Friday, January 25, 2019

Inspiring a Love for Musical Instruments in Elementary School

Our vision in Isle of Wight County Schools is to create a learning environment that will enable every child to discover his or her unique gifts and talents.  This year, three of our elementary schools are introducing students to instruments through their music classes.  Carrsville Elementary is redefining itself as an integrated arts school and, in September, they launched a unique music program.  All students, beginning with kindergarten, spend 30 minutes every day learning to play the violin.  Holding the violin and the bow properly, reading music, and playing the notes are just some of what the students are mastering. I am extremely impressed with the progress the students are making in such a short time.  Windsor Elementary expanded their music program this year with the addition of keyboards during their music resource time.  The students are enthusiastic and excited to not just sing music, but to play selections on the keyboard, including some created by the students themselves.   Carrollton Elementary recently added guitars to their music program, thanks to a Donors Choose grant.  Smithfield High student Lily Eng works with the Carrollton music classes on Friday and came up with the idea for a grant for guitars. Now students are learning to play an instrument as part of their music class.

While teaching students to play a musical instrument is the primary goal of both programs, there are many additional benefits for our young learners. Studies show that learning a musical instrument reduces feelings of anxiety, builds greater control of emotions and improves focus. It also builds grit and determination. Even if students don't continue studying an instrument when they leave elementary school, the skills they acquire will assist them for years to come.

I encourage you to watch the video below and hear from the students and teachers on the positive impact these programs are having. "Bravo" to these students for their enthusiasm and tenacity as they expand their musical horizons.

Violins! Pianos! Guitars! OH MY! (video)

Monday, January 14, 2019

Delivering Effective Instruction using the Instructional Framework

Isle of Wight County Schools developed the Instructional Framework as a way to ensure effective instruction throughout the division.  It is the teacher's responsibility to frame the lesson, allow students to practice targeted skills, integrate projects, pursue their interests, and connect their curriculum to the world beyond school.  Based on best practices, the Instructional Framework follows the gradual release of student learning which moves classroom instruction from teacher-centered, whole group delivery, to student-centered collaboration and independent practice.  The gradual release model incorporates "I do, we do, you do together, you do independently."

Daily lessons include time for identifying the Learning Outcomes or Essential Question, which drive students to discuss, inquire and investigate the topic.  Direct Instruction is the "I Do" part of the lesson, where the teacher is working with the whole class, introducing a concept or activity, or even modeling procedures for the students.  The Student Work Period is the "We Do, You Do Together, You Do Independently" part of the lesson.  This may include stations rotations, collaborative activities, partner or small group work, and field experiences.  The final component of the Instructional Framework is the Debrief, where students and teachers reflect on learning and use that feedback to drive instruction.

The largest chunk of time is devoted to the Student Work Period--65%--with Direct Instruction around 20% and the Debrief at 10%.  Even though Debrief is a small portion of the lesson, it is a valuable component that provided insight into student progress and helps teachers know how to move forward with their instruction.

Recently we spoke to teachers at Carrollton Elementary to find out why the Instructional Framework is beneficial and how their lessons look when they are using the Instructional Framework.  In the video below, the teachers explain how they are using the Instructional Framework in their classroom, while footage from their classes shows the framework in action. I would like to thank the Carrollton teachers for helping us share with the community how classrooms across IWCS are ensuring effective instruction through the use of the Instructional Framework.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Celebrating the Grand Opening of the Barn and Classroom Building at the Land Lab

December 5 was a memorable day. Not just because of the snow we saw in Isle of Wight County, but because we hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new barn and classroom building at the Land Lab.  I was unfortunately under the weather and on doctor's orders for bed rest.  It was incredibly difficult to not be there, but I'm extremely proud of everyone involved for putting together an outstanding event.
The ceremony took place inside of the barn, complete with stalls of goats and piglets, and even some boxes of rabbits.  The event included remarks from our School Board Chairman, Vicky Hulick, and the Vice-Chairman for the Board of Supervisors, William McCarty.  Gracie Owney, a senior from Smithfield High and a student in the Agriculture program, also spoke to the guests about what the program means to her. Mike Lombardo, our Assistant Superintendent, shared the following on my behalf:
Three years ago the division embarked on an ambitious journey to redesign the CTE program to better meet the needs of our students.  The Agriculture program has been a part of the IWCS curriculum for decades, but we knew it needed to be updated.  In the 2016-2018 school year, we established a working farm (Land Lab) to expand the existing agricultural program. The land lab was constructed on existing division property behind Windsor Elementary School.   We hired a full-time farm manager for the Land Lab.  The farm manager and agriculture teacher collaborate to provide authentic real-world learning in the areas of agricultural business management and mechanization, along with plant, animal, and soil science.  Since opening in September of 2017, the students have transformed the Land Lab from six acres of uncut grass, to four fenced pastures, a vegetable garden, and housing for chickens, rabbits, goats, and, as of yesterday, pigs. Students receive real world experiences through the Land Lab, such as participation in “farm to table” marketing from the sale of farm products to the public and to the division’s culinary arts program.  The lab has welcomed groups of elementary students as teachers introduce science standards in their classes.  The working farm has made agriculture come to life for students throughout the division.  And now we have these two beautiful buildings to further enhance learning opportunities for our students.

The strides we have made with this program, many of our CTE programs, would not have been possible without the support and involvement of several key people and groups. The Isle of Wight County School Board had the courage and foresight to see the need for a redesign our CTE program. The Board of Supervisors listened to our proposal and publicly supported our vision for our schools with 7.9 million dollar investment.  Our Farm Manager, Daniel Judkins, and Agriculture teacher, Jason Brittle, and the leadership at our two high schools, Principal Laura Sullivan from Windsor High and Zachary Haney from Smithfield High.  We emphasize the importance of collaboration with our students.  The success of our new CTE model would not have been possible without this collaboration and I wanted to acknowledge their contributions this morning.

All of the speakers, along with Jason Brittle, Daniel Judkins, Zachary Haney and Laura Sullivan, joined together to cut the blue ribbon, officially opening the barn and classroom building for use.  As guests toured the facilities, they were able to enjoy refreshments provided by the IWCS Culinary Arts students and instructor Kyle Cousins.

This was really a milestone for our CTE program.  We are redesigning our courses to provide students with authentic learning experiences.  In order to meet that goal, we have to include facilities that realistically simulate those work environments.  These new buildings at the Land Lab do just that and continue to support our vision of ensuring students are college, career and life ready.

I encourage you to click on the link below to watch a video of pictures from the event.