Learning Center MS
Submitted by Nadine Fiedler on Fri, 04/01/2011 - 1:26pm
From the Winter 2010-11 Caller
John Wiser has taught at Catlin Gabel for 40 years in history, English, theater, and science, and he also coached basketball and soccer. John is humble about his retirement: “People and institutions live, breathe, and go on. I don’t believe much in legacies, and so much of what I’ve done has been an act of faith. If it mattered, it will be in the occasional memory of the students and colleagues I had the pleasure to work with. What is important to me is that others realize that I did the best I could with what I have, and that I had enough respect for my students to set the bar high.”
His colleagues are more willing to laud John. Science teacher Paul Dickinson had this to say: “This is truly the end of an era. John leaves a legacy of principles he clarified and championed for the benefit of us all. For one, he taught me the important concept of a student’s engagement with ideas, rather than just moving their eyes over the words as they try to complete their reading. Helping them realize the difference helps them to improve their skills as readers, their gathering of facts for knowledge of the subject, and their sophistication as literary analysts.
“John was one of the major producers of Catlin Gabel’s reputation as a school where students learn to write exceptionally well. He will be gone next year, wandering about Europe taking in many of the sites of the famous events in European history about which he taught for years, accompanied by his multilingual guide (and wife) Harriet. The skills he taught and his attitude toward intellectual endeavor will remain with many of us, young and old, his students.”
Mike Davis has become an unforgettable and beloved figure in his 24 years at Catlin Gabel as soccer coach, PE teacher, and athletic director. He came to the school with an extensive background in coaching and education, including a PhD in physical education, beginning in his native England and extending into local colleges and universities. His students speak best about the lasting effect he had on their lives:
Roger Gantz ’89 wrote, “On behalf of all your players, thank you for fostering the best and purest sporting experiences in which we will ever participate.” Peter Gail ’96 says, “I still play and coach soccer. It’s a huge part of my life, but I just can’t seem to get enough. In many ways, I still feel like that 16-year-old kid, the ‘junkie for the game’ sprinting through the Catlin forest to get to those majestic fields below. And I owe this passion for the game, in many ways, to Mike Davis. He fostered a love of the game, and my development both as a soccer player and a young man. I wish to thank him for that.”
And Greg Bates ’96 wrote, “Unequivocally, I can say Mike was one of the great influences in my life. He was a fantastic coach and mentor. Mike brought out the best in his players. (Sadly, very few coaches actually do that.) Mike had a way of getting his teams to play as one, to make the last player on the team feel just as important as the MVP. The life lessons we learned running hills, playing keep away, of beating OES, stay with me today. Mike is one of a kind. Cheers, Gaffer.”
Kathy Qualman, director of Catlin Gabel’s learning center, is retiring after 20 years at the school. Kathy has special thanks for one way Catlin Gabel provides for faculty-staff: “What has kept me up to date meeting the needs of today’s students has been my professional development education, particularly conferences on learning and the brain. I’ve learned from these how to explain to students what’s happening with their brain circuitry. Professional development keeps teachers on top of their game.”
She wrote to her faculty-staff colleagues, “Thank you for the intellectual richness and joy that I have experienced with you these past 20 years. We have shared a precious vision of how children can be nurtured, challenged, and encouraged as they grow into capable active and moral citizens of the world. What a mission we are living. Some people retire from a joyless job. I am retiring from a joyful one.”
BETSY McCORMICK & SUE HENRY
Kindergarten teachers Betsy McCormick and Sue Henry are retiring, Betsy after 28 years and Sue after 17 years with Catlin Gabel. They sent a joint note about their transition: “We met when our sons were in the Middle School here at Catlin Gabel and we’ve taught together ever since. . . . . As we looked around on Grandparents’ Day, we realized that we were older than many of the grandparents, and that it truly was time to pass the kindergarten program on to a new generation of teachers.”
Betsy McCormick came to Catlin Gabel, with experience teaching in public schools, when her youngest child was a kindergartner. “Five- and six-year-old children have such a wonderful perspective on life in general—their desire to make and be friends, understand their world, and spend part of each day with a sense of laughter and creativity has always inspired me,” she says. “I also feel blessed to have had my two sons be CGS lifers.”
Sue Henry taught kindergarten at several schools before starting at CGS. “An important reason I love teaching here is having the autonomy (which includes the challenge to ‘think out of the box’ and the vital collaboration of my colleagues) to design and implement a curriculum that supports the many ways young children develop and learn. Catlin Gabel is a school where children are given many gifts by caring teachers and staff, and I am so grateful that my youngest son, Travis ’95, was able to attend Catlin Gabel from the seventh grade until he graduated. The education he received helped him become the capable and caring adult he is today.”
Director of human resources Evie Waltenbaugh is retiring after 30 years at the school to travel with her husband and spend time with her family. Her positions have included Upper School administrative assistant, receptionist, and assistant to past headmaster Jim Scott. She was the school’s first dedicated human resources professional. “Catlin Gabel will always occupy a large place in my heart, the quality of education provided for my children, the wonderful colleagues I have had the privilege to know and work alongside, and a very special place to work,” she writes. “It has truly been a great journey!”
If you would like to make a gift in honor of any of these retirees, please call annual giving program director Sara Case at 503-297-1894 ext. 423.
Submitted by Nadine Fiedler on Thu, 03/31/2011 - 2:51pm
How two teachers helped their students celebrate their unique brain strengths
By Zalika Gardner '90 and Herb Jahncke
From the Winter 2010-11 Caller
See 16-minute video below for more
For most people, classroom learning means reading, writing, math, and social studies— skills and facts. It’s easy to overlook some of the more fundamental questions bouncing around in a student’s mind: Am I good? Who is better? Will I be strong in math? Will I ever learn to spell? And the all-important: Am I smart?
We saw how our 2nd grade students were already thinking about their own thinking, wondering how they fit into the classroom community, discovering their strengths, and worrying about their weaknesses. We began to wonder: what would it be like if the students learned about themselves in a way that celebrates who they are, and accepts them, imperfections and all? What would it be like if a major focus of learning allowed students to learn about themselves and how their brains work?
When we consider the development of the brains in our boys and girls, we have an overall idea of what to expect when they enter the classroom. As we get to know our 2nd graders, we are able to more specifically identify their unique brain strengths and challenges. We know who needs some extra time to think about a concept before being able to apply what he or she learned. We know who works more successfully with a pair of headphones in a quiet spot. We know who needs to move around in order to listen and learn. We know who thinks deeply and makes connections that many others will miss. We know our students and we help them to know themselves. When they are able to identify what they need to help them learn best, they are empowered to take responsibility for their own learning.
While everyone has a unique perspective on the world, we all have some basic commonalities in the way our brains function when we learn. The All Kinds of Minds approach, led by a national nonprofit institute, helps break these commonalities into specific, observable phenomena that are most relevant for learning and help us better understand the infinite diversity of individual profiles. All Kinds of Minds provides a neurodevelopmental framework that allows us to observe and identify the unique strengths and challenges present in each child’s mind.
When we explain to the students what we see about how they approach tasks, this helps them learn about their own learning. When we infuse them with optimism about their unique ways of thinking, we help demystify how their brains work. We replace the worry and misinformation children tend to attach to their challenges with specific information and observation, supportive recognition, and tailored intervention. When learners are clear on their strengths and recognized for their affinities, they are much better able to sustain effort and identify growth.
What does that look like in the classroom? In 2nd grade we want the students to recognize that everyone is different, and that’s actually a really great thing. Some students can think numerically and solve math problems quickly. Others in the class may be challenged by writing. Some may be reading challenging chapter books. Our goal is to help them understand who they are and how they learn. We also want them to learn who the other individuals are in the classroom and how they learn. Our journey towards learning about the individuals in our community begins with the work of Howard Gardner, who proposed the existence of multiple intelligences. We all know that people seem to possess particular affinities and strengths. After all, adult careers generally are not “be good at everything” endeavors but rather the practical application of specific strengths. There is a reason we are teachers rather than accountants or electricians or astronauts. While certainly “nurture” or the combination of people, events, and experiences in our environment play a role in our adult successes and choices, clearly “nature” provides different brains with innate strengths that affect our school success, from academics to relationships.
Theorists have further refined this thinking by adding to the idea of intelligences evidences of different styles of learning. Some learn best by hearing, some by seeing, and many by doing. Some learn best in quiet and some with a little background noise. Some learn easily through pictures and diagrams, some learn well by words and explanations, and some will remember best when given the opportunity to move or doodle. In our pursuit of best teaching practices we tackled readings on attention, memory, social skills, and learning, and all continued to raise the question: What if we not only acknowledged the unique composition of learning strengths in our classrooms but actually taught children to recognize the presence of these differences as the “norm?” What would it mean to help children look at their strengths as a means to contribute to their community, and their challenges as opportunities to grow?
Metacognition, thinking about your thinking, is a novel concept to most 7- and 8-year-olds. Yet we’ve found that they are ready to start thinking about themselves, their brain strengths, and areas for growth. As we were thinking about how to teach these ideas to the students, we pooled our collective brain strengths to plan and design a project that would help them better understand themselves and how they learn.
It’s OK (cool even) to be different. This was the big idea that we started with in 2nd grade in our exploration of ourselves. We looked at our outsides, including the colors of our skin, eyes, and hair, recognizing that we are all a mix of dark and light shades of brown. We also looked at the globe and discovered that skin color, along with the rest of our outside features, comes from our ancestors and where our families are from in the world. As we studied ourselves we also considered that there is so much to know about people that you “just can’t tell by looking!”
We can tell how different everyone is with one look around the classroom. Some students are reading curled up in a corner, and some are most comfortable working at their desk. Some writers find that words fairly leap onto the paper, while others work very hard to fill the page. Some mathematicians like numbers and calculations, while others enjoy geometric shapes. Some kids live for soccer at recess, while others prefer to gather in the library around a board game.
Since our main objective in the classroom is to learn, we want the students to think about how they learn best. Taking ideas from Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, and the principles from All Kinds of Minds, we work with students to discover ways our brains are wired for thinking and understanding the world. For example, one person may have a “words and language” brain strength which makes reading a pleasure, and an activity sought out during quiet times. Another individual may have a “numbers and logic” brain that loves to solve puzzles, play with numbers, and think mathematically. Other strengths we explore include problem solving and creative thinking, friendship, music, nature, body movement, and drawing, design, and construction. We all have these brain strengths to some degree, though one or two tend to be super strengths for us.
Our students, after considering this list of brain strengths, identified their own super brain strength, their super power. Of course, when you have a super power, you really need a superhero identity. And a cape (you really need a cape when you have a super power!). The students created their superhero identities based upon their brain strength, designed their superhero logos on capes, and illustrated comics about their superhero identities. Taking what they learned about physical features, affinities and brain strengths, we invited families and friends to join us in celebration of a lot of hard work and learning. Everybody in 2nd grade loves this project. It’s fun, it’s active, and it involves some serious thinking.
Now the students are able to use their strengths to help others, and to get help when working with a brain strength that presents more challenges for them. They are beginning to find their place within our community, and understand that there is strength in differences and in knowing who we are. We are strong as individuals, but together we are stronger.
Having explored the idea of differences, affinities, strengths, and challenges, we hope the answers to those internally asked questions sound something like this: “So what if I can’t do everything brilliantly? I have brain strengths that I know and can use to help negotiate my weaknesses. I can engage with and give to my community while both acknowledging and working on the shortfalls that bring me pause. I am free to hold both wild successes and repeated failures in the palm of my hand knowing that of course, my journey will look different from others and yes, I am smart.”
Submitted by Nadine Fiedler on Mon, 11/08/2010 - 2:54pm
One teacher spends her summers teaching reading, and it's not only her students who benefit
By Ann Fyfield
From the Fall 2010 Caller
Summertime is a chance for teachers to gain that much-needed balance that prepares them for a busy year back at school. Although many of us take classes or go on vacations, I return every summer to the community college where I first began my career as teacher of English as a Second Language (ESL). Now I use that background—and the progressive philosophy I bring from Catlin Gabel—to teach reading to adults of all persuasions.
After receiving my master’s degree, I began teaching again at the community college level, joining my new focus on reading with my love of ESL. I taught the lowest remedial reading classes, with students ranging from high school age to 55, from countries spanning the globe, and with many working full time trying to juggle school and families. Thanks to what I had learned teaching at Catlin Gabel, I soon realized that some of these students came with non-diagnosed reading or learning disabilities. For many reasons they had not fully learned the tools to decode words, or had not learned the important study skills that help students prioritize and persevere through discomfort. Many had been demoralized or fallen through the cracks in their teen years of schooling, yet still they had the fortitude to try schooling again.
Their fear or anxiety about education came out in a variety of ways. One young high school dropout looked at me sullenly on the first day, and said, “Don’t try to tell me what to do. I’ll always say no.” One older man pleaded with me to never ask him to read aloud in class, because he couldn’t pronounce the words. With John Dewey’s progressive philosophy in mind, I began allowing them to choose their own readings and used techniques of group work, the reading and telling of individual stories and responding to others’ reading. This paid off. On the last day of the class, I received a note from the sullen student, who wrote, “Thank you for letting me choose the book for the final project. Now I can love reading.” The man who hadn’t wanted to read aloud said his teenage children began reading a book after he told them about it.
At Catlin Gabel, teachers provide thoughtful commentary on a student’s progress instead of giving a grade. In community college level, a passing grade can mean the difference between receiving financial aid or not. But a passing grade says nothing about what a student has learned or not learned. Sometimes I hand back tests with no grade, but with comments in the margins. This leads to a lively discussion: does the grade motivate you, or does the learning? As the debate goes on, an authoritative response from a quiet Hispanic woman says it all: “I came here to learn, not to get a grade. A grade says nothing about whether I can speak or read English,” she says. At the end of one such class, a young man asked for his homework back, saying that he hadn’t put enough effort into it and wanted to do a better job. He became a different student after that class.
Spending time teaching adults renews my devotion to the belief that a strong foundation in reading and study skills during middle school carries on throughout life. It also affirms my belief that the progressive ideals we hold true at Catlin Gabel, those that value and build on a student’s interest and the rewards of effort and taking risks, can be brought to places outside of our privileged environment and ultimately understood and appreciated by everyone. That’s what I obtain from my strongly held belief in progressive education. That’s the balance I find in taking my teaching beyond Catlin Gabel.
Ann Fyfield is a reading specialist in Catlin Gabel’s learning center and teacher of 6th grade humanities. She has also served as Japanese instructor and worked in the admissions office.
Submitted by Nadine Fiedler on Wed, 03/10/2010 - 2:42pm
Teachers speak about our distinctive programs
From the Winter 2010 Caller
The programs here embody Catlin Gabel’s uniqueness. These important offerings advance the mission of the school by continually reinforcing and refining the notion of progressive education. The teachers quoted here highlight what makes these programs exceptional and what they contribute to a Catlin Gabel education.
By Dale Yocum, Middle & Upper School robotics program director
Catlin Gabel’s robotics program gives students experience with hands-on engineering. More important than that, it is an opportunity to work together as a team accomplishing an impossible goal in a time too short and with a budget too small, just like the real world. Our robotics team is the most decorated in Oregon, advancing to the world championships the last three years in a row. Our membership continues to grow, with 10% of the upper school now taking part. The next phase of work for robotics is to apply our skills earned in competitions towards other problems in the community. Our work to improve the quality of life for the elephants in the zoo is the first example of how we will reach out.
By Peter Green, outdoor education director & Upper School dean of students
The outdoor education program is the place where students grow in ways that will help them face the challenges of the outside world. It is one of the ways we help prepare them for the unexpected. The program provides leadership opportunities where students are genuinely challenged to lead their peers, make decisions, and confront daunting obstacles. This past year we passed a major milestone with 60% of the current Upper School students having been on an outdoor program trip. January marks the fifth anniversary of the program, and we have offered over 120 trips. Our plan is to involve as many students as possible. We will be offering more trips that are truly adventures, like our trip to Paulina Butte in central Oregon, where the group will hike up in winter conditions and try to construct a pond or tub to warm themselves before camping out.
By Spencer White, global education coordinator & Middle School Spanish teacher
Global education at Catlin Gabel takes full advantage of the international diversity of parents, faculty, and staff to design activities and travel experiences that do not rely on outside contractors or travel agents. Connections to places and cultures far from Catlin Gabel exist in our students’ daily classes and lives rather than as an isolated, future destination. Our students need to be able to communicate and act internationally at every level of their education. Fostering abilities in cross-cultural communication and critical thinking about global issues is at the forefront of our global initiative. Our global programs are developing exponentially. We have launched the Viewfinder Global Film Series, which showed 23 films this year. We invite families from all divisions to gather monthly to view and discuss films selected by the faculty, connected to curriculum. This series honors the diversity of our families and allows us to expand our perspectives on the world and its cultures. In addition, global trip opportunities for Middle and Upper School students this year include Costa Rica, Martinique, Nepal, Cuba, and Japan.
The Learning Center
By Kathy Qualman, Middle & Upper School learning specialist
The Learning Center is truly the place where each child is the unit of consideration. We help students from all four divisions understand their unique cognitive abilities and work with them to identify and practice strategies that get them to their academic goals. We facilitate communications between families, students, teachers, and outside resources so that we are coordinated in supporting student learning. For students there is no stigma attached to using the Learning Center. It’s seen as a resource for all, just like the libraries. Our achievements are highly personal to each student and family. We believe they are life changing and life enhancing. It makes us proud to see the transformation in students, culminating with graduation, when we see our students walk across the stage every June. In recent years between 75% and 95% of each graduating class has used our services during their time at Catlin Gabel. We are working on improving our ESL support, strengthening our efforts to help students transition between divisions, integrating new technologies, strengthening support for new students, becoming a more active professional resource for teachers, investigating partnerships with other institutions, and becoming a resource to our greater Portland community.
PLACE--Planning and Leadership Across City Environments (formerly the Urban Leadership Program)
By George Zaninovich, PLACE director
This unique program allows students to gain exposure to local government and learn how engaged citizens can influence the future of their communities. Every PLACE class culminates in a service learning project where students form an urban planning consulting firm and complete a plan for a client. This directly benefits the community as Catlin Gabel students, working with students from other public and private high schools, tackle a need in our city and find appropriate solutions. Recently, thanks to the work of PLACE’s advisory committee made up of city leaders and Catlin Gabel students and teachers, PLACE was awarded a prestigious grant from the Edward E. Ford Family Foundation. We have added partners in Portland’s Bureau of Planning of Sustainability, Portland State University, and Portland’s public schools. PLACE has come a long way in the last year by adding semester classes at Catlin Gabel, and offering the course at Lincoln and Marshall high schools. We are looking to build a more robust urban studies curriculum at Catlin Gabel, as well as expanding the summer program to include a middle school Urban Exploration camp and more opportunities for high school students from across the region.
By Nance Leonhardt, Middle & Upper School art teacher
Active participation in the arts is essential to each student’s understanding and appreciation of humanity. We honor the integrity of each student’s work and aim to create an environment that facilitates creative risk taking, where the process is as important as the product. One example of many vibrant programs in the arts is the Poetry in Motion project, which frees students from traditional media conventions and pushes them to explore cinematography and editing from an experimental and expressionistic angle. It generates cross-divisional connections between filmmakers and poets, and joins the community in a creative process. Each year students in the project produce 45 original films, inspired by works of poetry written by community members ranging in age from 4 to 65 and beyond.
To support these, and all of the amazing programs at Catlin Gabel, please visit the giving website or call or email the development office, 503-297-1894 ext. 302.
Submitted by Nadine Fiedler on Thu, 10/29/2009 - 2:41pm
At the Learning Center, students learn how they learn--and how to advocate for themselves
From the Fall 2009 Caller
By Ann Fyfield
The Learning Center during finals week last May was a busy place—and it showed well what we do there and why we do it. The seven quiet study rooms and one large table were filled to capacity. Students were studying alone or in small groups, making tea at the counter, or discussing upcoming plans for their summer. My coworker Kathy Qualman and I were busy that week too, talking with teachers and parents about student transitions for the next year, and passing along test-taking strategies to students just before their finals.
Most emblematically, some students came to tell us that they had spoken with their teachers about finals. They asked if they could take some of their exams in a quiet space in the Learning Center, without the distractions that can so often deter their test-taking performance. They knew how they learned best, knew the way to articulate their needs, knew with whom they could communicate, and knew where they could go.
This self knowledge and ability to self-advocate is essential to learning at any stage in life, essential to all students—whether they are faced with learning challenges or not. The key lies in knowing how they struggle and how they shine. Helping guide Catlin Gabel students in finding this path towards self-advocacy is one way in which teachers and the Learning Center work together to ensure that the student is the “unit of consideration.”
As we work together with teachers and students to understand a child’s learning strengths and needs, we work towards building trust. This in turn helps a student identify personal goals and strategies, and fosters an ability to communicate with teachers without fear of reprisal or failure. It doesn’t happen right away; in fact the process can take many years. What can start with a student’s frustration that causes her or him to avoid teachers or classwork— for many different reasons—often ends in that student becoming a successful partner with teachers and parents in his or her own learning.
Over the years, Catlin Gabel has developed a number of approaches to helping students learn about their learning. Foremost, we value the school’s generosity towards professional development, which has encouraged countless teachers to benefit from brain research conferences and training in the All Kinds of Minds initiative. This allows teachers and learning specialists to use and understand consistent concepts and vocabulary needed to discuss and track students and their learning. Above and beyond that, the learning specialists, including Sue Sacks in the Lower School, have been trained to administer the Woodcock Johnson tests of cognition and achievement, which reveal student strengths and weaknesses. We use the test results to create a learning profile for each student and as a springboard for discussions with students, teachers, and parents about the most efficient and productive ways to build on individual strengths in a classroom setting. We work from this profile to help the student set personal goals and study strategies that can lead them to success in school. Sometimes we refer a student out for further testing, but mostly we use the information to help teachers, parents, and students understand and value the student’s learning strengths.
Depending on the student’s own passion for learning and perseverance, sometimes this testing helps the student get immediate results, while for others it may take a while to bear fruit. We often find that as students mature and take on a more active role in their own learning, the ability to use what they have learned from the tests increases. Sometimes a student will knock on the door and say, “Hey, can we look at my profile again?” We will then sit down to see what has changed and talk about additional strategies to use based on increasing demands as they go through their years at school.
The point at which a child begins to understand and use the information from a profile is joyous, for both us and them. A 6th grader who came to me early this year began her testing reluctant to participate and fearful of the findings. As she came to grasp the reasons why she sometimes had a hard time in class, her fear of the unknown lessened, and she was able to freely talk about what tripped her up and where she felt confident. We came up with goals and strategies that built on her strengths. By the end of the year, I was receiving emails from her with her own ideas about preparation, what worked and didn’t work for her learning. She had taken on the challenge of her own success. What was once a fear of a retake test became an opportunity to refine her study efforts. She learned to advocate for herself, confidently talking with teachers about ways she could better understand the classwork.
Catlin Gabel is best at building relationships between students and teachers. As a support system outside the classroom, we also value our role in helping students identify and build one-on-one relationships with trusted mentors and advocates. We have built a network of peer and adult tutors who can help a student and a teacher manage time and workload. We facilitate the Middle School study hall, where students can get help from Upper School students who have “been there and done that.” The older students often help the younger ones navigate their way through homework assignments or show them that they can talk about homework with teachers. When parents, teachers, and students meet after outside testing, students grasp that their teachers are allies who are eager to understand how they learn and what helps build success for them. This is another step towards a student becoming a partner and self-advocate for learning.
Kathy and I always end our year with a walk to the senior awards assembly. We remind ourselves that more than 80 percent of Catlin Gabel students use the learning services of the Lower, Middle, or Upper Schools at some point in their school career. We nudge each other as student after student takes that walk to receive an award for academic or community achievement. These are the students we worked with. Sitting right alongside their parents, having seen these students grow in self-confidence from children to strong young adults, we are with them in awe of this transformation and proud to have played a small part in their support.
Learning specialist Ann Fyfield has been at Catlin Gabel since 1989. Her roles have included teaching Japanese, and this year she also teaches 6th grade humanities.