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How We Teach Science Reading

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By Dan Griffiths

From the Fall 2010 Caller
Reading science at any level is like reading a foreign language book. Students encounter so much technical language for the first time. They have to translate the jargon, and they have to integrate the language with concepts they’re trying to get the hang of. We constantly and gradually introduce and reinforce terminology. By the junior and senior years, these words and phrases have become a part of students’ vocabulary.
We start teaching students how to read science in Science I and II. A lot of the homework is reading comprehension: we ask them to interpret the text and pull out information, which checks understanding and builds skills. There’s a big difference between reading and understanding. You can learn things by rote and regurgitate the information, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to use concepts in different contexts accurately.
We help students cope with new terms and concepts by having all regular Science I classes meet five days a week, instead of meeting fewer times with more homework. This way there’s always someone available to go over new material in class. We don’t assign huge chunks of homework, because there’s too much in science reading that’s unfamiliar.
As in math, it’s hard to find good textbooks, so we use texts as just one of a number of tools available to students. We have to produce a lot of our own materials to supplement the books that are too limited in their scope for our curriculum.
One of our aims is for our students to be able to come across a science article in the New York Times or Scientific American, for example, see that it is an opinion piece, and critically read, evaluate, and understand it. They should be able to understand sources and the vital peer review process of scientific journals. They must understand where the material they’re reading is coming from.  


Mindful Pleasures: Developing Lifelong Readers in the Catlin Gabel Upper School

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By Tony Stocks

From the Fall 2010 Caller

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” —Lemony Snicket 
If you read at all— newspapers, periodicals, that purported destroyer of the art of reading known as the internet—you’ve probably come across accounts lamenting the decline of reading in America. A much-quoted 2004 report from the National Endowment for the Arts claimed that less than half of American adults read any literature at all, and the decline was said to be even more precipitous among young people. News like this hits English teachers especially hard. Reading is not only the central focus of our profession—it’s also our passion, and often the only factor that allowed us to survive adolescence. Yet as you may realize when confronted with huge, intractable social problems like the specter of global warming or the rise of Justin Bieber, the only practical response is local. We can’t stuff the internet genie back in the bottle (nor, I suspect, would most of us want to), but we can keep working to develop skillful, enthusiastic, lifelong readers, giving our students in the Upper School the tools to read incisively and professionally, with the maximum of enjoyment and understanding. Here are four major strategies that we use to accomplish that goal.
Diverse, Challenging Reading Lists
We challenge our students by assigning them rich, multifaceted texts, drawn from both the traditional Western canon and from those alternative traditions that contemporary academia is thankfully taking more notice of lately. There’s nothing simplified or dumbed-down about the pieces we ask students to read. At all levels of the program, we ask them to read adult texts, almost always in their entirety. And our students tend to rise to this challenge with a maturity and enthusiasm born of being treated like grownups. According to my colleague Nichole Tassoni, our ninth graders remark, at several points in the year, “We read the whole Odyssey” (the epic poem by Homer), at first in disbelief at the task before them, but later with a growing pride as they tackle the book. Last year’s junior class spent part of the spring working their way through Toni Morrison’s Sula, a challenging novel that offers visceral and sometimes disturbing perspectives on race, sexuality, and social class. Despite the book’s difficulty, it emerged as one of the most popular pieces of the year; in large part, I suspect, because it confirmed our students’ feeling that they’re ready to tackle mature subject matter.
Active Reading
In order for students to get the most out of their reading, we insist that they always read with a pen or pencil in their hand, and record in the margins of their texts those elements worthy of remark that they encounter. Such a strategy not only ensures that students will retain key points of their reading for the future, but has the larger advantage of shifting the act of reading from passive absorption to active engagement with the text. As American philosopher Mortimer Adler writes in the essay “How to Mark a Book,” which all Catlin Gabel students encounter at the start of their sophomore year, active reading assumes that “learning doesn’t consist of being an empty receptacle . . . and marking a book is literally an expression of differences, or agreements of opinion, with the author.” It’s always gratifying to note instances where students have scribbled “neat,” “beautiful,” “huh???,” or even “WTF?” in their books, as these indicate that students are engaging emotionally with the text.
Early in their Upper School careers, many students resist the demand that they read actively. They argue that active reading slows them down too much, or that it spoils their pleasure in reading. But as they move through the program, most come to see active reading as a necessary weapon in their academic arsenal. They realize that the reduction in speed required by active reading is usually compensated for by a greater centering of attention that tunes out distractions and allows them to complete assignments more quickly. They also discover that there is no single formula for active reading, and that students need to develop individualized strategies to match their own mental habits: some will scribble notes in the margins as they read, others will wait to summarize a crucial point or two at the bottom of the page, some will write a short outline or paragraph at the end of a chapter. Most will also come to redefine the pleasure of reading, preferring a harder-won understanding to a facile breezing through the text. At the very least, all will realize that actively reading a text at the time it’s assigned eliminates the need to reread it when exam time rolls around.
Reading Through the Lens of Literary Terms
Just as physicists, attorneys, and skateboarders all employ a special terminology that both maps the conceptual territory of their respective fields and marks off the professional from the layperson, so literary critics have developed a jargon for the domains of poetry, narrative, and drama. We certainly want our students to be able to toss around fifty-cent words like “allegory,” “epithet,” and “anagnorisis” in order to impress their future college professors, but our insistence that they learn and wield this vocabulary goes beyond our desire to make them big noises on campus. For in mapping the terrain of literary study, these terms allow us to formulate fruitful questions that might not be possible without them.
For instance, for many readers the terms “story” and “plot” are more or less interchangeable. But Catlin Gabel students learn early in their careers that, for professional literary critics, a story is defined as any sequence of events in chronological order, whereas plot refers to the manner in which the author manipulates that sequence to create certain artistic and emotional effects. Armed with that distinction, our students can begin to ask why works like the Odyssey or Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane begin in medias res (“in the middle of things”) and then flash back to earlier actions. Similarly, a student reading Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar familiar with the concept of “caesura,” a break or pause in a line of poetry, may begin to notice how the poet uses that device as a subtle means of characterization. While the headstrong Cassius tends to speak in lines with few internal pauses (“Now in the names of all the gods at once/Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed,/That he is grown so great?”), Brutus’s caution is marked by frequent caesurae that break the forward motion of his speeches (“That you do love me, I am nothing jealous;/What you would work me to, I have some aim.”)
Reading as Active Response
Finally, reading is actively integrated with the other elements of the English program. If, as Adler suggests, every encounter with a text is ideally a dynamic conversation with its author, then every text our students read becomes part of a larger dialogue with their classroom community. Whether students are debating the question of racism in Heart of Darkness, or teaching the first act of Waiting for Godot to their peers, they are compelled to become active caretakers of the text, to explore its implications, to take a stand on its meaning and significance, and to convey their interpretation to their teachers and fellow students.
There’s nothing particularly innovative or trendy about any of these approaches to reading (in fact, Adler’s article dates from the early ’40s). But graduates still return to campus eager to talk about their recent reading, librarian Sue Phillips reports that non-required books fly off the shelves before winter or summer vacation, and we often overhear the finer points of The Great Gatsby, or Beowulf, or the latest masterwork featuring Northwest teenage vampires, being debated in the student lounges—suggesting that at least at Catlin Gabel, the future of reading may not be so bleak after all.
Tony Stocks has been teaching English in Catlin Gabel’s Upper School since 1999. He is the proud father of Clarissa ’16 and Charlotte ’19 Speyer-Stocks.


The Unlimited World of Readers

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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.



Knights donate big to Catlin Gabel

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Portland Business Journal article, October '10

Annual Fund off to a great start

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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.

Junior class selling winter greens to raise money for prom

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October 29 – November 15

In support of the 2011 prom, the Class of 2012 offers a fundraising event inspired by the rich natural surroundings of our campus and the Northwest.

For the second year, our generous neighbors at Cornell Farms are providing us with beautiful evergreens raised locally and sustainably.

We are honored by their support and are pleased to present the second winter greens junior class fundraiser featuring Noble Fir, Boxwood, and eco wreaths.

The juniors will sell the items pictured below through November 15.

To order, please download the form below, and give it to a member of the Class of 2012. Families of current Catlin Gabel students may charge the greens to their Catlin Gabel accounts. Your purchase will be available for pick-up at Cornell Farm (half a mile east of Catlin Gabel at 8212 SW Barnes Road) the first week of December.

Please email faculty advisor Madeleine Girardin-Schuback with any questions.

The Class of 2012 appreciates your support of our prom fundraiser. Thank you!

Online orders are now closed.

Click on images to see larger photos and prices.


Poems by Billy Collins in the US Library

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The marvelous Billy Collins is coming to Catlin Gabel's Upper School on Wednesday, November 17th.  If you would like a taste of his poetry before he arrives, here are a few resources for you. 

The Billy Collins Poetry Window in the US Library:  We've posted several of his poems on the window just inside the US Library entrance.  Stop by and browse for a brief introduction to his writing.

Check out a book:  There will be a good selection of titles in the library in a special book display beginning on November 1st.

Visit the Poetry Foundation's Billy Collins page to listen to audio recordings of his poems, and to read a brief biography. 

Enjoy the poetry!



As You Like It photo gallery

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Middle and Upper School production

Catlin Gabel students were part of a collaboration in which Portland Playhouse partnered with seven area high schools to produce a different Shakespeare play at each school. These images were shot at the dress rehearsal.

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

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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

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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.


Eerie Books & Films for the Dark Nights of October...

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As the leaves begin to turn and the nights grow chill, stop by the US Library to find some novels, short stories, and movies to suit your Halloween mood!  We have classic fiction by H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, a great assortment of Hitchcock and vampire DVDs, and plenty of mysteries.  If you're busy and don't have much time, check out a story collection to enjoy your chills in bite-sized bits.  Don't blame us if you have a little bit of trouble settling down to sleep...

Senior McKensie Mickler named an Oregonian athlete of the week

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Oregonian article, October 10

Join us for our Case Studies program on Tuesday, September 3, at 6:30 pm

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Seniors and their parents are invited to join admissions representatives from nine colleges around the country to review mock admissions files and discuss the college application process.

Date: Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Time: 6:30 pm

Place: Meet in the Barn, and we’ll split into small groups after a short general meeting.

We anticipate that we’ll finish up by about 9:00 pm.

Prior to the event, please download and print the mock admissions files below!