James River Day School

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January 10, 2019

Everyday, James River students experience incredible learning opportunities, inside and outside the classroom. This week, I had a chance to sit in Ms. Ream’s first period literature class as they presented their findings based on readings they did on topics such as emotional intelligence, how the brain works, and the roles resting brain (boredom) plays in developing creativity, among other things.
 
As part of the project, student broke into teams to read and analyze current articles written by professionals in their fields. The goal was to break the text down into meaningful ideas and have students synthesize and organize what they learned into presentations to be shared with their peers. The project design was inspired, in part, by Ted Dintersmith’s book What Schools Could Be and his PEAK acronym -- purposeful learning, essential skills, student agency, and knowledge. (For more information on this, see my October 19, 2018 blog entry.)
 
Ms. Reams had several other goals in mind when she launched the project, one of which was to give students an authentic opportunity to collaborate, one of the feature elements of Dintersmith’s essential skills. Ms. Reams noted that effective collaboration is hard to learn to do well, as it needs both individual and collective contribution. She designed the project to include formal reflection, “a key element of the project which allowed students to both reflect on their own contributions and those of the team. Self- and peer-evaluation is really valuable.”
 
As an observer, I was incredibly impressed with the depth and breadth of the information the students learned and shared with their peers. The students were operating at a very high level. Ms. Reams agreed, sharing that “some of the groups worked well above the typical expectations of their age; it was high school-esque. It was a remarkable opportunity for the students to synthesize information and see its relevance in the world today.” She also commented that, “It’s nice to talk with students about research and what’s happening in the world. They hear about these ideas, so it was great to let them ‘get into it’ deeply.”
 
As a teacher of reading, Ms. Reams is always motivated to find ways to connect students with literature of all types and to help students build skills that they will carry into life. While reading fiction is important on many levels, Ms. Reams highlighted, “This project addressed some core skills, too, like reading non-fiction text, interacting with complex vocabulary, and public speaking.”
 
Ms. Ream’s class will next dive into Sherlock Holmes’ Hound of the Baskervilles. She wants her students to experience and value literature, from the current to the classic. Both types of literature serve roles in developing students’ appreciation of rich text, increasing their understanding the journey that literature has taken over the years, and fostering their journey to becoming lifelong readers and learners. As Ms. Reams noted, “When someone reads, they are getting smarter.”