and even a “chubby bunny” contest.

At approximately 10pm on Friday the 15th, Sara, Matt, Erica, Kelly and I joined together to kick-off the first annual Midnight Madness. It represented two hours of silliness and chaos and drew students from all the grades. The competition was fierce and close. By the time we reached our final event, the Corazons were in the lead with 29 points and the Chanticleers and Whizbabies were following closely with 18 points each. It all came down to the final event:

the Chubby Bunny contest.

The contest was worth 12 points, so, as we counted down the final minutes to midnight, it was anyone’s game.

If you’ve never heard of a Chubby Bunny contest, you’re not alone. It’s a bit sticky and a little messy…but very fun. You start with a bag of marshmallows and several willing participants. They each start with one marshmallow in their mouth and they must say the phrase “chubby bunny”. After six marshmallows, our two seniors, Sky and Monika, were out. Maah, one of our youngest participants and the final competitor in the chubby bunny contest, proclaimed “I’ve still got room” winning the hearts and applause of all the teams. She made it to an impressive ten marshmallows (before I cut her off). She was the clear winner and claimed the victory for her team. Below are some highlights from the night.

Alyssa, Nora, Carla and Jordyn wait patiently for the games to begin!

Alyssa, Nora, Carla and Jordyn are ready to compete!


Sky and Leah wait patiently for the games to begin.

Franny and Rose pose with the owl, one of the items from the scavenger hunt.

Mikaela is ready to race on the Tonka bike!

Sadie and Jane are off to a great start in the three-legged race!

Tess and Paige show off their form for the balloon carrying contest.


Maah ponders where to fit the next marshmallow during the Chubby Bunny contest!

To finish the night off, each team was responsible for rewriting the lyrics of a song to be performed for the judges and all the teams. The winning song was based on the hit “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus. The lyrics to “Party at SBS”, as written and performed by the Whizbabies, are below. Enjoy!

“Party at SBS”

I hopped off the bus at SBS with a passion in my heart to learn.
Welcome to the land where girls express,
don’t you dare adjourn.
Jumped on a horse, here I cantered for the first time.
Looked to the right and see the SBS sign.
This is all amazing,
Everybodies looking like ladies.

My tummies turning and I’m feeling kinda homesick
but that’s ok ’cause I got my horse Rick.
That’s when Laura turned up the stereo
and we danced on UMB.
and we danced on DHC.
and in the library.

So I put the volleyball up
and I smacked it down
And I do some pirouettes
Getting a goal like yea
Dunking a ball like yea
I got my ponytail up
I’m playing my song
and we’ll talk the night away
Yeah, it’s a party at SBS
Yeah, It’s a party at SBS.

For more information about Stoneleigh-Burnham School, check out our website: http://www.sbschool.org


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Filed under School Happenings, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School