Dear Parents, Students, Faculty, and Friends
It was a busy week, and an even busier Friday!
The day started with approximately 30 parents joining our Grade One Classrooms to observe teachers Ms. Myers and Mr. Schultz in their
delivery of the Columbia Teachers College Readers / Writers Workshop (TCRRW). The Workshop approach is our agreed upon belief in best practices in literacy instruction. Our Lower School teachers have worked hard this year to become stronger practitioners in this student-centered, naturally differentiated method of reading and writing instruction. We often say that we do our best to value the thinking and feeling of our students, and the Workshop approach is one example of that philosophy in action.
Later in the day, I was able to see and speak with many of you present in school for the two Lower School Music Celebrations. Congratulations to all of our Lower School performers, and especially Ms. Macoskey whose spirit and warmth comes out in the smiles we see on stage.
At lunch, the Upper School Student/Faculty Ping Pong Tournament ended with a crowd of close to 100 watching the action. Congratulations goes out to the following teams:
4th Place: Mr. O’Reilly & SeJing (Gr. 9)
3rd Place: Mr. Thomas & Sandy (Gr. 7)
2nd Place: Mr. Schultz & Miguel (Gr. 6)
1st Place: Coach Vic & Giacomo (Gr. 12)
But of course, an even bigger congratulations go out to all the students and faculty to who joined together to make this a fun event.
Looking ahead to next week, we hope each of you can join us for the Upper School Musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie. Performances are on Thursday (4:30) and Friday (6:30). Come out and enjoy what our dedicated Arts Department and students have put together.
Today’s post includes an important (but rather long) article proving an overview of the SCIS Learning Support Program. It is Part One of a two-part article I am writing to share with you and the international school community.
Enjoy all the articles and photos below, and we look forward to continued success the rest of the year.
Head of School
SCIS Pudong Learning Support Program: Past, Present, and Future
Like many international schools, SCIS has been no stranger to change and growth over the past few years. Specifically, the past three years has seen SCIS Pudong has focused growth in two significant areas which complement each other well.
- the development of our through-school (PYP, MYP, DP) International Baccalaureate Program, serving students Nursery to Grade 12
- the development of a robust Learning Support Program to better support all of our students.
These developments have made us a leader within international schools, and provided strong foundations upon which we can grow our mission to serve all students in an inclusive, academically-rigorous, community-minded environment.
We are excited to share our plans to further develop our programs in 2018-19 by expanding our Upper School Learning Support Program. Starting August, 2018, we will open our Upper School Learning Support Academy, providing specialized opportunities for a few students in grades 6-11 to take part in the SCIS program. More information will be shared about the Academy in a later post.
Part of any change process involves communicating with stakeholders. Ultimately, a community is strengthened when we share a common belief. This article is part one of a two-part series where we want to share more details about who we are, and why we chose to further develop this area of our school program. To begin, it’s best to start with the basics.
What is Learning Support?
All international schools offer competitive academic programs and stress the holistic development of the children they serve. We all know that children learn differently. Therefore, almost all schools provide some level of support to help students who learn differently so that those students can find success. This is usually done by hiring additional teachers, and those teachers have specific, training and skill-sets ready to help students who may need help with speech/language, reading, math, or executive functioning to name just a few of the common areas of support.
What is the history of the Learning Support Program at SCIS Pudong?
In 2015-16, the Board of Directors agreed to fund a pilot program to strengthen the Learning Support Campus at the Pudong Campus. This was no small decision. It involved hiring additional teachers, and investing in the goal of differentiating our learning to better meet the needs of all students. Each year, after evaluating small steps of success, we have increased our commitment, bringing us to the expansion of our services again in 2018-19.
Why did SCIS make the decision to expand our Learning Support services?
Compared to my home country (USA), the level of support in most international schools is scarce. This usually means that most international schools cannot accept students who have mild or moderate learning needs, they simply do not have the resources to adequately support those students in meeting the challenging curriculum. Put simply, we believe that there are students in Shanghai who do learn differently, and can succeed in the most challenging academic program (The IB Diploma Program is generally regarded in this regard.) as long as they are placed in the right environment and with the right support.
In what ways does the Learning Support Program benefit all students at SCIS and make us a better school?
We believe our Learning Support Program is an important part of who we are and strengthens our mission on two distinct ways.
- We believe it makes us a stronger academic school.
- We believe it strengthens our mission, strengthening the values of diversity and inclusiveness, benefiting all of our students.
The goal of this article (Part 1) will focus on how the program makes us a stronger academic school.
We should start with the most common question surrounding learning support. Many parents fear that if students with learning difficulties are in a classroom with their “regular education” student, then the teacher’s attention will be diverted or the rigor of expectations of the entire class be deceased – resulting a poorer learning experience for the regular education student. Simply put, this should not happen if there is a strong support system in place for the child. A properly structured learning support environment will benefit all learners.
At SCIS, it’s important to remember that we follow the IB Programs, including the DP Program in grades 11 and 12 which is externally moderated. This means that the students’ final grades are determined by different IB educators all around the world who assess each of our students’ exams. There is no chance (or benefit) from any of our SCIS teachers in decreasing academic expectations. We have typically had 85% of our students achieve the full IB Diploma – an impressive amount which speaks to the level of scholarship at SCIS. Additionally, all students take some IB courses. So, we know our bar is high, and it is moderated by outside educators to ensure our quality is consistent. It means we can focus on supporting students in achieving within the IB Program, not worrying that any standards are being compromised. Here’s how our Learning Support Program does just that.
We have additional Learning Support teachers, able to work with all learning support children and support our regular education classroom teachers. These teachers have a specialized skill-sets in content areas that are not present in most schools. All students (regular learners and those who need additional support) are always on a learning spectrum with strengths and weaknesses. Regular learners still struggle with reading, math, etc. Having trained experts on staff who speciailize in these areas helps all of our teachers become better skilled at what strategies work and what progression of skills are needed to support each learner’s area of need.
An easy example comes within Math. Consultant and math specialist Erma Anderson is currently working with our faculty by visiting our campus 5 times over the next 18 months. One of her main points to emphasize is that we usually think of math as a very procedural. When students struggle, inexperienced teachers try to repeat the same procedure, give students opportunities to practice, and hope that the procedure sticks. (Well-meaning parents usually try this method too. I am guilty of it!) Unfortunately, repeating and practicing math procedures is not what research says supports student understanding. Students might learn the procedure in the short term but fail to understand the conceptual understanding behind the procedure, and therefore have only a superficial level of understanding that will be easily forgotten in future years. In contrast, math specialists like Erma Anderson and Learning Support teachers who specialize in the area of math instruction can pinpoint the progression of math skills previously needed to understand a current concept. They are skilled in teaching conceptually, providing three or four different ways for students to see how the math concept works. They ask students to explain “Why does this method work?” or “How do you know you’re right?”, and their specialty in math allows them to know what to listen for.
In addition to specialized skill-sets in different content areas, all Learning Support teachers are uniquely skilled in differentiation. Having this knowledge and expertise in the building makes all of our teachers better. Their training and experience is grounded in assessing individual students, understanding that student’s unique learning style, and crafting an Individualized Education Plan to meet that student’s needs. Of course, this is very beneficial to the students who are in the Learning Support Program. But there is another positive benefit; Learning Support teachers work closely with each of our classroom teachers. Through collaboration and co-teaching, the Learning Support teachers bring a perspective and an array of strategies that help our regular classroom teachers better identify learning needs – and know what strategies to employ – within their whole-class environment.
While the points above focused on additional staffing and skill-sets, the last way in which a strong Learning Support program strengthens the academic growth of all students is more philosophical in nature. It is no less important, and likely more important. Our school has become better focused on seeking out strengths and embracing the unique learning style of every child. When students struggle, we are less likely fall back on the default response of asking students to work harder to focus on “learning it the way I’m teaching it.” Instead, I find we are more willing to sit down and recognize that there is a wealth of expertise in the building. We approach student learning from a mindset that a solution exists, and we simply have not (yet) come up with enough information and strategies to help the student succeed. We are by no means 100% successful all the time, the philosophical change is an important one in how we approach obstacles.
We are proud to continue to make advances to our Learning Support Program. We see the academic benefits it brings to our IB program. And, stay tuned for the second part of this article when we share more about how our Learning Support Program supports our school’s mission, the IB’s mission, and expands our students’ experience by strengthening our school’s diversity and inclusiveness.
Expanded Upper School Sports Offerings for 2018-19
With the 2017-18 ACAMIS (Association of China And Mongolia International Schools) sports seasons now finished after a great showing by our Girls (1st) and Boys (2nd) soccer teams this past weekend, we can begin looking forward to the 2018-19 sports seasons. In an effort to continue to try to expand our Upper School sports opportunities, we have identified several individual sports currently offered under the ACAMIS umbrella where we feel that some of our students may be able to share their passion to compete. These include the following possibilities: Tennis, Badminton, Cross Country, Table Tennis, and Golf.
Although the school cannot provide coaches for all of these sports (we can for most), we know that many students practice and train outside of school and we would be happy to give them the chance to represent their school in the regional ACAMIS competitions. More information and a survey will be coming out soon from our Athletic Director, “Coach Vic” Caban. (email@example.com)
PHOTOS FROM AROUND THE CAMPUS
Due to timing, I wasn’t able to include photos from today’s Lower School Music Celebrations. Look for those in next week’s Head of School Update.