Partnering with the Library

By Susan Palmer, Head of Middle School

It’s easy to look around the Middle School and identify all of the ways in which we partner with our colleagues in the Library, and it’s easy to convey how rich our partnership makes the learning process. Head Librarian Donna Woody and Librarian Katie Beth Miller have developed critical elements of the Middle School curriculum: media literacy, research skills and strategies, and thorough knowledge of Young Adult fiction in order to foster a love of reading in all Middle School students.

The path between the Middle School and the Montgomery Library is worn thin by students checking books in and out. They naturally and effortlessly confer with librarians on the latest releases, the impatient wait for a sequel, and the enthusiasm generated by just the right book. Eavesdroppers are astounded by how well the librarians keep up with the newest books on the market and how they easily match the book to the reader. Fantasy, contemporary, historical fiction … it’s all there for the taking. Aligned with English Department goals of a lively free choice reading program in the Middle School years, the librarians are critical to the success of that program.

Our librarians also collaborate closely with Middle School teachers in all subject areas to develop and teach age-appropriate research skills. Identification of effective resources, critical assessment of those sources, note-taking, and summary skills are all elements of good research. Our librarians work with the teachers to craft projects that align with both content and skills expectations. The seventh graders are deep into a research project on the Holocaust following their reading of MAUS II. In order to guide students away from simply assembling facts, the librarians teach them to ask critical questions and to create a thesis which must then be proved using their research. It’s a lengthy process with an impressive final product, all because the librarians teach and coach the students through every step.

Critical evaluation of the vast amount of information available today is a life-long skill that must be tried out and practiced in Middle School. At Greenhill, we want our students to weigh all arguments, evaluate them for accuracy, and determine their effectiveness in conveying information or opinions. Critical thinking has to be practiced, and collaborations with the library staff allow this practice towards mastery to take place.

From “just browsing,” to ebooks to intense research projects and papers, the Montgomery Library is central to our development as learners and teachers. It’s true that the architecture is gorgeous and every Middle School student likes reading around the fire on a cold day, but the real work of the library and of the librarians is of the mind. And this work can lead to a lifetime of thoughtful understanding.

Teaching Methods of Lower School

By Michael Simpson, Head of Lower School

On Tuesday the following request was sent out by one of our science teachers: “Send me questions with right or wrong answers from your subject area.” Why? Her students are building electronic quiz boards. This involves designing and building circuit systems that allow answers to be transmitted and a response of incorrect or correct to be lit up.

Then yesterday during an admissions visit, a prospective parent asked, “Which books do you teach from?” I explained that we don’t follow textbooks but use a wide variety of resources and materials.

The contrast of teaching from a textbook versus students building a circuit board to apply their learning was palpable. As often as we can, our teachers design projects or tasks that require students to create authentic demonstrations of their learning. A few examples:

• Protest Letters in fourth grade (applying research, writing process and editing skills)
• USA Road Trip in second grade (simulation requiring practice of math, research, and literacy skills)
• Fine Arts Musical Performances (applying music theory and structures learned in class)
• Primer Pie Contest (applying literacy and math skills)
• Microscope work in third grade—checking out real cells (applying observation & recording skills and conceptual understanding of cells)
• Stock Market Unit in fourth grade (applying broad math and research skills)

Benefits? During these kinds of experiences, we observe high levels of engagement and a joy in learning. Students immerse themselves in big picture ideas and practice higher order thinking as they work together to solve complex problems. Individual passions are discovered. Classmates have real and substantive conversations with each other and their teacher. Students manage their leaning to accomplish goals, and practice collaborating and communicating in small teams.

In short, this is where learning becomes real, memorable, complex, and fun! When I walk into a classroom engaged in these kinds of activities, the energy and passion for learning are instantly recognizable.

Community in Assemblies

By Kim Barnes, Head of Early Childhood

“Picture if you will a three-year-old girl grabbing hold of her Elmo doll and saying ‘I want to go home. ‘ Little did she know she was already home.”
At Greenhill School, we strive to strike a balance between the individual and the community. One of the regular routines of each division which leads to community has to do with assemblies and this sense of community frequently comes from individuals.

For example, in preschool, it’s quite a sight to gaze upon a sea of four, five, and six year olds as they watch classmates parading across the makeshift stage one-by-one to enact “their” part of a well-known story. Classes in awe of one another and eagerly awaiting their turn to act in an upcoming week break into spontaneous applause as the hedgehog, bear, owls, Baba, Nikki, and others take a bow.

Then there’s the Lower School Monday Morning Assemblies and Core Principles Assemblies. Starting off the week with 350+ voices in song and individuals being noted for acts of kindness as fourth graders get a taste of leadership through oral communication sets the week right. Core Principles Assemblies held on Late Start days find small groups of fourth graders bringing in their individual thoughts and ideas about a particular subject (such as What’s Bugging You?”) via a skit.

Of course, in the Middle, the gathering of all students is a Community Time Assembly. These gatherings are led by students from Student Forum or Character Council. Each assembly is unique but may include performances, demonstrations, recognitions, words of wisdom, and a bit of humor – all from individuals contributing and helping to form the community.

The title, C Day Assemblies, speak for itself in Upper School for you “C” everyone in Assembly that Day. And… this brings us back to the quote that began this piece from a young woman who has now been at Greenhill School for five/sixths of her life. Sharing and celebration of individual stories is strong during these assemblies. Finding your individual place amongst the community is important and relating to other’s will only strengthen one’s own story.

The idea for the theme of this particular entry came from Allie Woodson’s C day Assembly Speech in December on her 18th birthday. Thank you, Allie, for the risk-taking you demonstrated as you shared your thoughts and feelings about your Greenhill journey from Level 1 through Senior year with your upper school colleagues (some of whom also share each of those fifteen years with you), your teachers (current and former), and administrators.