Thursday, December 13, 2012

Research and Development - Engagement

Today I would like to share with you observations I made about engagement while visiting Mosaic Elementary School in San Jose, CA.  I was intrigued when the parameters for these observations said to look at the entire community for engagement.  I feel I took the most away from our visit by looking at engagement.  I saw school wide engagement.  I saw students engaged with learning.  I saw teacher engagement.  I saw students engaged with technology.  I saw parent engagement.

School wide engagement starts the day with the Launch meeting.  It was very moving to watch an entire school gather to start their day of learning.  Communities provide feelings of caring and belonging.  I think both of these can help facilitate learning.  I also think groups of people connect when they are united by rituals, routines, and song.  Launch is a daily routine and a ritual.  Guiding the Mosaic community is a school creed and school core values.  I couldn't catch all of the creed during the morning Launch.  The school core values are persistence, responsibility, empathy, respect, and multiculturalism.

Student engagement is happening during their 8-4 school day.  Students spend 3 hours and 40 minutes in a language arts block.  They spend 1 hour and 50 minutes in a math block.  They spend 1 hour and 40 minutes in a learning lab block and their day includes about a 40 minute lunch.  I saw reading and math organized in workshop formats with units of study.  I saw a bookroom, the Developmental Reading Assessment2 on a shelf, and good anchor charts up in classrooms.  I spent time with a fourth grader thinking about tangrams from his center/choice folder.  You can't go wrong when looking at engagement and tangrams.  I hope you all have them in your classrooms.

I saw teachers engaged with guided reading groups and guided math groups. We heard about teacher engagement with their own learning through working with their Academic Dean.  One the primary roles of the Academic Dean is to guide and teachers and provide professional development monthly if not bi-weekly to the teaching staff.  The staff is young and a lot of recognition needs to be given to the organizers of Rocketship Schools.  They knew time would need to be invested in their young teaching staff.  During the Launch teachers were equally engaged with song and saying their creed and core values.  It was so nice to see teachers engaged  with the whole community and in their classrooms.  Teacher are also organized to focus on one learning area math or literacy block and teach that to two groups.  Even in kindergarten.  I don't know how I feel about switching students but there are some days focusing on one area of learning might be a blessing. We all have so much to do and so many talents to have.

Students engaged with technology was not what I was hoping to see.  There was a very large room with cubicles each creating a work station for a student to work on computer programs.  The students spend 30 min a day on reading programs and 30 min a day on a math program during their learning lab time.  The other minutes of this block are spent outside doing a PE activity or playing.  This learning lab room was large enough to fit three classes - 90 students.  

The parent engagement component of Mosaic School was impressive.  Parents are visible during the morning drop off and a few stayed to be part of the Launch ceremony.  Parents are asked and required to do 30 hours of volunteer time.  The hours may be with the children or around the children.  With the children would be working in a classroom or attending school events with your children.  Around the children could be working at school preparing materials, taking materials home to prepare, attending community meetings, coffee breaks with the principal, supporting new parents, office help, attending PTO events and helping.  The school keeps track of these hours using an online site, I believe and the parent's hours are tracked and reported on the students report card.  We met with a parent panel and it was obvious the joy and need these parents felt to volunteer and help out their school community.  It takes a village and Mosaic has that going on.

My own thinking and reflection is still going on as I think about engagement.  The technology I saw is not what I hope to create or do within my classroom.  Which leads to further thinking, what do I want to create for and with my students?  What tools do I want to use to make innovative learning happen?  I was so happy to see workshop models happening at Mosaic.  The parent engagement piece is pretty amazing.  I think this engagement level for each parent increases pride and ownership in their schools.  It might a piece of the puzzle to increase parent ownership in their student's learning and growth.  One parent commented they attend community meetings because they want their students to see they care about the learning and their school.  Community meetings address concerns for the school - a couple of weeks before their was a shooting on the corner after school hours.  Community meetings are also informative for parents.  They are not gatherings to report on PTO business or planning events.  I have had open houses after each unit of content study.  I have had literacy learning nights or math nights for parents.  Maybe I need to think about those again.  School funding is being cut all over our country.  We need help preparing materials and working with children, who better to recruit than the parents in our room.  Each year it seems parent volunteers have declined and the need increases.  It takes a village to raise a community.  Thank you Mosaic for reminding me of this.

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