Beginning School News

Syndicate content

Reflections on Reading: The Storytelling Brain

Send by email

By Hannah Whitehead

From the Fall 2010 Caller
Stories are the way we live our lives, so it is not surprising that our brains appear to be set up for them. Our lives are one experience followed by another in a sequence beginning with birth and ending with death, although some would say that death is merely the beginning of the next story. Storytelling is found in all cultures and has persisted from cave painting to YouTube, so people naturally wonder about the source of its robustness.
 
Our experiences take place in surroundings that the hippocampus of our brain indexes and constructs into a mental map. We continually adjust and update this map to link new experiences to what we already know, and revise our maps (our stories) accordingly. This kind of memory is very flexible and was originally part of our ability to navigate safely through terrain. It is why learning anything in a rich context is so much easier than learning decontextualized pieces. In fact, we have a predilection for making stories out of all we observe, even geometric shapes.
 
We tell stories as a way of explaining our experiences to ourselves and to others. Someone counted the kinds of verbal exchanges people had in public places: 65 percent was either personal stories or gossip (other people’s personal stories). When we have unexplained symptoms of illness, the quest for a diagnosis is the quest for a comprehensible story to explain our symptoms for ourselves, for those who care for us, and for our doctors. We want to know what is going on and why, and we are persistent in our search for answers. We even prefer speculation to no story at all.
 
Stories can be a way to try out experiences vicariously. Through stories— in books, oral histories and lore, movies, and other forms of tale-telling—we can immerse ourselves in other people’s lives, unconfined by time, place, culture, age, gender, or temperament. Those of us who would never dare to break into a bank or plan a complicated jewel heist can experience the adrenaline rush from afar without risking incarceration.
 
Being able to understand and empathize with others is a helpful trait to cultivate in members of a community. Children who are exposed to more fiction tend to perform better on tests of social ability and empathy. And those who are more empathetic are able to immerse themselves more completely in the trials and tribulations of the fictional characters. Stories are a good way to test-drive real life, rather like pilots training in a flight simulator.
 
Stories are also one way a culture defines its expectations of its members—its rules of behavior. Think of family stories, fairy tales, legends, religious texts, creation myths, and such. We pass this understanding on in the most memorable way possible for our brains—stories. As internet entrepreneur Mike Speiser says, stories are “one of mankind’s most efficient compression algorithms.”
 
Think about how difficult it is to remember a lecture that is merely informational. We have to take notes, chunk the information, review it, summarize it for ourselves; it takes a lot of conscious hard work to move that information from short-term to long-term memory. Information in this form tends to be received by the listener in a critical fashion, whereas information embedded in stories is accepted less critically. This technique is well understood by storytelling advertisers and politicians.
 
So the next time you want to get your point across, or to remember something, tell the story. “Gather round and let me tell you the story of stories . . .”
 
A faculty member since 1982, Hannah Whitehead is the head of Catlin Gabel’s beginning school and formerly taught kindergarten, 1st grade, and 6th grade. She has two alumni children: David ’90 and Katie ’94.  
Thanks to the following sources. We encourage further reading:
Caine, Renate Nummela, and Geoffrey Caine. Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain. Menlo Park, California: Addison Wesley Publ. Co. 1994.
Hsu, Jeremy. “The Secrets of Storytelling.” Scientific American Mind 18 Sept. 2008.  

A Child's Journey

Send by email
Learning to Read and Love Reading

By Mimi Tang

From the Fall 2010 Caller
As the other 1st graders poured out the door for recess on their first day of school, she sat at her desk, freckled face resting on the open palms of her tiny, dimpled hands. In response to my query, a dark cloud passed over Amanda’s face as she whispered her confession, “I can’t read.” Hers was a fear shared by many other 1st grade children. . . .
 

How do young children learn to read?

It is a question asked of me, a 1st grade teacher, time and time again. The reading process can be extremely complex, but at its heart it is relatively simple to explain. Early reading development typically follows a somewhat predictable route for most children. At the same time, however, it is a unique, individualized puzzle to be assembled using a developmentally appropriate methodology sensitive to each child’s interests, strengths, needs, fears, gifts, experience, confidence level, and desire.
 

Reading instruction primarily comprises two components: decoding and comprehension.

Decoding consists of figuring out the words; comprehension consists of understanding what one has read. When children enter 1st grade, they are primarily focused on decoding. In fact, they are typically so focused on learning how to decode words that they often pay little or no attention to whether they actually understand what they have read. Comprehension, however, is the ultimate, long-term goal of reading. My challenge, as a teacher of early readers, is to honor the children’s desire (desperation, in most cases!) to learn how to decode while providing balanced instruction in all aspects of reading. Skills in decoding are the more technical aspects of reading, consisting of a number of strategies that all readers need to apply at one time or another in order to figure out the words. Children arrive in 1st grade with the beginning of many decoding strategies already in place (such as letter recognition, using the picture to make sense of the text, recognizing when a sentence sounds funny). My task is to help each reader recognize his or her strengths, and to teach this child the decoding strategies he or she does not yet know and the understanding of when to apply the appropriate strategy when reading independently. Depending on a child’s natural tendencies and his or her previous exposure to particular decoding strategies, I focus my instruction differently for each child. Every child brings strengths to the early reading experience upon which I can build my instruction.
 
For example, a meaning-driven student is one who primarily wants his reading to make sense. When decoding a sentence (figuring out the words), he might look more at the pictures than at the print in order to make what he reads make sense by matching it up to the picture. He might read the sentence “The dog went to the park” as “The dog goes to the park” based on the picture, ignoring the fact that the print does not match what he has read (“went” vs. “goes”). As with any child’s approach to early reading, I honor and praise the child’s strengths (in this case making meaning based on the pictures) and help the child focus on a strategy that will shine a light on the area that the child is not yet noticing, covering up the word “went” and asking, “What sound does ‘goes’ start with? What letter would you expect to see at the beginning of ‘goes’?” then unmasking the initial sound and letter in the word “went.”
 
As stated earlier, each child’s reading journey is unique. My own brother, Jason, is deaf. The path he traveled as a reader is unlike that of any child I have taught. On occasion, I ask him about his experience as an early reader since he lacked the ability to use the sound-symbol relationship of the written language to help him learn how to read: “Tell me again, Jason. Just how in the world did you learn how to read without phonics?” Today, Jason is an extremely strong adult reader with phenomenal comprehension, recall, and application of what he has read. He learned to decode without using one of the most powerful tools that most early readers use: phonics. Knowing this, and having grown up watching him ravenously devour books, I am hopeful that working together, any 1st grader and I can discover the decoding strategies that will work best for that child. (“Comic books!” by the way, is always Jason’s answer!)
 

If decoding is the how of reading, then comprehension is the why.

Understanding deeply what one has read is the ultimate goal of reading instruction. Decoding is a big focus in reading instruction in the primary grades and continues to be a focus throughout the upper elementary years. We readers, however, continue to actively grow and evolve our reading comprehension throughout our entire lives. From my perspective, comprehension is the brass ring.
 
Instruction in reading comprehension has technical aspects, just as decoding does. We teach our young readers story grammar (character, setting, problem and solution, plot), different levels of reading comprehension (literal and inferential), questioning skills, previewing, reading fluency, reading with expression and phrasing, making connections (textto- text, text-to-self, text-to- world)—all of which improve a child’s reading comprehension. But true reading comprehension encompasses so much more. The heart of bonedeep comprehension lies in a love of language and of reading that thrives and flourishes well beyond the classroom walls.
 
Falling in love with reading, however, is not something that happens in the blink of an eye. It is a long, slow process that evolves over many years. My own son, born just last spring, has already begun the process of falling in love with literate language. As he wiggles and giggles and happily plays while lying in bed, his eyes widen and a hush falls over his entire body as he is lulled by the beauty of literate language when I lie next to him to read a story to him or to make up an episode of our never-ending story featuring him as the main character. Only four months old, he can already distinguish between conversational language and literate language, as evidenced by his obvious physical responses. What I am teaching him through these affective experiences with story and books has little to do with decoding (figuring the words out) at this point, but I am laying the foundation for the development of a lifelong passion for comprehension.
 

Parents often come to me with the same anxiety about reading that their children have: my child can’t read.

The fear is real, and I know how terrifying it must be to think that one’s child is behind his age mates or not meeting benchmarks. My question is this: what can your child do? All young children who have been exposed to print of any sort have some knowledge about how books, stories, words, and pictures work. In this current era of accountability, front page news about test scores and the push to force children of younger and younger ages to do what their elders did at much older ages, it is no wonder that we worry about our children falling behind. Reading achievement can be forced to occur at younger ages than in the past. But just because we can, does that mean we should?
 
Consider how children’s oral language develops. Children are surrounded by people who speak, so they hear language modeled on a regular basis. When they make grammatical errors, we initially think it is adorable and allow those errors to continue until the child corrects the error himself based on the modeling he hears. If the child does not eventually correct the error, we may correct it gently depending on whether it is of concern or not (say, “Fine, thank you. I am well.”). There is a naturally accepted window of time within which we honor a child’s errors in oral language as a natural part of the learning process. We honor children’s explorations and attempts in oral language (“Oh, isn’t it cute when she says ‘aminal’?”) and help them build on their strengths. Then we use their strengths to address the challenges. Teaching children how to use the written language can follow a similar path. Both reading and writing have a natural window within which children should be given some leeway to explore, discover, and make mistakes without punishment. If we can consider early reading a journey of discovery rather than an assignment with a looming deadline, we will remove a considerable amount of pressure from our early readers that will then allow them to grow, explore, and flourish in the same way that they did when learning how to speak.
 
A love of reading can be learned at school and at home without the drill and kill exercises we had as children by surrounding our youngest readers with excellent, authentic, high-interest resources (oral and written stories, magazines, informational books, poetry), consistent modeling, and a regular commitment to engaging conversations about reading throughout our children’s years in school. The single most important act a parent can engage in to support a child’s reading development is to read aloud to that child often and consistently, no matter how old the child is. Children’s experiences as early readers in the primary grades are simply laying the foundation for a lifelong love of reading and understanding that is sure to reap tremendous rewards.
 
Recently, a child halted a class read aloud with a loud gasp. In response to my raised eyebrow, she exclaimed breathlessly, “Patricia Polacco’s description of her brother was so delicious! Can you go back and read it again so I can taste the words with my ears one more time?” This is the sort of passion that grows out of constantly swimming in environments inside and outside of school that are rich with lovely language and beautiful literature.
 
Mimi Tang teaches 1st grade at Catlin Gabel.

The Unlimited World of Readers

Send by email

By Lark P. Palma, PhD, Head of School

From the Autumn 2010 Caller

When I hear teachers talk about the breakthroughs—the aha! moments—when a child makes the leap to linking the sound and letter of a word to its meaning, I am a bit envious. When I worked as a middle and upper school teacher, my job was to solidify and enhance what my students had learned, helping them become more sophisticated readers. What I learned about secondary reading is sound advice: spend almost as much time preparing the student for reading as for the reading itself. My work seeking the hooks on which to hang the reading, finding the deeper meanings and leading my students to discover those meanings for themselves, helped them become analytical readers who came to comprehend texts with depth and insight.
 
However great that was, I never had the opportunity to teach a young child to read. Despite all the methods, the science, and the research, the moment when a child recognizes a word and its meaning still seems magical to me. Recently I discovered a picture of my 5-year-old self in footie pajamas reading the comics. It brought back memories of figuring out from the illustrations what Brenda Starr or Prince Valiant was saying. Eventually, I could pair the repeated words with what I thought was going on. But although I don’t remember much about the moment I learned to read, I was fortunate that someone took an interest in me as a young reader and put wonderful books in my hands.
 
Dick and Jane, Tag, and Through the Garden Gate—the books we were all supposed to read—bored me beyond words. We lived on a tiny coastal island, and the library was the size of a small living room. But the unforgettable Miss Chastain was there, and she kept handing me books to read that she knew would spark my interest: The Five Little Peppers, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, The Secret Garden, Misty of Chincoteague, The Arabian Nights, Treasure Island, and many others. Her gesture implied “You will love this.” When no one else was there (which was often), she would let me read adult fiction. I gulped down great historical novels by Anya Seton and others, with their thrilling battles and momentous events. I felt like I was right there in the throes of the Puritan Revolution, the Great Plague, the building of cathedrals, and the Viking invasion of Britain. (The truly transformative books came later: the existentialists, Richard Brautigan, John Barth, Walker Percy, John Fowles, Kurt Vonnegut, D. H. Lawrence, and Virginia Woolf.)
 
Just as I had passed my books on to my brothers, so did I dole out the special books to my cousins and friends. The tradition continues today through two more generations. If you have someone in your life who sets the table and joyously offers you a smorgasbord of books, you will partake with gusto and pleasure.
 
I am so proud to be part of a school whose teachers make the world of reading come alive for their students. They place the right books in their hands, just as Miss Chastain did for me. Our teachers understand how to reach readers of all types of learning styles, so that they too can take part in absorbing and thrilling experiences with just the turns of a few pages. This issue of the Caller is full of stories of the transformative acts of both reading and writing, another area that we teach extraordinarily well. Please enjoy these stories, and don’t hesitate to share a much-loved book with me.

 

 

Annual Fund off to a great start

Send by email

What a great start to the school year and response to the 2010-11 Annual Fund launch! A tremendous thank you to those who already have contributed and to our tireless volunteers who give so generously of their time and funds to ensure we reach our goal of $935,000. To date, 53% of faculty have participated, 45% of staff, and 17% of parents. A remarkable outpouring of support! It’s easy to give online. Thank you! We value your investment and commitment to our exceptional community.

Great schools don’t just happen. We make them so.

Phil and Penny Knight honor CG with largest gift in school's history

Send by email
Introducing the Knight Family Scholars Program

Q&A with Lark P. Palma, PhD, head of school

Interview by Karen Katz '74, communications director

Phil and Penny Knight have honored Catlin Gabel with the largest gift in the school’s history. Their multimillion-dollar gift for the new endowed Knight Family Scholars Program is a rare opportunity for Catlin Gabel to reach our full potential as a model school as outlined in Ruth Catlin’s philosophy. Phil and Penny Knight’s unprecedented generosity is a tremendous vote of confidence in our school from world leaders in philanthropy.

What is the Knight Family Scholars Program?
It is a pilot program for the Upper School faculty to explore a new model for high school education and attract outstanding new high school students. The gift funds an endowed faculty member to direct the program and teach in the Upper School. In the anticipated inaugural year, 2012-13, we hope to enroll about four Knight Family Scholars as fully integrated members of the Upper School student body who benefit from our exceptional curriculum. The Knight Family Scholars Program is similar in concept to the Rhodes Scholar program in terms of the caliber of students who will qualify.

What is your vision for how this program will affect Catlin Gabel?
The current generation of students is far more sophisticated than previous generations. Their educational needs are evolving quickly. Educators must ask, what more can we do to prepare them? How can we ensure that they have a great liberal arts and sciences foundation for success in college plus the experience and skills to thrive in a workforce and world that will change in ways we cannot imagine?

Catlin Gabel teachers have envisioned a high school that is more real world, project-based, experiential, and interdisciplinary — but limited resources have stymied our progress toward this goal. Now we can take some big steps in building on our curricular innovations and evolve more quickly. As a new Catlin Gabel faculty member, the Knight Family Scholars Program director will collaborate with our high school teachers and students to develop methods of teaching and learning that respond to the changing educational environment.

Where did the idea for the program originate?
The genesis for the program stems from the Imagine 2020 conference held in the spring of 2006. A lasting idea that emerged from the conference was to enrich Catlin Gabel’s educational offerings by taking advantage of what our great city and region have to offer— using Portland as a learning laboratory. Bringing students together with creative, analytical, medical, political, entrepreneurial, and science leaders would further our experiential and progressive education goals. The intent is to get our students “off the hill,” as one alumnus put it in 2006. Our global education and PLACE programs, and the urban studies class in the Upper School, also stem from the Imagine 2020 conference.

How did this gift come about?
As I got to know Phil, our shared interest in improving education emerged as a vitally important theme. Phil and Penny Knight are long-range visionaries and Oregon’s most generous individual education philanthropists, which is humbling and exciting. We talked about Ruth Catlin’s vision of modeling for others and how, because of our relatively small size, our success, and our focus on progressive education, we are the ideal school for innovation. I described some of the seminal ideas that emerged from the Imagine 2020 conference and how hard our teachers work to implement those ideas.

Can you give us an example of a program feature from Imagine 2020 that this gift allows us to implement?
The faculty and program director will have the opportunity to advance the exchange of ideas in seminars taught by a network of community experts, including some of our talented and notable parents, alumni, and grandparents. The seminars, both on and off campus, will examine topics that emerge from the shared interests of the students and the director as they move through the program together. The seminars will also respond to the availability of influential mentors, speakers, and guest instructors. Upper School students, not just Knight Family Scholars, will be able to attend seminars. It is vitally important that this is open and inclusive, and that we prevent any kind of “us and them” dynamic.

We also expect that as the program grows, it will include opportunities for the Knight Scholars to travel nationally and abroad for summer learning.

How else does the program benefit current students?
The research is clear: high caliber students raise the level of learning for everyone. The positive peer effect is evident throughout our school. Students in our supportive, non-competitive environment engage more deeply when their classmates are excited about the lab, discussion, problem solving, or literary analysis at hand. And, naturally, teachers are their best selves when their students are highly engaged.

What are the student qualifications for the program?
Prospective Knight Family Scholars Program will stand out in four key areas: academics, community service, athletics, and leadership. As Knight Scholars they will receive tuition assistance funded by the program’s endowment. The amount of assistance will depend on their family’s need. The program will attract well-rounded students who will inspire their peers, take advantage of everything Catlin Gabel has to offer, and go on to serve their communities.

Can current Catlin Gabel students apply for Knight scholarships?
Current and former Catlin Gabel students are ineligible to become Knight Scholars because one objective of the program is to attract new students and deepen our pool of admitted students. The Knight Scholars Program will raise the profile of our excellent Upper School and entice students who will be wonderful additions to our community.

Who determines who qualifies for the program?
The faculty, admission office, and a new program director will decide whom we accept.

Who is the Knight Family Scholars Program director and how is the position funded?
Typically, when donors make large gifts to institutions they fund a position to oversee the program. We will launch a national search for a Knight Family Scholars Program director to fully realize the vision of this program. The director will be Catlin Gabel’s first endowed faculty member. This turning point for Catlin Gabel could very well lead to additional endowed faculty positions.

What are the director’s responsibilities?
First and foremost, the director will find the right students for the program. A big part of the job is outreach and making a wide range of communities aware of the program and our school. As the program spokesperson, the director will bolster the Knight Family Scholars Program and our overall admission program. The director will also lead the scholars’ seminar and teach other Upper School classes so he or she is fully integrated into our faculty. We will hire a dynamic educator who becomes a vital member of our school community.

How will this historic gift change the school?
When we laid out strategic directions in 2003 one of our top three goals was to strengthen our identity and visibility in the community. We set out to identify and attract qualified, informed, and diverse applicants and to increase our applicant pool, particularly in the Upper School. The Knight Family Scholars Program will move us quickly and decisively towards these goals.

Has Catlin Gabel ever received a gift of this magnitude?
In 1987, the school received a $3.6 million bequest from the estate of Howard Vollum that allowed Catlin Gabel to establish an endowment fund. His foresight and generosity moved the school beyond a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle.

What other benefits does the Knights’ gift offer?
The Knight Family Scholars Program raises our visibility as one of the leading independent schools in the country.

On a purely financial and pragmatic level, the program releases financial aid dollars for students in all divisions.

On a more philosophical and curricular level, the Knight Family Scholars Program will stretch us to take some risks about how we teach. All Catlin Gabel students will benefit from the innovations we pilot through the program. On a grander scale, my dream is to model innovations that can benefit students nationwide.

We cannot underestimate the value of raising our profile, too. What’s good for Catlin Gabel’s reputation is good for Catlin Gabel’s students and teachers. As far as fundraising, this is the tip of the iceberg for all programs and needs of the school. I know Phil and Penny Knight’s generosity and confidence in Catlin Gabel will inspire others to give. In fact, two other donors are planning to give to this program.

We anticipate a positive overall effect on admissions and on our ability to attract phenomenal student applicants. Some great young people, who perhaps don’t qualify as Knight Family Scholars, will still apply to our Upper School when they learn about Catlin Gabel’s curriculum, meet our faculty and students, and hear about our generous financial assistance program.

Is this Phil and Penny Knight’s first gift to Catlin Gabel?
In the past three years, the Knights have quietly and generously funded other immediate needs that I identified. They were instrumental in our ability to provide financial aid for families who have struggled through the recession. I am so honored that they have put their trust in me and in Catlin Gabel.

“To maintain a school with the most enlightened ideals of education, content of work and methods of teaching. . . . To contribute to the community and its schools an educational laboratory, free to utilize the knowledge and wisdom of leading educators.” (excerpt from Ruth Catlin’s 1928 philosophy statement)

 

 

New challenge course emphasizes cooperation, ingenuity

Send by email

Catlin Gabel has recently installed a challenge course where students will have the opportunity to test themselves on a variety of high and low elements. The course is nestled in the woods below the Lower School Art Barn.

Safety issues have been thoroughly vetted and were our top priority in designing and building the course. Professional arborists assure us that the trees used to anchor the course are not at risk of damage.

The course is designed for students ages 10 and over. Use of the course is strictly limited to times when a trained facilitator is on site. Almost two dozen faculty-staff members have taken the extensive professional training sessions required to become facilitators. (See photo.) When a facilitator is not supervising the course, the ropes and cables are secured and inaccessible to passersby.

Every challenge course has its own personality. Catlin Gabel’s facility was constructed with an emphasis on group cooperation and overcoming obstacles. Under the guidance of trained facilitators, groups of students will tackle various challenges that require skill and ingenuity to resolve. The course contains four high elements and seven low elements. Some of the elements can be tailored for use by different age groups. Parent and alumni groups can arrange for challenge course events by e-mailing outdoor education teacher Erin Goodling ’99 at goodlinge@catlin.edu.

“We expect that sports teams, global education groups, departments, and classes will use the challenge course to help set the stage for their work together,” said Peter Green, outdoor education director.

We are very grateful to Andy and Becky Michaels, Oregon Mountain Community, Reed and Tina Wilson, and an anonymous donor for this exciting addition to our program. The challenge course fits right in with Catlin Gabel’s hands-on experiential approach to learning.

 

Empty the Lot October 14

Send by email

Do your part to ease congestion by participating in Catlin Gabel’s annual Empty the Lot Day on October 14. Bus, bike, or walk on this student-initiated day dedicated to reducing our carbon footprint.

» Link to more information about Empty the Lot Day

» Link to online bus sign-up

» Link to carpool map

» Link to general bus service information
 

 

John Hamilton nominated for national coach of the year award

Send by email

The Oregon Athletic Coaches Association (OACA) named John Hamilton the Oregon nominee for the National Federation of High Schools “Coach of the Year” award for boys golf.

Each year the OACA selects one coach from each of the 10 boys and nine girls sports offered in our state. Each state award winner then becomes eligible for Section 8 awards competing against coaches in their respective sports from Washington, Montana, Idaho, Alaska, and Wyoming. Section 8 winners will compete for National Coach of the Year against representatives from the other seven sections of the United States. Oregon has won numerous sectional and national awards over the past 10 years.

Nominees must exemplify the highest standards of sportsmanship, ethical conduct, and moral character, and carry the endorsement of their respective state high school associations. The OACA looks for coaches with winning records who contribute to their schools and communities. Longevity in coaching is also an important consideration. They must be members of the Oregon Athletic Coaches Association.

Seven schools take part in Shakespeare collaboration

Send by email

Catlin Gabel students have been part of a collaboration in which Portland Playhouse is partnering with seven area high schools to produce a different Shakespeare play at each school. These plays will be performed first at each individual high school, and then all will come together at Portland’s Winningstad Theatre for a three-day Fall Festival of Shakespeare.

Come see the Catlin Gabel cast in As You Like It on October 29 and 30 at 7 p.m. in the Cabell Center Theater. And save the date to see their stage debut at the Winningstad Theatre on Sunday, November 7, at 4 p.m. (the curtain time has been changed since earlier reports). Tickets for the Catlin Gabel performances are available at the door: $5 general admission, $3 for students.

The collaborating high schools are Catlin Gabel, Lincoln, Jefferson, Hudson's Bay, Fort Vancouver, Cleveland, and De La Salle. Catlin Gabel is the only participating school to include Middle School students in its production.

“This is a thrilling opportunity for our students. They are meeting student actors from all over the city while delving into Shakespeare’s words,” said drama teacher Deirdre Atkinson. “Our students are building cross-divisional relationships and collaborating across disciplines: in addition to acting, the students are designing and building sets and costumes, composing original music, managing props, and generating publicity. I’m personally excited because experienced student actors are working with actors with no prior experience with Catlin Gabel’s theater program. This project allows us to develop community in the most creative of ways!”

The students have enjoyed meeting and training with actors from other schools. They have also benefited from working with professional artists who provided outside perspectives and experience in the process of producing a play. In preparation for leading this collaboration, Deirdre and her co-director, Gavin Hoffman from Portland Playhouse, trained with Kevin Coleman, the Shakespeare and Company education director. The rehearsal process incorporated techniques and exercises employed by professional companies, which enriched our students’ understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare’s works.

From the Portland Playhouse website: The Festival is a spectacular theatrical event, in part because student actors connect well to Shakespeare; they get the passion, large stakes, disaster. . . . high school is not unlike an Elizabethan tragedy. But the biggest surprise is the creation of an electric and fully engaged audience during the Festival. This Festival audience (imagine 330 Shakespeare-saturated teenagers packing the Winningstad) is the most active and alive theatre audience you will ever encounter. They “oooh” and “ahhh;” call out "Oh no she didn't;" scream and laugh. It's the closest thing we have to how an Elizabethan audience at Shakespeare’s Globe might have reacted. It’s an unforgettable experience for the students involved, and an engaging cultural phenomenon for everyone to witness.

Tickets for the Winningstad performance are available at the Portland Center for Performing Arts box office or online through Ticketmaster. Ticket Prices: Regular: $10 Students: $8

** Ticket charges at the PCPA box office are $3.25 per ticket. Location: 1111 SW Broadway, Portland. Hours: Mon-Sat 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

** Ticketmaster charges are between $4 and $8 per ticket (depending on quantity of order)

 

Robotics program director Dale Yocum named technology educator of the year

Send by email
Congratulations, Dale!

The TechStart Education Foundation named Dale Yocum Oregon's technology educator of the year. The award honors a teacher who is:

An effective, engaging instructor who inspires passion and commitment from her or his students while advancing their critical thinking ability, skills, and knowledge in challenging, meaningful ways.

An advocate for the study of information technology, making technology accessible to all students and building an inclusive culture.

A role model for colleagues, who is committed to ongoing personal and peer professional development and establishes, evolves and communicates best practices and pedagogy.

In addition to prestige and recognition, the award comes with a $1,000 donation to Catlin Gabel's robotics program.

A Dream Playground We Built Together

Send by email

By Karen Katz '74

From the Spring 2010 Caller
What lifts spirits more than watching children run, swing, jump, and bounce on the playground adjacent to the Fir Grove? Answer: Watching them and knowing that my family, colleagues, and friends—my community—had a hand in building the structure that provides a magical venue for boundless, expressive play.
 
With little prodding, I can recapture 15-yearold memories of Lark and Schauff (former headmaster) drilling bolts into place and chatting about the state of education while the playground underpinnings took shape around them. I picture volunteer co-chairs Leah Kemper and Jennifer Sammons cheerfully gathering the troops, with the aid of bullhorns, to announce the next task requiring attention. And I remember tiny preschool hands sanding the boards that hold the playground together. Those once-tiny hands typed college application essays this year.
 
For five days in October 1995, the campus was a flurry of activity when hundreds of school families busied themselves from dawn until past dark building the playground. Torrential rains early in the week triggered complications but did not dampen our spirits as we mucked about in ankle-deep mud chatting, laughing, working, learning, working more, and scooping out buckets of standing water.
 
The work was hard and the mood was festive as the community came together with a common purpose. Everyone had a job—moms, dads, grandparents, teachers, trustees, alumni, friends, and kids of all ages. First graders rubbed bolts with bars of soap to make it easier to screw them in. Middle Schoolers shoveled gravel into wheelbarrows and put their muscle into urging their heavy loads across rugged terrain to lay the drainage. Upper School students, now raising families of their own, toiled alongside adults sawing, routing, and sanding miles and miles of railings.
 
Before the building process even began, students and teachers had worked together to plan how our playground would reflect the campus aesthetic and our children’s imaginations. Excitement intensified as students worked together to come up with drawings and ideas. When a design group requested a castle tower, the plans were adjusted to include majestic spires. The children insisted on multiple tire swings, hidey-holes, and a spiral slide, and incorporating the beloved wooden boat. Community members suggested every feature of our grand playground.
 
Tremendous volunteer effort went into organizing work crews, each with a crew boss to direct traffic, assign tasks, and make sure people were properly trained. Skilled carpenters took novice builders under their wings. The mother of a newborn baby took charge of volunteer check-in. The cooks among us, and parents with restaurant connections, labored tirelessly to feed the hungry crews. The food was fantastic, and meals in the Barn were raucous breaks from physical exertion. Occasionally, someone would break into song. “If I had a hammer. . . ”
 
Dappled sun filtered through the Fir Grove when everyone came together at the end of the week to christen our beautiful new playground. Gathered there, we got that goose-bumpy sense that we were part of something bigger than ourselves. With a new pair of Catlin Gabel-blue scissors Lark cut a ribbon made from paper cutout hands: tiny preschool hands and great big grown-up hands. Children exploded onto the playground in a whirl of arms, legs, flying hair, and whoops of joy. We looked around at our enormous accomplishment, the children’s smiling faces, and each other, consumed by a powerful feeling of community.
 
How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it is the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!
Robert Louis Stevenson
Karen Katz ’74 is Catlin Gabel School’s communications director. She has been at the school since 1986. Photos of 1995 playground construction by Karen Katz ’74 and Steve Bonini.  

 

Learning Community at Catlin Gabel

Send by email

By Allen Schauffler & Jonathan Weedman

From the Spring 2010 Caller
Community is not an elusive quest at Catlin Gabel. It is the granite cornerstone of our foundation. We can reach back into the school’s earliest history and find references to community woven throughout Ruth Catlin’s writings. In the mid and late 1960s, when the influence of the Black Mountain College group among the faculty provided foundational ideas about community, the school as we now know it took shape. Ideas about community have come from many sources since then, but those two influences are the driving forces behind what we teach and model today. From Beginning Schoolers, where community is taught and experienced as concrete cause and effect, to Upper Schoolers, where community becomes an internalized and essential ingredient for living, its teaching is intentional and direct. Beginning with the littlest children, both in the classroom and outdoors on the playground, one can hear the mantra “Be Safe and Be Kind” over and over. In the Lower School that mantra becomes the essential question when a child is learning behavioral expectations.
 
By definition, a young child enters Catlin Gabel as a somewhat egocentric being. It is the primary job of the preschool to lead a child from the exclusive notion of “me” to the seed of understanding about what “other” might mean. The underlying philosophy behind this is that we strongly believe that the learning of content cannot begin and is meaningless unless there is a firm foundation of social conscience. As we watch children progress through the developmental stages of play and learning, the move from being merely a cooperative player and learner to a truly collaborative being is crucial to success at the school. In order to thrive as an experiential and process learner, one must be internally driven to be open to the riches that flow from the ideas and experiences of others. The goal is for children to embody, “I am made better by those who surround me.” Taking this as a given, then, we begin with simple guidelines that ease children into the experience of being a group learner.
 
Raise a Quiet Hand and Hand on the Arm are the first lessons for a preschooler. These teach that interrupting another person, whose ideas are important to one’s own and the group’s learning and understanding, is rude and unkind. Stop, Look, Listen, and Respond is the behavioral expectation when someone speaks your name. Speaking to someone is not an idle behavior; it demands respect. When the conundrum of group problem solving emerges in the classroom or on the playground, younger children are often befuddled by what to do. Talk, Walk, and Squawk provides an accessible place to hang one’s hat. First you try to talk to the person or group. If that doesn’t work, you can try walking away. If the problem persists, you must squawk to the nearest teacher or grown-up, who can help untangle the issue by providing vocabulary coaching and by scaffolding a conversation. But first, the child must have tried to talk. These simple mnemonic devices provide easy and accessible tools for young children as they wind their way toward a deeper and more practical understanding of community. This also sets the foundation for successful problem solving; a fundamental element of a fruitful community.
 
As children move through the grades we use both implicit and explicit interventions to further set the stage for community development. We teach kindergarteners the fundamentals of working in a group and how to get along with others. They are taught to discover if the choices they make are wise and ask themselves, is it safe? Is it kind? Is it honest? Is it fair? A good problem solver is a good community member, and from this early stage of their academic career children are taught the steps to problem solving, through stories, coaching, or through a tool called Kelso’s Wheel, a list of strategies for conflict resolution. Learning to be a good friend is also imperative as a kindergarten Eagle. Children spend time Fishin’ for Friends and discussing the components of good friendship, such as empathy, taking turns, problem solving, sharing, and helping each other. In fact, children learn that being a good friend helps their classroom and ultimately the entire community work well.
 
In 1st grade and onward through the Lower School, children are surrounded by messages of community and being a good community member. Through service, tradition, and class instruction children learn that being a community member is a requirement of Catlin Gabel. Children donate time to the Oregon Food Bank, host a food drive during Harvest Festival, and implement programs about sustainability such as the recent “1 oz. Campaign,” a plan led by 5th grade students to reduce our school waste. Children celebrate their community each week by attending Community Meeting, where they sing songs, read poetry, and celebrate holidays such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The Lower School shares community through its traditions, whether it is the rolling of the oat cake or partnering 4th graders with 1st graders as school buddies. Finally, classroom instruction is an explicit form of teaching community. First graders are taught about community, making choices, and healthy and unhealthy play, as well as using helpful and not hurtful words. Second graders learn the value of diversity, friendship, and conflict resolution. They discuss resiliency and the characteristics that help them “bounce back” from hard times.
 
In addition to the children of Catlin Gabel, a parent body that embraces the school and its ideals is imperative for successful community building and to further solidify community engagement. We encourage parents to participate across the school in official and unofficial capacities, carry over classroom lessons to home, and serve as extended eyes and ears of the faculty while supervising children on the playground and on class trips. Elected Parent Faculty Association representatives for each grade strive to relay communication between parents and teachers. Unofficially, parents celebrate community with their children by attending Friday Sing in the Beginning School and Community Meeting in the Lower School. They volunteer across the school in a variety of capacities and are essential for successful completion of fundraising initiatives, conferences, and special events. Engaged parents model to children the emphasis on community and demonstrate a desire to make it a stronger and better place. Parents are asked to help each other’s children, to intervene in conflicts, and to help children understand that every adult at Catlin Gabel is there to support them.
 
We know from experience that children who have achieved compassion for others and have absorbed and live these ideas of relationship make a firm and constructive community. A child can achieve almost anything when he or she has internalized community and can use it as both a cognitive and behavioral tool to contribute toward future good. Each June, graduating seniors who started at Catlin Gabel between preschool and 1st grade are invited to come to the Beehive “lifers” ceremony with their parents, teachers, and other community members. We sing together, and each senior gives the younger children in attendance a piece of advice or talks about something he or she learned at Catlin Gabel. Inevitably, the advice and the important experiences they speak of are centered on their understanding of what this community is about and the way it has shaped their experience and, more importantly, has shaped them as young adults. We hear statements like, “be kind to your friends: they will be with you for a long time” and “take care of your business, and if you have trouble there is always someone there to help.” They say things like, “there is life beyond homework” and quite poignantly “being a friend and keeping a friend is the most important thing you will learn at Catlin Gabel.” It’s always exciting to see those early lessons in community come full circle.
 
Preschool teacher Allen Schauffler has been at Catlin Gabel for 42 years. Jonathan Weedman is the Beginning and Lower School counselor at Catlin Gabel. He has worked with children, youth, and families in the Portland area for the last 10 years.