Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Seabury’s Safe Start Plan

You might have seen the recent headlines. Several private schools in Pierce County plan to open for in-person instruction fall, despite a continued increase in COVID cases. “Is that the right call?” asked The News Tribune headline.
Seabury School was not included in those stories. With Sept. 2, our first day of school, still about a month away and with guidance on safe reopening still emerging and developing, we have not yet decided to make the “call” to either open our campuses for in-person learning or to start with distance learning. What we have done is worked exhaustively to be ready to open safely. That is what our students and staff deserve and what many families want.
We keep constantly up to date on all guidance from Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, the Washington Department of Health, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, the Center for Disease Control, Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), Northwest Association of Independent Schools (NWAIS) and the Washington Federation of Independent Schools (WFIS).  We expect further guidance in the coming days or weeks that will provide us with more specific criteria we can use to determine when it is safe for us to re-open for in person learning.
Seabury’s small classes and unique classroom spaces allow us potentially different choices than are available to larger, public schools. Each of our spacious classrooms has a separate entrance to the outside (no hallways!) and each has its own bathroom, making it easy for us to keep kids and adults in small, cohort groups and minimize exposure during the day. Our maximum class size is 15. Six-foot distancing is not a problem. All staff will wear masks, so will students, from pre-k through eighth grade. Everyone will have daily health checks.
We are also setting up our teachers to be able to easily take class outside. We will have two new outdoor classroom spaces at the lower school. And we have the whole city just outside at the middle school, particularly Broadway Plaza which is just across the street. Each teacher and student will be provided with a portable seat and an outdoor learning kit. The learning kits for our second graders, for example, include a Coleman portable chair, weatherproof pencil box, dry erase pen, mini whiteboard, and clipboard among other items that can be carried in the pocket of their chair.
If we are at home, our teachers are ready to provide a dynamic and engaging distance-learning program. Weare taking lessons we learned in the spring and are planning parent and student trainings that will allow students to operate more independently and adults at home to feel more comfortable supporting students. We're adding morning meetings and daily math and literacy lessons. A combination of virtual classes and digital tools will ensure students get the support they need, including the instruction tailored to gifted learners our teachers are experts at providing. So no matter how we start this fall, students will experience the joy of Seabury learning at school and at home. 
As we plan for the fall, the biggest difference between Seabury and most other schools is that our small size will allow us to pivot quickly between being at school and being at home. If we open, and suddenly need to close, we are equipped to make the switch seamlessly – and vice versa. By being prepared for both in-person and distance learning, we still have time to wait for the best science available before we make a decision about the start of school. And our ability to pivot quickly now and throughout the school year, will allow us to maximize every possible minute for learning this year.
Seabury is a small independent school without expansive grounds or a large endowment. We serve students whose families often find us because their needs aren’t being met elsewhere, and they often sacrifice to pay tuition. Our general population doesn’t have deep pockets.  But we have invested every dollar we can to make our facility even safer, to ensure distance learning fully meets the needs of Seabury kids and families, and to provide additional financial aid to families that need support during these difficult times. 
Our plans for fall are to be ready for learning in the safest way possible and to ensure that Seabury‘s kids engage in the joy of discovery and that they are challenged every day whether we are at home or at school. We will be ready to provide a safe, creative and joyful place to go to school, whether in person or digitally.
School will start on Sept. 2. And it will start in the safest format for staff and kids based on the best science we can get our hands on. Whatever this year looks like, we'll make it a great one! 

– Seabury's Admin Team

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Distance Learning. Online Learning. Homeschooling. What’s the Difference?

As schools have been required to move their programs from in person to virtual, they have used a number of tools to deliver educational programming to students. Seabury has referred to our at-home program as Distance Learning – Seabury Style because that best describes the program we are providing for our students during this time apart. While we are using online tools and students learn at home, there are some significant differences between online learning, homeschooling, and distance learning. Especially Distance Learning – Seabury Style.

Online learning is widely available. It is designed to deliver content, often in a step-by-step fashion. Students complete a placement test and begin a series of lessons designed to incrementally increase their knowledge and skills. Even in online programs where students have access to a teacher, the primary role of that teacher is to deliver content. Khan Academy, Duolingo and Beast Academy are great examples of online learning programs. Some of our teachers use online learning programs as part of our broader distance-learning program and find they work particularly well when teaching discrete, sequential skills. These programs typically do not provide opportunities for exploring broader multidisciplinary concepts or for collaboration, discussion or building relationships between teachers and students.  Expectations are generalized; programming is based on the progression and pace of typical students.  Even when there are opportunities to test out of skills and speed up the pace of learning, the steps still tend to be small and sequential.  While this can be helpful for some students, some of our students have found this step-by-step approach to be confining when they are able to take bigger leaps in their learning.

Distance learning also shares similarities with homeschooling, but it’s not the same. Homeschooling parents are responsible for seeking out curriculum materials, developing lessons, assessing student progress – for both creating and delivering the child’s educational program. In distance learning, Seabury’s teachers are doing that work. Parents provide the space, time and encouragement for learning to happen – ideally they act as coaches and cheerleaders for the learning process. The program itself, including daily lessons, group and individual gatherings, differentiation for individual needs, evaluation of student work, are provided by Seabury’s teachers. It’s a partnership. A number of our families have homeschooled at some point in their child’s life and have shared that there is a huge difference between helping their children access Seabury’s program and having to create their own programs for their children.

Distance learning, and particularly Distance Learning – Seabury Style, is relational. It is built on relationships between teachers and students, as well as among students. Distance learning is a more complete educational program than online learning. It is designed not just to cover content with one-size-fits-all packets or learning modules. Distance learning teachers design learning experiences for the particular interests, needs and abilities of specific groups of students at specific times.

Just as Seabury’s teachers tailor expectations to address an individual student’s academic needs at school, teachers pay attention to the whole child in distance learning and make adjustments daily. They determine who needs extra help, provide additional challenges for students who want more, and make adjustments for learning needs or family circumstances that require changes in expectations, assignments or timelines. Our specialists provide opportunities for students to engage with art, music and movement. Activities such as class meetings, individual meetings, virtual recess, middle school advisories and class clubs provide students with social opportunities, stress management, and support from adults and kids, in addition to those in their families. Middle school students start their day with a mindfulness activity to help them be centered and engaged. Preschool and kindergarten students have regular sharing times where they get to have the spotlight, and also listen to each other, just as they would in circle time at school.

Just like at school, our teachers evaluate students’ progress and readiness for new material not only through the work they turn in, but through their participation in discussions and individual and small group meetings. Parents and other family members can serve as facilitators and cheerleaders and leave the job of assessment to teachers, who help students decide when their work is good enough and it’s time to move on. Teachers are there to provide the support and encouragement needed for continued growth.

Doing school at home is hard work whether you are supporting your child with online learning, creating a homeschool program, or facilitating their participation in distance-learning. The past months have been a time of learning new routines, figuring out how to manage work and play in the same space, and finding new ways to engage with one another.

We’ve learned a lot during this time that has allowed us to make Distance Learning – Seabury Style even more responsive to the needs of our students and their families. We look forward to the day when we can be back together in person. Regardless of what is required of schools next year, we will be ready to provide Learning – Seabury Style, whether we are 6 feet apart or meeting from a greater distance.

– Head of School Sandi Wollum

Thursday, May 14, 2020

What We Know

Exactly two months ago today, I informed our administrative team, teachers, students, families and board that we would be closing our school buildings and moving to distance learning in order to help protect the health of our community during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a Thursday, and I will never forget it. I saw both tears and excitement on our kids’ faces as I told them that the next day would be our last day at school, possibly for quite a while. There was excitement when I mentioned science might include counting the bugs in their backyard and that we would be part of the biggest community service project in history. There were tears at the thought of not seeing their teachers and friends for as long as this lasted.

Two months later, we have shifted to distance learning, had a successful online school auction, and have learned more than we could have imagined about being a community and doing school when we are physically separated.

As we approach the end of the school year, we have lots of questions about what school will look like next year for Seabury and for schools in general. We are working hard to plan protocols, strategize various scenarios, and ensure that all our plans maximize the health and safety of our students, families and staff.

After spending hours combing websites, consulting with other schools, talking with medical and public health experts and planning with our own team, I can tell you that there is much we don’t know.

But there ARE things that we DO know, things that are at the heart of Seabury and will continue to be whether we are at home or at school or a combination of the two.

We know our kids

With our small classes and child-centered program, one of the hallmarks of Seabury is that we are a place where your child is seen, celebrated and supported. After working remotely with our kids in their homes, we know even more about them. We have seen them in their pajamas and met their dogs and favorite stuffies. We have seen how they have managed the stresses of these past months and have been able to be part of their support system. 

Next year, whether we do school at school or school at home or some combination of the two, we will continue to build relationships with our students. We’ll get to know new students, build friendships, and we’ll help our kids connect with each other. We will make adjustments to each child’s program to support their learning, social-emotional and family needs. Because that’s what we do at Seabury. We have learned a great deal this year about how to support kids in making social connections even when we are at home, and we have plans to continue those connections through the summer. Regardless of how we do school next year, Seabury will be a place where kids will know they are seen, celebrated and supported.

We know how gifted kids learn and grow
We know that our students are ready to move faster but that not everyone needs to go equally fast in every subject all the time, so we need to adjust the pace for individuals. We know that our students think deeply and ask profound and interesting questions even at a young age, so we engage in inquiry learning and focus on complex, analytical and creative reasoning. We know that students need opportunities to be creative and  to take a different approach to a problem or a project. We know there are some times when there is only one right answer (2+2=4) but that there are lots of times when our students see better ways to solve problems or create projects than we could have imagined. 

When we shifted to distance learning, we built our at-home program with the same priorities as our at-school program – to challenge, inspire, and stretch the minds of our highly capable students. We found new ways to provide structure for those who struggle with executive function. Teachers set up personal meetings with their students to help tailor the program to individual needs and group meetings so students have a chance to collaborate and inspire each other. Teachers created rigorous, thought-provoking lessons, and also developed ways to support students’ social-emotional growth and health, such as providing virtual recess for elementary students and morning mindfulness for those in middle school. As we prepare for next year, we are incorporating all we learned this spring with all we know about our gifted learners to make sure that our program challenges, supports and inspires our students whether we are at home, at school or some combination.
We know our families 
Seabury has always valued collaboration with families. Volunteer hours are written into enrollment contracts because we know that when families are involved in the education of their children, their children do much better. As a small community of families raising kids who are growing and learning in unique ways – and who can be both a joy and a challenge to raise – we create space for families to learn more about how to support their children and to connect with each other. 

As we moved to distance learning, we have gotten to know our families even better. We have been so grateful for their support through the challenges and their honesty when things weren’t going smoothly. We have learned and grown together as a distance learning community, and we will take what we have learned to make sure that we provide families with the tools to support their children and stay connected as a community in the 2020-21 school year,  whether we are at home or at school. While our job is to teach our students, we know we can’t do that well without their families, and we will continue to be grateful for our partnership.

There is a lot we don’t know about next year. Will we be at school? We hope so! Will we wear masks? We might be. Will we do school at home? We're likely to be back and forth and we'll be ready for that. We have the tools and expertise to ensure that Seabury’s program meets the needs of our students wherever we are.

There are still many unknowns. But we promise that wherever we are, whether we wear masks or have more pajama days, we will be Seabury. And Seabury will be ready to provide the best in child-centered gifted education.

– Head of School Sandi Wollum

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Is This Good Enough?

One of the challenges of distance learning is the question, “Is this good enough?” or, “Can I be done now?” Teachers answer this question all the time when we are at school and have context not only about what’s expected for the age/grade level, but also about what each child is capable of. What is outstanding for one child might be minimal effort for another child, so our teachers are constantly tailoring expectations to individual children to make sure that each is being sufficiently challenged, but not overwhelmed. At school, teachers calibrate expectations not only by seeing finished work, but also watching the children as they do their work.

During distance-learning, parents, grandparents and others working with kids at home are typically the first to get that question. It can be difficult to answer, because although you know your child well, you don’t know your child at school as well. Since starting distance learning, teachers have observed kids who have stepped up and are doing their best work ever. They have seen others who are struggling for a variety of reasons and are working with those kids and families to adjust expectations so those kids can experience success. And we have seen other kids who suddenly have no idea how to do something we have seen them do independently at school on countless occasions. Having family members nearby might seem a convenient escape hatch. They could need an extra push to step up and do what they are capable of doing.

The question, “Is this good enough?” is further complicated because many gifted kids are perfectionists. Perfectionism is a trait we see often in gifted people of all ages. So, you can imagine there might be concern at home over the definition of “good enough.” Too much time might be spent on an assignment that wasn’t intended to be that difficult. At school, we help kids judge. For example, a research paper a student has worked on for months with lots of time to edit and revise would have different expectations than a story reflection paragraph where 10 minutes of class time was allotted.

Teachers are experienced at helping children navigate these decisions at each grade level. They also know each child’s strengths and weaknesses. They know whether each child, on this particular assignment, typically needs an extra push or needs permission to call it good enough rather than stressing over it, trying to make it perfect.

As an adult at home in this partnership with school, the best thing you can do when you get the “Is this good enough?” question is to respond back with a question:
“Do you feel like you’re done?”
“Are you proud of your work?”
“Do you think this will give your teacher the best understanding about what you’ve learned / what you know / what you can do?”

Coaching children to reflect on their effort will help them learn that hard work is most important. It’s a key life skill to recognize that the biggest fulfillment comes with producing work that you’re proud of.

It’s hard to watch children make mistakes on an assignment or realize they could do better. But remember, letting them turn the work in as they have completed it will allow teachers to see what they need and make adjustments to address those needs.

Our teachers know kids well. It’s one of the benefits of being at a school like Seabury with small classes and a program designed to meet every child where they are. Our teachers continue to do that during distance-learning. Being able to meet the needs of kids is what we do best, and it’s the work that we love.

– Sandi Wollum

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Distance Learning – Seabury Style: Meeting the Needs of Gifted Learners

Seabury School’s educational program is designed for the specific needs of gifted learners. So much of what we do has always relied on daily face-to-face, individual contact with our students so that we can ensure they get their learning needs met in every subject, every day.

But now, we find ourselves in a global pandemic. Our students are learning in their own homes, scattered across the Puget Sound Region. They are working alongside younger and older siblings and adults. Some of their parents are still working outside the home in essential jobs. Some have their own computers or tablets. Some families share one computer. Some students work at desks in their bedroom, at kitchen tables, snuggled with the family dog, on the backyard deck – or all of the above. How do Seabury’s teachers meet the needs of their gifted students in this time of distance learning? How do we address not only their unique learning needs, but also their unique circumstances?

Lessons Learned About Educating the Gifted and Talented: A Synthesis of the Research on Educational Practice, by Dr. Karen Rogers, is a synthesis of 150 years of research. The study recommends five key practices for the effective education of gifted learners. These practices are fundamental to our regular program at Seabury.

So what about Distance Learning – Seabury Style? How do those practices apply now?

Gifted and talented learners need daily challenge in their specific areas of talent. We want our students to learn something new every day at school. Our kids come to us with various interests and abilities. In fact, it’s common for gifted students to have varying levels of abilities in different subjects. A child might be exceptionally gifted in math and less so in reading, or vice versa. Some of our students are also twice-exceptional, meaning they are gifted, but also have a learning difference such as ADHD or dyslexia that impacts how they learn. Our teachers make adjustments in the pace of learning and expectations for each student based on that student’s readiness. Even when the teacher gives every child the same assignment or project, their expectations for the outcome vary – some are asked to do more, and others might complete the work in a different way. The goal is for everyone to be challenged, but not overwhelmed. In distance learning, our goal is the same. During distance learning, teachers teachers can’t observe children during a lesson or while they are working, so they are finding creative ways to get this information by conferencing with students on their work, and through Zoom meetings and tutoring sessions. But they depend on students (or their parents if they are young) for feedback on whether work is too hard, too easy, too little, too much or if it needs to be done differently.
What Families Can Do: If children are old enough, have the child reach out to the teacher if an assignment needs adjusting. For younger children, adults working with them at home should reach out. Our teachers differentiate, or individualize, every day and want to make sure that school is meaningful and provides appropriate challenge for every child.

Opportunities should be provided on a regular basis for gifted learners to be unique and work independently in their areas of passion and talent. At school, we have many opportunities for this each week through Genius Hour in the MakerSpace, project choices, art, creative writing, passion projects, electives, free choice times – and more. At home, there are also many opportunities for kids to explore their passions and find new interests. Teachers are providing optional assignments for students who want a deep dive into the subjects they are studying. Teachers also recognize while our children are learning at home with parents and other family members as partners, it can be a time to explore interests that might not be possible at school. Baking with a parent or grandparent is an opportunity to learn about fractions and equivalence, as well as nutrition and hygiene. Working in a garden can become lessons in botany, entomology and geology. A neighborhood walk can test powers of observation and accomplish fitness goals. Just as teachers give our kids space to explore interests and passions at Seabury’s campuses, the school-home distance learning partnership will provide those opportunities as well.
What families can do: When children ask questions, encourage exploration. That’s exactly what Seabury teachers do every day. The inquiry process means not only looking for the answer, but exploring the possibility that there might be many answers, and that those answers might lead to more questions. From pre-k to eighth grade, our kids practice the inquiry process every day, and you will see it in our distance learning program. Encourage children to pursue interests outside of assigned schoolwork as well as optional assignments of interest. And encourage children to share what they learn with their teachers. Seabury teachers not only love to know more about their students’ interests, but are then able to incorporate those interests into future school activities. 

Provide various forms of subject-based and grade-based acceleration to gifted learners as their educational needs require: At the middle school this year, we have three grade levels, 20 students and six math levels that range from sixth grade math through algebra two. In pre-k, we have students who are working on reading simple Bob books and students who read chapter books. Children working at home also need greater acceleration in some subjects. Our teachers use pre-assessments to determine what children are ready for each time they start a new unit of study, especially in math. Our students learn quickly. But they haven’t necessarily been exposed to everything equally so even as we accelerate students, we also find gaps in their learning. Add developmental readiness to that. Just because a second grader can read at a sixth grade level doesn’t mean that child comprehends in the same way a sixth grader would. It becomes a complicated proposition to figure out what a highly capable child needs, how fast the child can move through new concepts, and what they need next. Our teachers are experts at working with gifted kids on many levels at the same time and make sure children keep moving at a pace that is right. At school, our teachers have the advantage of being in the room as students are working. At home, as mentioned earlier, they need to rely on work turned in as well as questions raised to get that “just right” fit.
What families can do: This is another reason it is important to communicate with the teacher when things are too easy, too hard or need to be done differently. It is also important to remember that a child might move more quickly in some subjects or in some units of study than others. Just like a child’s growth in height doesn’t follow a steady, predictable pattern, a child’s academic growth also goes in spurts. Additionally, at this time of heightened stress for everyone, a child’s progress might slow or their attention wander. It’s ok. We’re there to support all of our children and families through this. And when the students are ready to pick up their normal pace – and that time WILL come – our teachers will be ready for that, too.

Provide opportunities for gifted learners to socialize and to learn with like ability peers. This is one of the biggest benefits of being at Seabury. The chance to learn and grow with kids who “get” you. You have probably seen how important this is to our kids if you have listened in on any of your child’s Zoom class meetings. Our children connect on a deep level and inspire each other. In the classroom, they spark ideas in each other and support each other. When kids come to us from other schools, it is often one of the first things they notice – they can be themselves at Seabury in a way they can’t anywhere else. This is vital as they develop their sense of self-confidence and self-esteem. It is in learning to navigate these early friendships with intellectual peers that they gain the skills they’ll need learn to work and learn with all kinds of people. As we moved to distance learning, we recognized how important Zoom meetings would be for kids to be able to make these connections with each other. Hanging out, sharing ideas, laughing at each others’ jokes is important for their social-emotional learning and mental health. Tools like Flipgrid and programs such as advisory, as well as individual and small group check ins with teachers and virtual play dates are all important ways of keeping our kids connected with each other. You can see the joy in their faces when they connect with friends online.
What families can do: This is a difficult time as we face an unprecedented global crisis. No matter the age of your child, they feel the stress and uncertainty. It may show up in worry, but it could also show up as silliness, inattention, lack of interest in schoolwork, irritability, etc. Classroom Zoom meetings, advisories, and other real time connections with classmates are as important as academic work in order to help kids feel connected. Adults who have watched classroom Zoom meetings might wonder why teachers take time for silliness or sharing. It’s because because our kids crave these connections. Adults help support their Seabury kids’ social-emotional growth by getting them to as many of these meetings as possible. They can also help set up virtual playdates with friends. We have heard about kids playing Adventure Academy, Roblox or other games together, practicing ukulele together and hanging out on FaceTime. Older kids know how to do this on their own, but might need oversight. Younger kids may need more adult assistance to connect – and also need oversight. 

For specific curriculum areas, instructional delivery must be differentiated in pace, amount of review and practice, and organization of content presentation: Seabury’s program includes inquiry learning, multi-disciplinary studies and projects. These are all instructional approaches that are best practice for gifted children. Because our kids learn information quickly, we don’t use a lot of repetitive drills. Rather we take learning and apply it to promote complex, higher level thinking. In distance learning, you may notice that teachers start with a big picture overview of a new unit. Gifted students are more likely to be “whole to part” learners. In distance learning, teachers adjust the pace not only to students’ learning needs, but also to family needs. That’s why teachers are providing a combination of basic work and optional work so that the pace and depth can not only be adjusted to what the child is ready for, but also to what works for the family, especially with younger students who need more help from adults.
What families can do: Our teachers know how to deliver content to our children and know lots about how each of their students learn. What they learn more about each day is how individual children are doing in this stressful environment, how much help (and wifi bandwidth) is available at home so they can determine what are reasonable expectations. Knowing that what is reasonable will change over time. They are ready to adjust expectations and projects as kids get into the groove of working from home. When a teacher gives a big picture overview of what is coming next, nobody should panic; not all the work has to be done at once. It’s a preview, so the child has context for their learning, because this is how gifted kids learn best.

As you can see, Seabury’s program both at school and from a distance is grounded in meeting the needs of our unique kids. We have always treated learning as a partnership with families, and we are experiencing that now more than ever. Shifting to distance learning has been a huge learning curve for our faculty and staff. But the fundamentals of our program have not changed. We know gifted kids. We know our kids. And we will walk through this time supporting their academic and social-emotional needs together.

      Sandi Wollum

Source: Lessons Learned About Educating the Gifted and Talented:
A Synthesis of the Research on Educational Practice
Karen B. Rogers
University of New South Wales
Gifted Child Quarterly

Volume 51 Number 4 Fall 2007 382-396 © 2007 National Association for Gifted Children 10.1177/0016986207306324 http://gcq.sagepub.com hosted at http://online.sagepub.com

Friday, January 24, 2020

Seabury School and differentiation

Differentiated instruction – teaching tailored to students’ different learning styles and levels – is an educational concept that has been around for decades. It is a concept that’s embraced by most schools in theory – and varying degrees of practice.

Because it is essential for gifted children to have a program designed to address their individual characteristics, needs, abilities, and interests, differentiating curriculum so that each child is appropriately challenged is at the core of Seabury School’s mission.

Learn more about differentiated instruction at Seabury in this Q&A with Head of School Sandi Wollum.

How do you define differentiated instruction?

It goes back to the fundamental philosophy that every child gets to learn something new at school every day. Giving every child equal access to education means you need to do different things for different children.

Isn’t that just common sense?

Not always. Some systems in schools are set up to say that every kid should hit the same academic milestones in same way at the same time. We don’t expect children to hit growth charts like that. We don’t expect their T-ball skills to develop like that. Why do we expect their reading or math or other academic skills to develop like that?

How do we ensure differentiation happens at Seabury?

At Seabury, we have small classes and highly trained teachers in order to be able to appropriately challenge every single child, every single day. Most gifted kids are not equally gifted in every area. They have strengths and weaknesses like everyone else. Although our classes are small, the range of needs is extremely wide.

What might that look like in one of our classes?

In a first grade class, we might find students whose reading hasn’t really clicked yet, where they’re still struggling to sound out words, but who also have highly advanced comprehension skills when they hear a story read.  Other children might be reading chapter books meant for fifth or sixth graders, and yet only have five or six years of life experience so while they “understand” what they are reading, they don’t comprehend like an older student would. It makes the range of abilities in any class wide.  And they’re all still gifted.

How does a teacher address this?

What it means in a first-grade reading class is that kids who are not decoding well need to be stretched in decoding, while still being offered materials that allow them continue to stretch their already high level of comprehension.

With the early readers, Seabury teachers know that they usually start reading spontaneously without relying on phonics, so the teachers work with them to notice things like patterns that they haven’t been exposed to. They don’t need phonics to be able to sound out words, but understanding word patterns will help with spelling and vocabulary development.

How can this apply in math?

You might have kids who are gifted in one facet of math because they have had some previous exposure to it and learned it quickly. But in other areas, they may have had little or no exposure and be totally new to the concept being taught.  Teachers need to be able to assess what kids have mastered already and skip that material in order to spend time on concepts they haven’t yet mastered.  They need to sort out whether kids really understand concepts, or have just memorized a series of steps for solving a problem.  And they need to adjust the pace of instruction to match the child’s learning.  Gifted kids need fewer repetitions to master new material, so teachers need to be keen observers and able to adjust the pace of instruction as needed.

How do our teachers find out what children know?

We do a lot of pre-testing and post-testing, and assessments all year long. Our teachers have to know our students really well. They are keen observers every day, constantly monitoring the pace and depth and amount of practice that kids need.

It sounds complicated.

It means really complex scheduling. Students are loosely grouped. But teachers are constantly observing and readjusting. Who’s ready to go faster? Who needs more practice? Who’s ready to move on?   It might mean giving out three different homework assignments for five kids. Or at the middle school, a math teacher with a dozen students might need to create five different finals. Recently a college professor looked at some papers done by our middle school students and commented that the writing was better than much of the work turned in by his students. Every one of our middle school students gets one-on-one time with a teacher on those papers. Our teachers are good at asking things like, “I wonder what would happen if you do this?”

Could we do what we do if we had 25 kids in a class?

Not to the extent that we do. Not with the day-to-day adjustments we do. No human teacher I’ve met could do it. There’s another layer on top of the academic ­– the social-emotional stuff. Our teachers also know that this kid really loves this; or this kid is having a rough time in his family; or this kid is a perfectionist. If you’d asked me when I was a public school teacher, I would have told you I knew all the kids in my class, but it wasn’t the same. When I came here, I thought with 15 kids this is going to be so easy. I spent so much more time with each kid. I knew them so much better. At the same time I was working so much harder because the adjustments were so much more nuanced.

Differentiation was originally devised so teachers could move away from tracking groups of kids. How do we at Seabury avoid having children making comparisons or feeling labeled if they know they’re in a less advanced, math group, for example?

Our overall focus is always on everyone getting what they need. We focus on kids’ strengths. After they’ve been here for a little while, they should be very aware of their strengths. This is also one of the reasons it’s important to have gifted kids with other gifted kids.  In a class of more typically developing kids, if they find that they’re always picking up on things before everyone else, they don’t get a sense of their strengths – or weaknesses. They either get a sense that everything should be easy and shy away from challenge,  or they develop a fear that the first time they don’t know something, there’s something really wrong. We want them to understand that they don’t have to be good at everything, and at the same time help them develop the work ethic and grit that comes from taking on challenges and being confident that the effort is worth it. 

What else is important to know about differentiating for gifted kids?

The vast majority of teachers have zero training in gifted kids. That means that despite their good intentions for our kids, they’re often operating on myths that are just not true.  For example, more work is not better work.  Rigor is not measured in hours of homework per night and, in fact, more work for the sake of adding work can be detrimental to the growth of gifted kids.  Research shows that gifted kids’ achievement goes down with excessive practice beyond what is needed to master the skill they are learning. Gifted kids learn quickly in their areas of giftedness, so need less time practice time to master a skill and more time to apply it in new and more complex ways. 

Seabury’s teachers understand gifted kids – how they learn, what the research says about their intellectual, social and emotional development, and how to both support and challenge them.  Our approach really goes back to that basic philosophy that EVERY child deserves to learn something new EVERY day.  Including gifted kids.

Further reading on myths about giftedkids

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Gift of Adversity

It’s hard to see your child struggle.  As a parent, one of the biggest challenges we face is how to handle those moments when our children are unhappy, uncomfortable, frustrated, angry, hurt or overwhelmed.  From the time they are born, we worry about them, try to make the right decisions about what they will eat and where they will go to school, and do all we can to help ensure that they can grow up to have the life we dream of for them.
Now that he is in college, I have found myself reflecting on my son’s growing up – especially on those experiences that seem to have had the biggest impact on his development.  I’m grateful he was able to spend his elementary and middle school years at Seabury School, the school I head, a school designed for bright, sensitive, inquisitive gifted kids like him. Seabury was a place where he developed strong relationships with amazing children who are already proving to be lifelong friends.  Kids who were, and continue to be, kind and supportive and a joy to be around.

But if I am really honest about it, the experiences that have had the biggest impact on making him the responsible, well-rounded, incredible young man he has become were those that were the hardest.  When he was young it was dealing with the kid who was constantly provoking fights on the playground, the group projects with kids who didn’t pull their weight and left it all to him, having to room with the most annoying kid on a school trip.  As he got older, it was the difficult roommates and the challenging bosses and the frustrating teachers.  These challenging experiences, these times of struggle, are the moments that taught him the most about getting along with others and about how to be a friend.  They taught him to be resilient, to speak his truth, to choose friends wisely, and especially that he had the resources to solve problems.

As a parent, those times were, and are, hard.  It was, and is),heartbreaking to see him struggle.  My impulse is to rescue him.  To make it easier.  To fix what’s wrong. To take the hurt away and make it all better. 

I’m glad that I resisted (most of the time).  It isn’t easy.  Even now that he is an adult, I struggle to listen and support without swooping in to fix it for him. But I know that is what I must do.  I realize that many of the traits that serve him best now – independence, leadership, responsibility, confidence, compassion – were developed as he found his way through those difficult times.  Of course it was important that he had good times and experienced tremendous support from his friends But if I’m really honest about it, his incredible social skills were honed by navigating situations with the challenging kids.   

Rescuing him would have not only deprived him of opportunities for growth, but would have sent the message that I wasn’t confident he could handle whatever challenges faced him.  Of course, there were situations that required me to step in because they were too dangerous or too far beyond what he was ready for, but those were few and far between compared to those that required me to step back or come alongside while he worked through the challenge and made mistakes along the way.  

As parents, we need to hold each other up, because parenting is hard.  We need to help each other find the courage as we watch our kids struggle. 

We need to walk through difficult situations with our kids rather than rescuing them from every bump in the road.  To let our kids know we have confidence that they can solve problems for themselves rather than sheltering them from adversity.  To give them the gift of experiencing the natural consequences of their choices – even when those consequences are hard to take.  Because it’s in the times of struggle that they grow most profoundly.