Archives For Regional School District #6

Screenshot 2014-03-21 21.09.03Our school has been preparing for an accreditation by the New England Association of Schools & Colleges, Inc. (NEASC), and that means two things:

Housecleaning and housekeeping.

The housecleaning is the easy part. A great deal of time and effort has been spent on making the school look nice to the accreditation team. Considering that our campus is in the bucolic Litchfield Hills of Connecticut, we had a great start. Our building is extremely well maintained, and our maintenance staff has been recognized for their “green” maintenance policies. The final details to housecleaning were the addition of student art on the walls and a large canvas featuring the student designed logo that centers on the motto “Quality, Academics, Pride.”

Preparing the housekeeping was different. Housekeeping required that all stakeholders in our school community reflect on how well do we keep our “house”-our school- running. There have been meetings for the past two years: meetings with community members,  meetings with students, meetings with teachers across disciplines. There have been committees to research eight topics:

  • Core Values, Beliefs, and Learning Expectations
  • Curriculum
  • Instruction
  • Assessment of and for Student Learning
  • School Culture and Leadership
  • School Resources for Learning
  • Community Resources for Learning

After all the meetings came the writing of the reports, and after all the reports came the gathering of the evidence. Finally, the evidence sits in eight bins in a room in the agricultural wing of the school ready for the volunteer accreditation team to review.

What is most striking about the collected evidence is the variety. The evidence today contrasts to the evidence from the accreditation several years ago.  For each lesson plan on paper, there is a digital lesson plan. For each student essay drafted, peer-reviewed, and handwritten on composition paper, there is a Google Doc with peer comments, and to see each draft, one need only check “see revision history.” Whether or not members of the NEASC committee check the revision histories of individual documents is not as important as how they will check the history we have provided in the evidence bins and websites. In looking at the evidence, the NEASC committee will note our academic housekeeping, and they will make recommendations as to how we should proceed in the future.

The entire school community has every right to be proud of Wamogo Regional High School, and recommendations from NEASC will help guide us in the future. But for tonight, the housecleaning and housekeeping is over.  

A message from the Vice Principal arrived by e-mail tonight; she sums up the experience:

When driving home from school this evening, I was thinking about the arduous process we have all been engaged in over the past two years.  I don’t believe there is a single member of our school community that hasn’t played a part in this important preparation.  Many of you worked tirelessly on committees, writing reports, culling evidence, hanging student work, etc., etc., etc.  I just wanted to take a moment and  thank the entire Wamogo community for the rally we have all engaged in to prepare for this important visit.  I know that the visiting school will easily see what a special place Wamogo is and the obvious talents of our staff and students.  I am extremely proud of our school and want you to enjoy showing the visiting committee what wonderful work you are doing with our students.

Welcome, NEASC. Our house is ready.

Screen Shot 2013-12-22 at 10.51.28 PMSeveral of the 12th graders had taken the elective of Drama Class for their English IV because they did not think they would have to read. They were wrong; they read Our Town. A few of the 12th graders had taken the elective of Drama for their English class because they did not think they would have to write. They were wrong. They had journals. What was most surprising was the number of 12th graders who did not think that they had to act…or memorize lines.

As a precaution, the drama class teacher chose the play Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as their final production in the hopes that since the students already knew the plot, “They could always ad-lib.”

The play was cast with some additional dwarves (“Shorty” and “Weepy”) increasing the company to accommodate the number of students in the class. Rehearsals began, but the progress was slow. The principal parts were invested, but the dwarves were not, and their large numbers cluttered the small classroom stage area. They missed entrances, missed cues, missed lines, and when they were on set, they stood swaying or whispered so loudly as to drown out the lines of others. They were collectively the most awkward set of gigantic dwarves ever to inhabit a stage.

Nevertheless, the production was scheduled for appearances at three local elementary schools two days before the winter break. Props were prepared, costumes fitted, and sound cues burned onto a CD. Then, an ice storm two weeks before performance caused a car pile-up, and the drama club teacher was left with a concussion. She could not be in school; the students were on their own, and I was left to supervise.

There was a “dress rehearsal” the morning of the show; it was, as all dress rehearsals go, a disaster. “I don’t think you should take them,” advised a student who was watching. I had a sinking feeling; perhaps she was right. But, as the adage says, “The show must go on!”

Our first stop was in the elementary school gym, a cavernous space.
“You are going to have to be loud,” I cautioned, as members of the cast set up the magic mirror. Just then the announcements came on.

“Good morning,” chirped a little voice over the speakers, “Today is Thursday, December 19th…..” The announcements continued with students from the elementary school listing off birthdays, lunch menu details, and finally, the Pledge of Allegiance.

“Guys,” interrupted the most uncooperative dwarf to the other cast members, “listen to them….I mean…they’re so innocent! We can’t screw up now!” The others looked startled. There was no turning back; there was only forward movement, and that forward movement was going to have to be kid-friendly. For the first time since the auditions, they were quiet, and in that moment of recognition, the 22 students in drama class became a theatre troupe. I was certainly not a factor; this was entirely their decision. They had been prepared by their drama teacher for this moment, but they had never truly risen to the occasion. As they watched the audience of elementary school students file in, the gravity of their roles became real. The show was going on…

“Once upon a time….” the narrator began, and each cast member found their place on the gym floor stage. They recalled lines locked in the file drawers of recent memory or ad-libbed as needed. The Mirror told the Evil Queen she was no longer the most beautiful, the huntsman let Snow White run away, the dwarves found Snow White in their cottage, and the Evil Queen tricked Snow White with a poisoned apple.

There were plenty of errors. The sound cue for the Evil Queen (never used before) drowned out her entrance, the poisoned apple rolled into the hands of some smaller audience members, and when the Prince first kissed Snow White on the hand, there was a critique from an audience member who called out, “Now, that was lame.” But when the Prince finally kissed Snow White with “love’s first kiss”, there were cheers from the crowd, and an astonished cast stood together, hand in hand, taking their first (and again, unrehearsed) bow.

Piling on the bus to perform at the next elementary school, the cast was all business. During the 30 minute ride, they practiced lines and advised each other on what should happen for the next show. They were serious.

The next two performances at other elementary schools became more polished as students internalized their roles. They naturally changed their staging moving from gym floor to library floor. The Evil Queen tossed her hair with anger and the Prince strode onto the stage with more confidence. The dwarves were still cluttering the stage, and each time Doc announced the “death” of Snow White, they were unconcerned. While they were not “actors”, they were a source of comic relief, intentionally or not.

So, I watched the holiday miracle of 2013 repeated three times that day. The students in drama class at each school were applauded, and later that afternoon there were e-mails from the principals that offered praise.

The holiday season is a time for miracles. Their drama teacher should have been there to witness this one, but for now the videos will have to suffice. The end of 2013 has ended on a high note for those seniors. Heigh-ho to 2014!

Cast photo!

Cast photo!

Screen Shot 2013-11-29 at 12.50.41 PMThe National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the Council on English Leadership (CEL) met for a convention last week (11/21-26/13) at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, Massachusetts. Thousands of English teachers and educators (happily) put aside their piles of essays and their red pens in order to attend to participate in a nationwide conversation on teaching English/Language Arts at all grade levels. This annual conference runs the weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday, and this year there were many reasons to be thankful that such a great opportunity exists. Here are our specific thanks to all of those who made this conference amazing.

Thanks to our Regional School District #6 in Connecticut for allowing us to attend:

Our first and most important thanks is to the administration, Board of Education, and staff from Regional School District #6 that allowed five members of the English Department at Wamogo Middle/High School to attend the conference and select from over 700 sessions offered from Thursday night-Sunday afternoon.  District support for such great professional development is truly appreciated!

Thanks to the program chairs who selected our proposals:

Members of Wamogo Middle/High School English/Language Arts department submitted a variety of proposals last year to demonstrate how we use technology in our classrooms. We are grateful that four of our proposals were chosen to share as presentations for other educators. The explanations of our presentations with links to these presentations are included below:

The Blog’s the Thing! (NCTE) roundtable discussion

This presentation demonstrated the use of the blog platform for students to engage in thoughtful discussion on characters and themes from Hamlet by having students “stop the action” of the play to offer advice to characters during different scenes.

Reinventing the Writing Workshop with Digital Literacy to Improve Student Engagement (NCTE)

Technology has reinvented the Writing Workshop in meeting the needs of 21st Century learners with the addition of digital literacies. This presentation features open source software platforms appropriate to the different tasks, purposes and audiences for writing instruction along with examples of student work and grading criteria.

How We Mooo-ved Our District from Cows to Computer (CEL)

This presentation illustrated how professional development in our district was organized on the ED Camp model to allow any teacher who would like to share their expertise or simply discuss a problem with fellow staff or faculty members.These technology initiatives have allowed members of the English Department to help teachers assess, organize, deliver context materials and related readings (fiction and non-fiction) that improve students’ digital literacy as well as foster independence in each student’s growth in reading.

Digital Writing with Collaboration (CEL)

This presentation showed how preparing students to write for the real world  (21st Century skills) must include the collaborative experience, from the initial creation to the final product. The use of digital platforms allows students to be college and career ready through the production and distribution of collaborative writing.

Thanks to the many teachers and educators who presented:

We are also thankful that so many other classroom teachers and educators from all over the USA shared their best classrooms practices. Our collective regret is that we could not attend every session that appealed to us; the jam-packed schedule defied our best attempts at strategic selection. We agreed, however, that quality of the presentations we did get to attend was amazing and relevant to what we do every day. The conference reinforced the importance of teacher-to-teacher professional development.

Thanks to the book publishers who made books available for classroom libraries:

The NCTE Convention offers book publishers opportunity to put advanced reader copies of fiction and non-fiction into the hands of teachers at every grade level. While publishers hope to catch the attention of teachers who will recommend the book to students, teachers look for books to add to their classroom library collection. Many publishers also make books available at a reduced cost  for the same reason. For example, I picked up several copies of books in the “After the Dust Settled” series (apocalyptic young adult literature) by Jonathan Mary-Todd for $2/copy, a purchase made necessary because these books keep disappearing off our classroom library shelves.

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Our “haul” from the NCTE Convention from book publishers and authors…headed for our classroom libraries.


Thanks to the authors who gave away signed copies of their books:

The tote bags distributed free to all registrants bore popular author Nicholas Spark’s imprimatur, a visual testament to the celebrity draw of authors at this convention. Authors are the rock stars at this convention: the children’s book authors rock, the young adult authors rock, and the educator trade book authors rock. Attendees stood in lines snaking around booths on the convention floor waiting to meet authors and have books signed. In the past, my request to an author is to have the book signed with the phrase “READ ME!” on the inside cover. I had the same done this year, so when a student asks what to read, I will point that the author has already made a suggestion to read the book.

There were also a number of authors representing a variety of genres who served as keynote speakers including: Neal ShustermanTeri Lesesne, Laurie Halse AndersonKelly Gallagher, Walter Dean MyersIshmael Beah, and Robert Pinsky. 

We are so thankful to have the opportunity to personally meet and mingle with the rock stars of the convention!

Thanks for the Tweeters:

Finally, the fingers of dedicated Tweeters attending the convention kept us abreast of all the events at the conference. There was a steady stream of information from sessions we could not attend, summaries of keynotes addresses, and updates as to upcoming book signings. The hashtags #NCTE13 and #CEL13 were invaluable sources for notes and quotes during the convention and for well after we left Boston.  For example, some Friday session tweets were archived onto the Storify platform for later use.

Next year, the NCTE Convention is scheduled for Washington, D.C., which gives me one more reason to be thankful…the convention is within driving distance!

vet day

Tables sit prepped and ready for the Veterans Day crowd

I just returned from cooking several hundred eggs for the 16th Annual Veteran’s Day Breakfast, an event held at the Wamogo Middle/High School in Litchfield, Connecticut. This annual breakfast is offered by the student service groups (Student Council, Peer Counselors) for military veterans, servicemen, and their families. The food is cooked by teachers and student volunteers; even family members help out. This morning, the five-year-old son of the AP Psychology teacher stood next to me and stirred the scrambled eggs in one of several portable griddles. He had come prepared with his own chef’s apron “to cook for the soldiers”.

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Students serving Veterans and their families

The breakfast is served from 7:30AM until 10:30AM and serves large portions of the following: scrambled eggs, pancakes,bacon, sausage, hash browns, toast and baked goods. The coffee is hot and plentiful. The tables are decorated with cards from elementary schoolchildren in the district of hand-painted flags accompanied by letters thanking the veterans.

Veterans from all over the Litchfield and Northern Fairfield County area come to this event. Many wear their former military uniforms, while others wear jackets and hats bearing the insignia of a branch of the armed forces. Many veterans have patches or embroidered labels that indicate when they served (“Vietnam Veteran”, “Desert Storm”), other patches wear reminders of the continuing support necessary for POW/MIAs. Alumni who have joined a branch of the service return in their new uniforms and mingle with their former teachers and the underclassmen who remember them.

Wamogo Band performs at the annual Veteran's Day Breakfast.

Wamogo Band performs at the annual Veteran’s Day Breakfast.

The attendees are treated to performances by the school band and choir during the breakfast. Students have spent the past weeks practicing with either the chorus teacher or the band director in preparation for this event. The choir sings first with patriotic songs; some of the guests join in. The highlight of the morning, however, is the tribute to the veterans and servicemen when the songs from each branch of the service are played.

The Coast Guard march “Semper Paratrus” is played first, then, a medley of the other branches of the service theme music is played: “Anchors Aweigh” (Navy), “The Caissons Go Rolling Along” (Army), “The Halls of Montezuma” (Marines), and finally “The Air Force Song”-(‘Off we go into the wild, blue yonder…’)  As each song plays, those who have served or who are serving in that particular branch of the service, stand to receive the recognition and applause from the audience. This year, the number of Army and Air Force veterans was the largest, but when the lone Marine stood to be recognized, I overheard someone say, “That’s ok….one Marine is all that is necessary.”  Wamogo High School itself is well represented in each branch of the military; there are several students who enlist or enter an ROTC program at graduation every year, a percentage greater than the state average.

Canon Crew

Canon crew from the 1st Litchfield Artillary

To top off the morning, there is a cannon shot from the top of the hill by the Litchfield First Artillery Division whose members include some faculty. Overall, over 100 students, roughly 20% of the student body, participated today in cooking, cleaning tables, or serving food; or performing musically for the veterans. They came to school early- on a day off -to thank those who supported the United States by serving in the military in war and in peace, and who now continue to support Regional School District #6.

Those students and audience members who sang “America the Beautiful” this morning have seen, up close and personal, the faces of those who served. The students had the chance to sing to these veterans these high words of praise from this song….

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!

Thank you, Veterans and Servicemen, from Wamogo Middle/High School.

Three years ago, I was a part of a team of teachers and several administrators, including our current superintendent of schools, who attended the Florida Educational Technology Conference Screen Shot 2013-02-02 at 5.59.23 PM(FETC) as professional development to meet the coming demands for the 21st Century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. Our rural Regional School District #6 is small (under 1000 students total) tucked away in the pastoral splendor of the Northwest Corner of Connecticut. The regional high school (Wamogo Middle/High School) is a vocational agricultural school that brings in one-third of the population from surrounding communities. We have a cow, pigs, lambs, and fish on the high school campus at any given time of the year. Despite our rustic roots, we had a committed technology team that was willing to support early adopters of technology in the classroom.

When we attended this FETC in 2010, we were overwhelmed with the amount of educational technology that was competing for our attention; the exhibit floor was awash in hardware and software. We came home laden with flyers, booklets, and pamphlets. We took notes. We followed up links and websites. The experience was mind-boggling and exhausting.

This January (2013), several of us returned to FETC. The exhibit floor was still awash with hardware and software, but we were far more savvy. That is because in three short years our district invested in the necessary hardware and training for 21st Century educational skills. There are Smartboards in every classroom, a netbook 1:1 initiative in the elementary and middle schools, and iPads for faculty and staff. The high school is in its first year of a “bring your own digital device” policy. For two years now, we have had an EDCamp style professional development for our faculty and staff (K-12) to share what we have learned individually and collectively.

Consequently, during this FETC conference we were already familiar with the technologies featured in many of the sessions, and we could add to our knowledge base without feeling completely overwhelmed. In three years we learned the basics for wikis, blogs, podcast, vodcasts, screencasts, and websites. So, when we attended this FETC, we were prepared for the presentations and concurrent sessions that featured platforms we use daily such as Livebinders, Edmodo, WordPress, and Google apps. We were reassured that the open source software platforms we chose to use three years ago are still major players in education. We learned new ways to use technologies to help us assess, organize, and deliver content.

We attended keynotes that discussed the future of education:

  • Google Global Education Evangelist Jaime Casap spoke on “Unleashing the Power of the Web in Education”. His presentation focused on the power of collaboration and the rapidly changing way our students access and use information. “Your Smartphone?” he predicted with a laugh, “one day will be in a thrift store, purchased by some hipster as a nostalgic decorative touch.” The standardized test did not have a place in his vision of education.
  • Educational Consultant & Author, Dr. David Sousa, (How the Brain Learns, How the Brain Learns to Read, How the Brain Influences Behavior, and Brainwork: The Neuroscience of How We Lead Others), gave an address titled “Designing Brain Friendly Schools in the Age of Accountability”. His talk emphasized the importance of physical movement in learning, the needs for sleep for healthy cognitive processing, while dismissing the notion that anyone can “multi-task” effectively. “Multi-tasking three or four things means doing three or four things poorly,” he admonished those in the tech-connected audience who raised their hands as multi-taskers. He dismissed the standardized test as unnecessary.
  • Executive Director, Institute of Play, Katie Salen (Professor in the School of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul University) spoke on “Connected Learning: Activating Games, Design and Play”. This keynote offered video from students engaged in designing and playing games in different content areas. She explained that games allow students to “learn how to fail up” using immediate feedback and experience to reengage in a game. She dismissed standardized tests as “unimportant and that’s ok.”

While each keynote speaker addressed the role of technology in education differently, none of them saw the standardized test as a means to access what students were doing. There was no standardized tests in their visions of education. They rejected the idea of standardization entirely, speaking instead of collaboration and individual exploration. In contrast to the speeches, however, the exhibit floor was filled with software and hardware from the giants of the standardized testing industry: McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Global Scholar. The juxtaposition of what was being said in the keynote speeches about standardized testing with the marketing of materials by testing companies on the exhibit floor illustrates a huge conflict in the use of technology in education today: How will our schools systems be measured in this age of information? What will be important for our students to know? How will we measure these skills? The economic implications for testing companies cannot be ignored; they want a place at the local, state, and federal table where the education budget is being discussed.

Of course, our small district does not have the solutions to these questions, but what we do have is a sense of confidence in the tools of education technology. The attendees at this year’s FETC conference are confident that our school district is on the right track in providing an education with an emphasis on the 21st Century skills. We will be collaborating with our fellow faculty members, communicating what we learned, critically thinking about how to use technology in our classrooms in order to enhance our students creativity.

While we were attending, we met members of a neighboring school district who were attending FETC for the first time. We recognized the glassy-eyed look of a first visit; they claimed to be “overwhelmed.” They also told us that they were attending because, “we saw what you all had done. We are here because of you!”

In three years, the teachers in Regional School District # 6  have achieved competence and confidence in the use of technology because of our administration, our regional Board of Education, and the Superintendent’s commitment to the future of education. As one science teacher tweeted during a session he was attending, “Don’t mean to brag, but I’m lighting this social media seminar up. Props to Region 6 for giving me the freedom to communicate.”

The National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention and the Council on English Leadership Convention begin this weekend (11/15-21) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and I am so delighted to have the opportunity to present with my fellow faculty member, Stephanie Pixley, at three separate sessions. We are able to present to other teachers because of the great support and training our Regional School District #6 (Administration and Board of Education) has given its teachers in the use of technology in classrooms to improve student learning and develop 21st Century skills.

Wamogo High School in Litchfield, Connecticut, is a 1:1 Bring Your Own Digital Device (BYOD) school for grades 9-12, and we are learning everyday how our students’ use of technology has helped us differentiate our instruction, increase our students’ independence, and allow us to provide authentic tasks for our students. Last year, we used netbooks in our English and Social Studies classes and found how successfully technology could be used in reading and writing workshops at every grade level. This year, those netbooks have been moved to grades 7 and 8 for their use, and the high school students either provide their own devices or rent one from the school’s technology department..

The first session we will be offering is devoted to Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road. We will feature work that the students have completed in using Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” as a way to analyze characters in this post-apocalyptic novel. We will be demonstrating how our students, “Explore the poetic language of survival in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road the potential of 21st century connectivity and collaboration, and the use of mysteries to enhance students’ critical thinking abilities as presenters share literature experiences in three high school classrooms.”

Navigating the Mind: The Road Meets Maslow’s Hierarchy
Time:  Saturday 11/17 8:00 AM – 9:15 AM
Level:  Secondary (9-12)
Topic of Interest: Literature
Location:  Studio Room 6, Grand Arena, Main Floor by Grand Garden Arena, MGM Grand

The other two sessions will be offered to the Council on English Leadership:

You Ain’t Nothing but a Blog Hound
Monday 11/19 4-5:00 PM
D.3 Room 106

Description: You may already know that a blog platform offers students at all grade levels an opportunity to engage in an authentic writing experience in or outside the classroom. This workshop demonstrates the use of a blog platform for students to engage in thoughtful discussion on whole class or independent reading. This workshop will also feature how to organize, moderate, and assess both blog posts and comments on a variety of blog platforms. There will also be a focus on improving a student’s awareness of audience and purpose in a written response, and strategies will be provided so student comments are more sophisticated than a standard “I liked what you wrote.”

Writer’s Workshop Graduates to High Tech Literature Circles
Tuesday  11/20 10-11:00 AM
F.2  Room 106

Description: This session will feature strategies used in the teaching of writing at the middle and high school levels using a variety of 2.0 technologies, including blogs, wikis, and document sharing software. The emphasis will be on providing examples of differentiated student-centered activities that will develop independence in the writer’s transition from middle school to high school. High-tech writing provides opportunities for student accountability, group collaboration, and whole class communication

(NOTE: This session was presented this at Literacy for All Convention, 11/5 & 11/6 in Providence, RI)

We are looking forward to presenting and attending the wonderful selection of sessions over the next few days. This is certainly a wonderful opportunity for our own professional development and a chance for us to showcase our small but very forward thinking school district-Regional School District #6 !