Monday, November 27, 2017

Investing in Investment

By: Ms. Shira Schiowitz, Tanakh Teacher
and Dr. Gillian Steinberg, English Teacher

SAR students are held to a high standard, with many expectations placed upon them. Aside from the academic pressure of papers, tests and homework, SAR’s teachers and administrators expect students to invest in their own learning. In many ways, this focus on intent and not only on the final product adds an extra burden to our already overextended students.

Yet this focus on investment is one of our core values and one that, we believe, can be as important as content knowledge. While we want our students to leave high school with the disciplinary skills and the information to move forward on their educational, professional and life journeys, those goals capture only a part of what we endeavor to develop in our students. The importance of preparation and attentiveness are integral to the skill set that allows our students to maximize high school and future opportunities. More fundamentally, cultivating respect for the opinions of others and developing the ability to take initiative for one’s learning are critical skills for the lifelong learner.

These values, distilled in the new “Investment in Learning” rubric, are both separate from and connected to a student’s quality of work. Certainly, each student’s investment impacts the work that he or she produces. At the same time, investment in learning is a value unto itself, and the separate “investment in learning” grade honors that achievement. The separate grade also allows us to acknowledge the effort put into being a student regardless of academic performance in any given subject.

The values we espouse in the new rubric are closely related to our theme for the year: middot.
We aim to help students see that investment behaviors, like middot, are within students’ control. Students who may simply see themselves as perpetually late can begin to envision ways to work towards punctuality, for instance. By maintaining self-reflection as one of the rubric measures, we aim to help students think about themselves as learners and reflect on their own strengths and challenges.

We have asked students to consider the following questions as they strive for investment in their learning:

  • Am I working hard to grow as a student?
Do I:
    • Consider and implement feedback?
    • Take initiative in addressing problems?
    • Communicate with the teacher as necessary?
  • Am I engaging with my class community respectfully and with kindness?
Do I:
    • Wait for my turn to speak?
    • Consider the opinions of others?
    • Express my disagreement civilly?
  • Am I paying attention to my behaviors and adjusting them as necessary to ensure optimal learning?
Do I:
    • Reflect on my effort and performance?
    • Use technology to help rather than hinder my development?
    • Choose working partners carefully?
  • Am I involved?
Do I:
    • Take notes as needed?
    • Stay focused during class discussions?
    • Track and listen to the speaker?
    • Move seats if I’m distracted?
  • Am I prepared and ready to learn?
Do I:
    • Bring the right materials to class?
    • Complete in-class and homework assignments?
    • Use provided resources effectively?
  • Do I arrive on time to class and turn in assignments on time?
As teachers, we can pose these questions to a full classroom, to individual students, and to ourselves. When students ask what they can do to improve their grades, for example, we can point to some of these questions to see if they are taking an active role in their learning. We can also use them for our own self-reflection, helping us to ensure that we are teaching both content and vital student skills.

To that end, many of us have begun experimenting with creative ways to bring this Investment in Learning rubric into our classrooms. In addition to posting a colorful infographic of the six measures in every classroom around the school, we are sharing and experimenting with new lesson plans that incorporate the Investment in Learning measures into their classroom activities. For example, SAR’s Tanakh teachers asked students to examine both Moshe Rabbeinu and B’nei Yisrael’s behavior on each of the six Investment in Learning measures and bring p’sukim to support their analyses. The English department, after hearing a presentation on this activity, tried something similar with characters from Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.

At the same time, the History department engaged students in a self-evaluation that asked them to consider their own engagement in history using the separate measures, a practice that has since been adopted by others across the school.

Ultimately, we hope that our focus on these “best practices in classroom investment” will help students to feel less burdened by the demands placed on them because they will see that select small behaviors can result in big improvements. We also hope students will see that these behaviors are not unique to student life but to every life well lived. We can all benefit from being more invested -- more attentive, more respectful, more prepared, more self-reflective, and so on -- at work, in our families, and in our Judaism. By demonstrating the significance of these qualities both inside and outside the classroom, we hope that students will both carry these tools far beyond SAR and help them invest meaningfully in life.