- How Sweet It Is To Be Back At Camp!
- The Gift of Time
- The Spirit of Aloha at Rossman
- Cross-Curricular Projects in 6th Grade: Frank Lloyd Wright
- Student Leadership in Sixth Grade
- Classroom Ukuleles
- Starting the Day Off Right!
- Physics in Junior Kindergarten
- Responsive Advisory Groups
- The Age of Augmented and Virtual Reality
- Super Spangler’s Favorite Things
- Dyslexia- What it Is and What it’s Not
- Character and Community
- Fostering a Growth Mindset
- The Gift of Ambiguity
- Empowering Students with Envisioning Language
- Spotlight on Extended Day
- Expository Writing, What is that?
- The Power of a Greeting
- Embracing Change in Science
- Starting the Year Off Right: Promoting Routines to Build Student Engagement and Community
By: Fifth Grade Teachers Annie Menees and Todd Valdez
May 18, 2022
When Covid shut us down in the spring of 2020, we were determined to simulate the beloved fifth grade camp experience somehow. With the help of an enthusiastic student committee, we planned a virtual campout with many Zoom boxes featuring fire pits, tents and s’mores! Students had a blast sharing camp songs, instrument performances, jokes, ghost stories and even pet tricks well into the evening!
In 2021, the fifth grade team planned an awesome two-day camp experience on campus at Rossman. Students frolicked and bonded with team-building activities, skits, and games galore—soccer, wiffle ball and kickball to name a few! And who could forget the food? Pizza parties, barbeques and doughnuts for breakfast!
This year, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to take our fifth graders to Camp Wyman, a 125-year-old outdoor and environmental education center in Eureka, on May 9th and 10th.
Day One included lessons in compass use and coordinate navigation followed by orienteering through the forest in pairs. Students also tackled four different routes up a massive rock climbing tower, pushing themselves and cheering on their classmates. They even learned to help belay each other!
Day Two included lessons in forest and water ecology, archery, ax throwing, and epic zipline rides through the treetops! We capped off a great two days with an evening campfire complete with s’mores, all while listening to songs, stories and drum and flute performances by a professional performer.
Each spring, fifth grade camp affords our class the opportunity to bond and learn in a new context while taking a wilderness breather at the end of a year of academics in the classroom. At camp, students learn enduring lessons about themselves, others, and the natural world. They challenge themselves and their peers past their comfort zones, gaining skills and confidence along the way. Camp reinforces the concept of interdependence—the understanding that we all rely on each other and our ecosystems—which is at the heart of Rossman’s sustainability model. Memories from camp last a lifetime, and we are so grateful that our fifth graders were able to forge those memories again this year!
Below are some quotes from the students about their experiences and what they learned while at camp.
“We went ziplining from about 50 feet in the air and it was very exhilarating and awesome. You stood on a wooden platform and you were clipped onto the zipline. Adrenaline was rushing through me. Whooo! My hair was flying behind me. I felt free! Those 10 seconds of flying through the air were the best seconds of camp by far!”
“Rock climbing was so much fun! Everyone learned about themselves and had a great time.”
“I learned that I can do so much more than I thought and that fear shouldn’t hold me back.”
“We’re all very similar, yet different at the same time.”
“I learned that friends are very important because they cheered me on and never let me stop doing the activities I was afraid of.”
“Different people have different accomplishments, so yours might be getting to the top of the rock wall and others might be just getting on it.”
“It was AWESOME!”
By: Lower School Science Teacher Jess Baker
May 5, 2022
Time is a wonderful gift we can give to children. I often encourage parents to give their children the gift of time. Time together one on one. Time to learn something new. Time to be bored. Time to be a kid and escape the business of the schedule.
We are all bound by time, and school is no exception to this rule. When teaching, time can easily become a dictator of the schedule. I only have time to do this, or I’m not sure if we have time to do that. Afterall, we only have about 1,100 hours in a school year to teach the kids everything we have planned. This is something I reflect on often.
Kids naturally move through their worlds at their own pace on their own timeline. I’m sure you really feel this as you’re trying to get to school and work on time, right? At some point in growing up, we acknowledge its value and succumb to our calendars. Don’t get me wrong, I live by and love my calendar. As a self-acknowledged type A personality, I have multiple color-coded calendars to keep me in order. However, the minds of children often do best when given sustained time in learning and play, allowing their minds and thoughts to become fully immersed in an activity.
As I write my science curriculum, I keep these thoughts ever present in my mind. I ask myself: What happens when we allow children the time to become immersed in their learning? What does this look like? What happens when we think outside the boundaries of a typical curricular unit? So much of school curricula is tied up with a beautiful bow in segregated units. This is a great way of organizing our content, however sometimes scientific observations do not fit into such timelines. The first graders and I talked about this idea this year as we were driven by the fact that scientists observe things over time.
Plant study is a large part of our first grade science curriculum here at Rossman. Every February we plant seeds of a variety of flowers and vegetables. Planting seeds is not a unique concept to first graders, but it is wildly exciting. This is a unit that requires, you guessed it, time. Gardening is a wonderful lesson of patience and requires slowing down and waiting. It is a beautiful analogy for life, and I love sharing in this process with my first graders.
At the beginning of this school year I posed the question: Do you need a seed to grow a plant? This was a perplexing question for their young minds, one they had not thought about before. I recorded some of their thoughts they shared while we worked through the question in our group discussion:
“Yes, because if you throw an apple on the ground, a bird will eat it, poop out the seeds, and an apple tree can grow.”
“No, because acorns make oak trees. Squirrels do it all the time.”
“Weeds don’t need seeds (to grow).”
“Sometimes because wildflowers grow by themselves if you don’t mow them.”
“A wildflower might grow without a seed.”
“They grow without seeds because they are wild. Like mushrooms! If there is a lot of water a mushroom will grow and as more water comes it will get bigger and bigger.”
After talking through our thoughts on this question, we made cuttings of 2 types of plants. First, the students cut off sections of a philodendron plant that lives in the science room. They took these cuttings and put the cut ends in small vessels of water. Then they broke off leaves from a variety of succulents and simply laid them in a tray of soil, no digging necessary. The students made observations and predictions about what they thought would happen to their plants in their science journals.
Over the next several months, I set aside a day here and there for the students to continue to study and observe our plant cuttings. As roots began to form, the children felt as though they were witnessing magic. Why were the plants not dying? How were they not only continuing to stay green, but now forming roots? Children measured leaves and roots each time, comparing their new notes and observations with previous journal entries. Taking time to revisit their plants allowed the children to notice patterns and make connections in their learning over a long period of time. Sometimes there were no major changes, and I reminded the students that scientists observe things over time and changes take time.
As our school year comes to an end, we will take our cuttings that are now full plants and give them new homes in their own pot of soil to live on at Rossman School. This gift of time to observe in our Plant Propagation Unit has been a gift to us all.
By: Lower School Director Rachel Dixon
April 26, 2022
Over spring break, I had the privilege of visiting Hawaii with my family. Though the Hawaiian breezes and beaches were heavenly, one of the true highlights of our vacation was learning more about Hawaiian culture. One night, we had the opportunity to enjoy a traditional Hawaiian Luau. Amidst the lively dancing and singing, the narrator explained some of the myths, customs, and traditions of their culture. She spoke of the word “aloha,” familiar to so many of us. What I did not know was the deeper meaning of “aloha,” expressed through an acronym for each letter of the word. As she described these words and values, my thoughts immediately went to Rossman and the values we strive to uphold in our community and instill within our students. Below are the Hawaiian values within “aloha.”
"Akahai," meaning kindness, to be expressed with tenderness
Of course, kindness is one of our four Rossman rules, but it is the authenticity and tenderness through which we express kindness that ultimately speaks to our character. This is lived out in our classrooms as we invite students to consider the power of their words and the manner in which they express them.
"Lokahi," meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony
Unity is a key ingredient in a successful classroom community. However, harmonious unity is not always easily achieved. How can we build harmony while supporting children in navigating inevitable disagreements? How can we restore harmony when tensions arise? In the concrete minds of young children, it can be challenging to understand that we can interact in harmony even when we see things differently. Our teachers work toward this each day as they support conflict resolution and promote a classroom community aligned with our Rossman Rules.
"Oluolu," meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness
If you have spent much time within the halls of Rossman, you have likely been struck by the pleasantness demonstrated among faculty, students, parents, and even visitors. As educators, we lead by example and strive to model positive interactions in all that we do. We encourage our students to be agreeable toward each other and with those supporting them through challenges they might encounter.
"Haahaa," meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty
An inevitable phrase uttered in any classroom is, “That’s so easy!” or “I’m already finished!” It is normal to take comfort and pride in our comparative successes. Humility, expressed with modesty, means helping children find opportunities to feel pride in their accomplishments without diminishing the work of others and recognizing that we all have something powerful to contribute to our community.
"Ahonui," meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance
Patience and perseverance are challenging concepts for all of us, though particularly for our younger children. It is simpler to comprehend the “why” of kindness or responsibility, though less clear to understand the payoff of exercising patience and perseverance. The perseverance to be patient with ourselves when things don’t come quickly or easily ultimately makes us the strongest possible learners. Further, the commitment to expressing patience with others is perhaps the highest form of kindness.
Echoes of these values are abundant throughout various world cultures. As educators, it is our privilege to share and highlight them for our students. Celebrating and prioritizing these tenets in our classrooms is yet another way we honor each other. What makes our community so special is our commitment to our core values, and what I will now consider the “spirit of Aloha at Rossman.”
By: Sixth Grade Teacher Rachel Price
March 8, 2022
In Sixth Grade math, we recently finished our “window project”, which takes place at the end of our geometry unit and centers on Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic leaded glass windows. This project calls on student’s reading, art, and math skills! I love collaborating with other teachers across subjects to create projects like this one that engage students on various levels.
This project starts with a two-day introduction into the life and work of Frank Lloyd Wright. As students learn about Wright through various articles, they use the annotation and bullet note strategies that they’ve learned in reading class to summarize and synthesize the information. We also watch videos that take students through tours of the Falling Water and Ennis houses in Pennsylvania and Los Angeles, respectively. The auditory comprehension that students practice throughout their time at Rossman helps them listen for key details and glean information from the videos.
After learning about Wright’s life and work, we study prints of his window designs, working to find parallel lines, transversals, and angle pairs. This is where the math comes in! Students are given a choice in which window design they’d like to analyze, and are often intrigued to see how symmetrical and precise Wright’s work is.
Lastly, students are tasked with creating a window design that is inspired by Wright’s style. I enjoyed consulting with Erica Spangler, our art teacher, in order to find a way to mimic Wright’s leaded glass window aesthetic. Students use black crayon to trace their design onto watercolor paper, and then paint panels of their windows using watercolor. I always love seeing how unique the window designs are; each child puts their own spin on Wright’s style and create something they’re really proud of.
This project is one of my favorites because I get to see the many facets and talents of our students in action. There is at least one aspect of this project that will appeal to any child. Not a “math person”? You’ll enjoy reading about Wright! Don’t love art? There are other parts of the project in which you will excel. Love painting with watercolor? You’ll get an opportunity to do that...after you’ve done a little bit of math!
By: Sixth Grade Teacher Zack Mouw
March 1, 2022
Sixth grade at Rossman is always a memorable year for our students. Not only do our sixth graders get to experience student life as “seniors” and close out the school year with a graduation ceremony, but they also have the privilege of taking on various leadership roles to help prepare them for secondary school and life after formal education. Whether it is serving as Rossman’s big brothers and sisters, writing and publishing our school newspaper (Rocket News), or organizing ways to support St. Louis World Food Day, our sixth graders embrace and enjoy the numerous ways in which they are able to contribute to the school community and enrich their own education.
Though I have long recognized the importance of student leadership, I was curious to discover how our sixth graders felt about the opportunity to serve in this kind of capacity, and therefore, sought out some volunteers to share their thoughts on the matter. After hearing from the Class of 2022, it is evident that they, too, comprehend how significant their roles are as leaders at Rossman School.
“I believe that student leadership is important because without it, students would not be ready for things we need to do in the future,” states Max, the Chief Editor of Rocket News.
Classmate Maya echoed Max’s sentiment. “Student leadership is important because it allows students to become more independent. Not just this, it also sets us up for the real world where we don’t have a teacher to check our work.”
In addition to appreciating how student leadership prepares them as individuals, Rossman's graduating class is also cognizant of how their service affects others. “One thing I like about having a leadership role is helping people. Even the smallest thing can help someone a lot,” remarks Lillian. Lillian is one of the many sixth graders who organized a snack drive to raise money for St. Louis World Food Day.
By developing a servant leadership mindset, our students regularly embody Rossman’s values of honesty, kindness, respect, and responsibility. I admire how our “seniors” care for those around them; their thoughtfulness and intentionality especially shine through in the way they interact with their Rossman siblings.
Finley Rose, a sixth grader who joined Rossman in November, reflected on her first meeting with her Rossman siblings from Junior and Senior Kindergarten. “Over the week of Valentine’s Day, I got to meet my Rossman brother and sister for the first time. This was something that I was looking forward to ever since I joined Rossman. While meeting our Rossman siblings, we got to read them a book. This was so heartwarming, and it was an amazing experience!”
Having been at Rossman since Junior Kindergarten, Zoey understands the influence that the school’s big brothers and sisters have on their little siblings. “It feels nice to be helping people and to know that I am making an impact on someone’s life. I remember looking up to my Rossman siblings when I was younger and wanting to be just like them,” she shares.
It is clear that our sixth graders recognize the value of student leadership and appreciate the opportunities they have to use their talents to serve those around them. I have to wonder if there is a student in Junior or Senior Kindergarten who is reflecting on an experience that they recently had with their Rossman big brother or sister. Perhaps one kindergartener is having the same thought that Zoey had all those years ago–“I want to be just like them.”
By: Music Teacher Amira Fuller
February 22, 2022
This year I have been excited to introduce our new ukulele unit for our 4th, 5th, & 6th graders. The ukulele lends itself to many musical lessons which the students have been excited to learn. From studying how string instruments work and how to care for them to how to play different chords and strumming patterns, our new instrument has been a lot of fun. While the ukulele may be new to Rossman, learning how to play an instrument is not. The recorder has been an instrument that has been taught at Rossman since I was a student here myself. The recorder is a wonderful instrument to begin teaching music literacy, but does not lend itself to chords or accompaniment while singing. The ukulele, however, is able to fill in those gaps.
The ukulele is a wonderful tool for teaching students about chords. Chords can seem to be an abstract idea when you can’t physically play them with recorders, but they become much easier to understand when you can play them on a ukulele. Using instruments that allow you to physically see how you add notes and hear what notes you’re adding to the chord allows you to easily break down how the chord works. Having a better understanding of chords and how they work allows for the students to have a more in-depth appreciation of music and the differences between a melodic line and chord progressions.
The most appealing part of the ukulele for students has been that it allows them to play and sing. The ukulele is a wonderful accompaniment instrument that sounds great with many of the more classic pop songs that our students listen to as well as classic American folk songs. By learning how to play and sing these songs it gives them a way to experience their world and musical preferences within music class. While the ukulele is a great accompanying instrument with the human voice, it can also be played as a solo instrument and reinforce the students’ ability to read different types of musical notation.
String instruments are notorious for teaching patience. With string instruments you have to listen and be ready to tune and tweak as the instrument needs. By working with an instrument that can go out of tune with the accidental turn of a peg, it teaches students to use a more musical and analytical ear when listening to their instrument. Working with an instrument that can sometimes have a mind of its own encourages students to be more patient when getting the chord to sound just right, whether by tweaking its tuning or moving their fingers to exactly the right spot.
The ukulele is a great tool to use to teach chords to students and it is a great way to engage students’ musical growth by allowing them to play and sing along with songs that they know and listen to. The best part about our new unit has been how excited the students are about our new instruments. Learning how to play various instruments is a wonderful skill that I’m excited to be sharing with our Rossman students for years to come.
By: Fourth Grade Teacher Leann Kane
February 15, 2022
Do you ever take the time to think about how you start each day? How we begin our morning has the power to set the tone for the rest of our day. In fourth grade, students enjoy a set morning routine that begins with a morning meeting aimed to build classroom community and set students up for a successful day. Our morning routine is founded in the Responsive Classroom teaching approach which embodies the idea that this designated time is “designed to create a safe, joyful, and engaging classroom for both teachers and students.” Lasting only ten to twenty minutes, these meetings are an essential part of our day and can include up to three components: greeting, sharing and group activity.
Greeting: To kick off our meeting, students and teachers greet one another by name providing everyone with a sense of belonging. Taking place in various forms, our greetings are meant to be fun and engaging. Students may greet one another in different languages, using various gestures, and even as a race against the clock to beat their latest record. The greeting is the most important part of our meetings and serves as a reminder that each student is a valued member of our classroom.
Sharing: Providing a glimpse into students’ lives outside of school, sharing is a powerful way for students to build community. Given a prompt, students share not only about their weekend or their favorite/ least favorite food, but students also share about imaginative topics, hobbies, and accomplishments. Even though many of our students have been members of the Rossman community since Junior or Senior Kindergarten, there is always something new our students can learn about their peers. As active listeners, students make connections with their classmates sparking deeper conversations and fostering new friendships. Participation in this component also helps students build confidence to share their ideas during academic class discussions as they share in partners, small groups, and even with the whole class.
Activity: Group activities are not an everyday occurrence in fourth grade but are certainly a highlight! Taking place in the form of a game, challenge, or energizer, our group activities encourage participation by all students and build on the inclusivity set in our greeting. A fourth grade fan favorite is an energizer called “Do What I Said, Not What I Say.” For this activity, the leader provides verbal commands, but students must follow the previously given command rather than the immediate one. This activity challenges students’ minds and bodies and keeps them engaged as they think about each task.
A small but significant part of our school day, morning meetings start our day off on a positive note and set the stage for productivity and success. Despite our busy daily schedule, we always make time for our morning meetings as they are a crucial part of our classroom environment.
By: Junior Kindergarten Teachers Julie Renne, Mary Schwartz and Diane Vujnich
January 31, 2022
Junior Kindergarten is a place where mistakes and successes happen everyday, and we learn from both. It’s part of the learning process!
“Oops! Let’s try this again!” is something that children and adults alike are often heard to say in any school setting. Rheta DeVries and Christina Sales’ Ramps and Pathways – A Constructivist Approach to Physics with Young Children is a book that we have found to be a helpful model to use as we help children to learn from and guide the mistakes that they make in the building process. “When people ask for a definition of constructivist education, we like to say it has three elements: interest, experimentation, and cooperation. Interest drives the constructive process and motivates the children to think and acquire new knowledge and understanding. Experimentation, informed by observable feedback, leads children to a more complete understanding of physical phenomena. Cooperation describes the type of social atmosphere children need for optimal development of knowledge and intelligence and the development of emotional, social, and moral aspects of personality.”
By using ramps in our classroom, we have been able to observe small groups of children as they attempt to construct a pathway that will allow a marble or small ball to travel from one place to another. The children, through trial and error, work together to decide the degree of the angle at which to place the ramp as well as how to best connect the ramps (by stacking the ends) to take the marble from one end to the next. Experimenting with different sizes and weights of balls, such as a marble vs. a ping-pong ball, also adds to the “what if?” and “look what happened!” excitement. The volume in our classroom tends to increase as the children decide together which way will work the best, and again when the marble successfully rolls to its destination. Each attempt is different as each child takes an approach that is appropriate to the level of his own development. Each time the ramps are brought out, more elaborate and well thought out pathways are created.
“All children use what they already have learned and what they observe in the course of figuring out how things work to draw conclusions that we adults – with our greater knowledge and experience – know to be incorrect or misunderstandings.” It is our job to observe and facilitate the process as the children learn through their own trial and error. “We are all more likely to be open to other possibilities when we discover for ourselves that our ideas are incorrect.”
As with most everything that we do in Junior Kindergarten, the children who are working with the ramps look like, and feel as if they are only “playing.” As teachers of young children, we agree with the authors of this book as they state: “We, however, see children in these activities as interested, focused, purposeful, intellectually and emotionally engaged, and learning from their errors.” The ramps and pathways activities allow the children to learn by doing, by making mistakes and using their own problem solving and creativity to be successful.
By: Upper School Director Jordan Andes
January 26, 2022
Every Tuesday morning after grammar class, sixth graders spill out of their classroom and bounce down the halls to various conference rooms and offices to meet their advisors. These small groups of five to six students meet every week and are led by Sixth Grade Teachers Zack Mouw and Rachel Price, Learning Consultant Heather Blome, Head of School Elizabeth Zurlinden, and me as Upper School Director. Our Tuesday advisory meeting is one of my favorite parts of the week.
While advisory groups are a unique opportunity for sixth grade students, the program at its core is a continuation of what begins in Junior Kindergarten with morning meetings. Both our advisory and morning meetings are founded in the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching, which holds that “integrating academic and social-emotional skills creates an environment where students can do their best learning.”
In sixth grade, advisory groups are a key way that we we explicitly teach and facilitate reflection and discovery around social-emotional competencies (cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control) and academic competencies (academic mindset, perseverance, learning strategies, and academic behaviors) that are rooted in our Rossman character values of respect, responsibility, honesty, and kindness. Such competencies deepen students’ learning, cultivate character, and lead to building relationships and strengthening a sense of community, belonging, and self.
At Rossman, we take the Responsive Advisory meeting framework and tailor it to meet the developmental needs of the class. Each meeting is designed with a focus:
- Build student to student affiliation
- Support academic readiness and skills
- Strengthen advisory community
- Develop social-emotional and communication skills
- Energize and re-engage
- Reflect and Recalibrate
- Extended learning through themes
In preparation for student-run literature discussions in reading class, we had a series of advisory meetings focused on developing communication skills. Students practiced generating opposing viewpoints for topics that ranged from the playfulness of “thin crust or deep dish pizza” to formidable reflections about “are books better than their movies” or the role that homework should play in our learning. With the support of explicitly taught conversational cues and sentence starters, students practiced agreeing thoughtfully and disagreeing respectfully while taking turns supporting all perspectives. Having practiced these specific communication skills in advisory, students were ready weeks later to use those skills to deepen academic conversation as they discussed their class novel independently in the style of a socratic seminar.
Earlier this fall, we took the temperature of the class and noticed it was a season with common stressors for students between tests and the secondary school application process. We decided to have an advisory dedicated to social-emotional wellbeing, inviting Fourth Grade Teacher Jessica Arnold to teach students about mindfulness and tools they can use to observe and process stressful or strong emotions.
Around parent teacher conferences (which sixth grade students lead), we took time in advisory to reflect and recalibrate, encouraging students’ ownership of their learning by inviting them to reflect on their progress, identify short and long term goals, and determine how they plan to work towards them.
One of my favorite advisory meetings each year is when we help students practice their communication skills by bringing back Rossman alumni to hold mock interviews with our students, a special event you can read more about in a blog by Rachel Price.
Whether discussing what it means to be a leader, reflecting on the differences between a growth and fixed mindset, or simply eating donuts while playing Bananagrams, advisory meetings are a time where students grow as individuals in the context of community. As students experience belonging and deepen new connections with classmates and teachers in these smaller groups, I am always in awe of the wisdom and insight that students share in our times together. While advisory groups are a hallmark of the sixth grade year, the heart of weaving social-emotional and academic skills together permeates the teaching practices and classroom routines of each grade level.
By: Second Grade Teachers Maggie Martin and Jamie Rhinesmith
December 8, 2021
With technology at our fingertips, there are endless opportunities to extend our topics of teaching and engage our students in the learning process. While teaching during a global pandemic has certainly presented its challenges, it has also helped us to open our eyes to new ways of presenting material. Two of the most engaging practices we introduced the students to last year, and continue to utilize this year, were Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. Virtual Reality, or VR, implies a complete immersion experience, meaning students are able to feel as though they are a part of a new environment. Augmented Reality, or AR, involves adding digital elements into our live view so that students are able to feel like there are objects in our classroom that are not actually there.
One subject for which we have found the use of VR and AR to be especially valuable is geography. The second grade geography curriculum has students learning all about the continents of the world. Some of our students have actually traveled to places all over the world, but for those who have not, virtual field trips allow students to find themselves in another place across the globe, without even leaving our classroom. The Nearpod app is a wonderful resource we have utilized, as it contains pre-made virtual field trips that give students the opportunity to visit a variety of places from the Grand Canyon in the United States to the outback in Australia. Second grade students have visited the Colosseum in Italy, the Sydney Opera house in Australia, Stonehenge in England, Times Square in New York, and Hong Kong in Japan! We have seen and discussed the unique architecture of the old towns of Europe and the amazing churches in Mexico.
Our AR experiences have brought life right into our classroom. Along with learning about the people and landforms of each continent, we also talk about the native animals. Google offers a 3D animal list that brings active, and at times noisy, animals into our very own classroom. We have had alligators on the teachers’ desks, koalas on chairs, and a platypus swimming around above our heads. VR and AR have not only increased student learning, but have done so in an engaging and fun way!
By: Art Teacher Erica Spangler
November 30, 2021
As we approach the holidays, I am always asked by parents what art gifts are good options to give their children. Inspired by my years of teaching art, parenting my own children and Jean Van’t Hul’s recent book, The Artful Parent, I decided to put together a list of artsy gift ideas and share my very own edition of “Super Spangler’s Favorite Things.”
In The Artful Parent, Van’t Hul lists a variety of benefits art has on children. These include the development of fine motor skills, problem solving skills, creativity and making sense of their world and the world around them. As we strive to engage our children in creativity outside of technology, I hope you enjoy these gift ideas for all ages along with why I like the item. I hope it inspires you and the creativity you can inspire with your children and possibly gives you some holiday gift ideas! You can find most of these things at St. Louis’s local art store, Art Mart, which also has many fun gifts and stocking stuffers. If you can’t find it there, I’ve included links for each item.
1. Wreck This Journal - I bought this for my daughter when she was in grade 4 or 5. It was a fun way for her to be creative and “break the rules.” This is a gift that both creative girls and boys would enjoy.
2. Artistro Paint Markers - Last year I discovered these acrylic markers as a great way to paint without making a mess. We used them on tiny canvases in grades 5 and 6 and on canvas boards in SK. These paint pens write on almost anything, are permanent, and you can blend the colors. I recommend them in both medium and extra fine points. This is a favorite for all age levels.
3. Tiny Canvases - Kids love tiny things, so these canvases are a lot of fun for them! They come in all sizes, and I’ve used the 3”x3” variety for my own art and for art projects at school. This could be fun for the whole family!
4. Big Book of Building - My younger son loves building things out of cardboard and recycled materials. This book is both an idea and how-to book. Just be sure to give your child duct tape and cardboard along with this book! It’s fun (and inexpensive) when your child is happy to use boxes to make art!
5. The Great Zentangle Book - Kids love drawing zentangles. It’s relaxing and fun. You can use anything to draw them, but extra fine sharpies or sakura pens are great for this type of creating!
6. Electro Pop Extra Fine Sharpies - Let’s face it, your child will be excited to receive any sharpies. If you are buying them for zentangles, then get the extra fine ones. If it’s for any type of drawing, fine point sharpies are a great option. If you want to really make them excited, get them some metallic sharpies as well! If you are worried about your kids using permanent markers, just be sure to set up your rules of when and where they can use them. We kept ours in a tupperware bin in our “art studio,” and my kids had to ask before they could use them.
7. 642 Things to Draw - This is one of my favorite drawing books. It gives prompts or ideas of things to draw. It made my day when I walked into my older son’s room one day to find him sitting at his desk drawing in this book. It’s especially nice when they get stuck and can’t think of anything to draw.
8. Watercolor Cards - I personally love watercolor cards. There’s nothing better than sending someone a small painting in the mail. This is a fun thing to do with your kids and send to grandparents or for special thank you cards. Everyone loves an original work of art!
9. Weaving Loom Potholder Kit - These fun potholder looms are a favorite for kids. My children have all enjoyed them, especially in grades 1 and 2. It’s a pretty easy craft to do at home.
10. Tape - Kids love tape! Colored tape, duct tape or scotch tape. You can’t go wrong with throwing a few rolls in a stocking or fill a box with special colored tape for the holidays.
By: Learning Consultant Heather Blome
November 17, 2021
Learning to read comes easily to most kids, especially those who are exposed to language-rich and literacy-filled environments throughout the infant, toddler and preschool stages of life. When children begin to apply early literacy skills learned in those first years upon entering school, such as singing the alphabet song, identifying letter symbols, hearing and saying letter sounds, and rhyming, the skills come together quite nicely. However, for some 20 percent of children who struggle to learn to read due to Dyslexia, which is a reading disorder with deficits in phonological processing, learning to read can be difficult, laborious, and cause feelings of insecurity. There is a great deal of research about what dyslexia is, but there is also a lot of false information about it too. Here are some key features of dyslexia and what it is not.
According to Susan Barton, the founder of Bright Solutions for Dyslexia, here are some key components of dyslexia:
- Runs in families
- Is a problem with language
- Affects reading, spelling, and writing
- Is an inability to decode words, despite adequate exposure to phonics
- Causes trouble with recognizing common sight words in text
- Symptoms include problems with pre-reading concepts such as rhyming, matching sounds, blending words, and isolating phonemes
- Occurs in varying degrees of severity: mild, moderate, severe
- Affects children who are able to easily learn and grasp concepts in other areas, such as math or science
- Affects math reasoning and solving word problems
- Can cause emotional stress to children who internalize and perceive it as being their fault or feel like they aren’t smart
- Can be comorbid with ADHD and other learning disorders
Dyslexia is NOT...
- A vision problem
- Just a child reversing letters or numbers in their writing
- A problem with intellectual ability
- Due to laziness
How to help...
- Talk to your child’s teacher(s)
- Ask about the child’s pattern or educational strengths and weaknesses, paying particular attention to reading, writing, and spelling
- Talk to an expert
- Reading specialist, learning consultant, speech and language pathologist, or an educational evaluator
- Ask about additional testing
- Seek out additional resources who offer different types of support, such as professionals who have been trained in systematic reading instruction (SPIRE, Barton, Orton-Gillingham, etc.)
- Talk to your child, and provide reassurance that there is hope and it’s not their fault
Dyslexia Fact Sheet by Understood.org
By: Fourth Grade Teacher Jessica Arnold
November 10, 2021
Someone recently asked me, “What’s Rossman like?” Since I am a relatively new faculty member at Rossman, this is a question that I’ve gotten more than once from friends and family members. While there are many aspects of the school that I enjoy and tell others about, one highlight that always comes to mind is the overall character of the students. The core values of Rossman are Kindness, Honesty, Respect and Responsibility, and I can truly say that I see these values demonstrated by Rossman students daily.
This year in fourth grade, we have welcomed several new students, and the kindness and welcoming attitude with which the class has embraced their new classmates has been heartwarming. Not only are students willing to help lead a new student to the music room or show them where we keep the rulers, but they are eager to do so. We often have many more volunteers than we need when we ask for someone to help out a new student. And of course, there’s no better litmus test for the cohesiveness and character of a class community than a glance around the playground. From the very first day of school, I witnessed new students happily joining games of kickball, drawing with others at the picnic table and chatting happily with classmates on the swings. This, I believe, is a testament to the genuine kindness of Rossman students.
The character of Rossman students is also frequently demonstrated through their acceptance of differences and respect for the unique personalities of classmates. Whereas many of us probably remember this period of adolescence as one filled with self-consciousness and a desire to “fit in,” this does not seem to be the prevailing feeling of fourth graders at Rossman. Each day, it is a joy to watch students express their opinions, experiment with creative ideas, speak up for what they believe and show others their silly sides. Seldom in my teaching career have I seen students so comfortable being who they are.
In fourth grade, and at Rossman overall, we do our best to teach students that learning to be kind, responsible, honest, and respectful people is just as important as the academic skills that we practice. The picture isn’t always a perfect one. Kids are human, and humans make mistakes. But as we learn from those mistakes, we carry these values with us and strive to be better. I have witnessed students’ genuine effort to be their best selves each day. And that, in itself, is a success.
By: Third Grade Teachers Lynn Frankenberger and Kristie Kerber
November 2, 2021
Do you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset? This is a question that we have recently asked our third graders.
If you believe that talents and skills can be developed with hard work, perseverance and determination then you have a growth mindset. These basic qualities, like your intelligence, talents, and personalities that you are born with are just the starting point. These qualities can be developed and improved.
A fixed mindset is just the opposite. An individual with a fixed mindset believes that their basic qualities cannot improve over time. They also believe that talent alone creates success — without any effort. Rather than persevering through adversity, a person with a fixed mindset will simply give up.
It is the philosophy behind the growth mindset that leads us to intentionally teach our students this year that when you come across an obstacle, to see it as an opportunity to overcome it, not as a failure. It is a chance to grow your abilities. Idowu Koyenikan, the author of Wealth for All: Living a Life of Success at the Edge of Your Ability (2016), states, “The mind is just like a muscle - the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets and the more it can expand.” Our goal is to help our students build their minds and instill the growth mindset into our classroom culture.
About three times a week, we hold a class meeting that starts with a greeting. The children are encouraged to look each other in the eyes and maintain a loud, clear voice when greeting their peers. Our greetings range from shaking hands, to bowing to each other from the waist and saying, “Konnichiwa" (hello in Japanese). The students really get a kick out of these different greetings. Afterwards, we continue our meeting with a short growth mindset video. After watching the video, we engage our students in a discussion about the topic. These genuine discussions hit on the topics of why failure is important, the power of words, why it’s important to let go of negative thoughts and how the words we tell ourselves are important. After several students share, the class writes down their thoughts in their own personal Growth Mindset notebook. A few of the students’ thoughtful entries are below.
“Believing in yourself is important because then you can accomplish more things in your life and you can do things you don’t believe you can do.”
“Taking deep breaths help us calm down after getting angry. A stressful time of the day when I can practice my breathing is after a fight with a friend.”
“The words we tell ourselves are important because they can affect things like your life. It can change your life in a negative way. We should say positive words to ourselves because then the things you say might come true.”
“Failure is important because it proves you’re trying your hardest. Failure can help us grow because I can learn from my mistakes and next time I can try harder.”
“When I make mistakes I try again until I get it right. I don’t care how long it takes to get it right. I will try!”
Fostering a growth mindset is not only important to embrace at school, but also at home. When children make mistakes, they have a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach. We have heard them say,“That was stupid" or "Why did I do that”? They have described feelings of embarrassment and/or shame. Often times, we remind them that we are human and nobody is perfect. Talking through their mistakes will promote growth and help them view struggle as a chance to improve skills and understanding. If they continue to view their mistakes as a negative, then they will view effort and difficulty as roadblocks, rather than a path to becoming smarter. Building a growth mindset, both at school and at home, will have a positive affect on your child. According to Carol S. Dweck (2006), the author of the book Mindset, states, "If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning."
By: Spanish Teacher Elizabeth Garcia
October 26, 2021
Many parents may know of the beloved parenting book The Blessings of a Skinned Knee, by Dr. Wendy Mogel. Of the many lessons Dr. Mogel shares, the one which reverberates the most for me is the idea that it’s okay—and perhaps even beneficial—for children to sometimes fail. That seems to contradict so much about what we want for our children: success, accomplishment, and confidence. But, Mogel argues, the truth is paradoxically the reverse. When children have the freedom to take risks and make mistakes, they learn how to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and try again. Everyone will face set-backs, struggles and some failure along the way. The question is, what do we do next? If we’ve had a chance to practice an attitude of grit and determination, then when the going gets tough those skills will prove ever useful.
I think of this lesson often as I teach Rossman’s foreign language program. If you have ever traveled to a place where the people spoke a language in which you are less-than-fluent, you know that communicating in a foreign language involves taking risks, sometimes feeling a bit lost, and knowing that you may well make (often embarrassing) mistakes. But you probably also know that none of these are reasons to hide in your hotel room.
Similarly, in our communication-focused Spanish classes, we learn language in context. That means that instead of memorizing lists of vocabulary words, we target longer language structures (such as phrases) and hear, speak, read and write them in contexts such as songs, stories and conversations. Students are encouraged to use context clues, visual information and background knowledge to build meaning and “fill in the blanks” in their comprehension.
For some students, especially those who are used to always doing very well in school, this experience of ambiguity can be jarring. For me, this is perhaps the highest level of learning in my classroom—learning to be comfortable with uncertainty. In any subject my students pursue in their future education, I believe there will come a time when understanding won’t click for them as quickly as it has in the past. If they’ve already learned that uncertainty, while uncomfortable, is not a reason to shut down and give up, they’ll be fortified with the traits they’ll need to surmount that challenge.
I believe Spanish class should be fun—we sing, we play games, we take pretend trips, we laugh at memes and tell stories. My hope is that hidden somewhere in all that fun are several layers of learning. I hope students in my classroom will indeed learn Spanish vocabulary and cultural knowledge; they will develop the skills necessary to learn a language (any language) and appreciate a different culture; and lastly, they will strengthen their resolve to make decisions and take risks, even when they’re not sure they have all the right answers. That, I hope, will be the gift of ambiguity.
By: Upper School Director Jordan Andes
October 20, 2021
“Before we leave the gym, what is important for us to remember about walking in the hallway?” I overheard the aforementioned question after school one day, asked by a beloved Extended Day teacher whom students know as Mr. Jeff. Though the question posed to the class of first graders may seem simple, it is powerful and layered with intentionality.
As Rachel Dixon shared in an earlier blog entry, our faculty participated in Responsive Classroom training at the start of the school year. Members of our Extended Day team joined as well, learning best practices to provide students with continuity throughout all parts of their day. One of the core classroom practices of Responsive Classroom is teacher language, or “the intentional use of language to enable students to engage in their learning and develop the academic, social, and emotional skills they need to be successful in and out of school.” (Denton)
Mr. Jeff’s question to students is an example of a specific kind of teacher language––envisioning language. Pausing before leaving the gym recognizes that students are learning how to regulate their energy and control their bodies. Inviting students to remember how to walk in the hallway conveys to students a belief in both their knowledge of school procedures and their ability to perform the task well. Making space for student voices to articulate how to proceed supports independence and intrinsic motivation as students are the ones to identify and enact what they will need to be successful.
Envisioning language can look like naming a positive identity for students “Ok, detailed authors, we’re going to…” or “Today, we are going to be observant scientists.” Such use of envisioning language creates an engaging picture for students to see themselves achieving and belonging to the named, skilled group. At its core, envisioning language recognizes that, “like adults, children are most motivated by what they care deeply about as human beings . . . belonging, significance, and engagement.” (Denton)
Envisioning language is also a powerful way to set a positive tone for future work and engage children in problem-solving. Before beginning a long-term project that will challenge students’ time management skills, students may be asked to preview the assignment and anticipate what they will need to be successful: “What might be challenging about this project knowing we have four days to complete it? Before starting a collaborative activity, students may be asked, “How can your group work together well?” Envisioning language also has a place in nonacademic contexts. “Yesterday, it seemed like there was interest in playing the game at recess with different sets of rules. How can we make sure that everyone has fun today and that the game is fair?
Inviting students to anticipate a task at hand and generate solutions invites students to fill in the details to create a vision that is inspiring to them, fostering autonomy and independence. It also allows students to recognize the significance of not just academic competencies like perseverance and strategies, but social-emotional competencies like cooperation, assertiveness, and self-control.
Source: The Power of Our Words by Paula Denton
By: Permanent Substitute Teacher Denise Boyd and Permanent Substitute Teacher/Extended Day Supervisor Caroline Ivey
October 7, 2021
In the Extended Day program, our goal is to provide a safe, nurturing environment where your child is able to grow academically and socially. After 8 hours of learning with their classroom teachers, the Extended Day teachers aim to provide balance in other ways. Students are able to play and participate in games with their classmates, play outside on the playground and field, and have unstructured free choice time.
If you look in the different classrooms during Extended Day, there are a variety of activities happening! From making slime to fort building to board games, we seek to create an atmosphere where students are encouraged and enabled to learn through play. Collaboration, cooperation, self-initiative, and self-regulation are just some of the skills students are practicing that will prepare them to be responsible 21st century citizens. In the article, The Importance of Play Based Learning, author Katie Chiavarone says, "Not only is it an incredible source of fun and socialization, but play is also crucial to children’s learning and development. Their intellectual, physical, and social-emotional abilities emerge and are strengthened through play... And, it is how children learn how to negotiate with peers, problem-solve, and improvise.” Extended Day is allowing children the opportunity to grow through these things!
Whether they are learning how to play a new strategic board game or creating forts from cardboard boxes, there is fun and engagement to be found all around in Extended Day!
By: Social Studies Teacher, Grades 4-6, Erin Moore
September 30, 2021
Fifth grade is currently diving into the world of research and expository writing in a cross-curricular assignment—selecting an American symbol and presenting the story of that symbol in a factual way. Students can select from a variety of examples of American symbols such as the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore and the Declaration of Independence.
After thoroughly researching their symbol, students factually tell the story of how their American symbol was created, which helps students work on logical sequencing, thesis statements and transitions. However, since students at this level are more comfortable with a different type of writing, this assignment is often met with trepidation. It tends to push them outside of their comfort zone, and ask the question,”Can I do this?”
This type of writing is known as expository writing, and as we explain to students in class, it is the type of writing that they will mostly do in the future. The goal of this assignment is for the student to present an objective description of a topic without including their own ”voice”. By asking them not to prove a point, convince the reader or give their own personal opinion can seem dry and boring. However, our objective as teachers is to help the student see that this different type of writing can actually be fun! In addition, practicing this type of writing in fifth grade helps to prepare the students for the Hero project in sixth grade.
Between social studies, writing class and library, we break the assignment down into parts and provide students with step-by-step instructions and guiding questions to help them through the process. By assisting students in pulling facts from their research sources and working in small groups to review those facts, we can help lead them through the writing process. It’s exciting to see students take on a new form of writing and the priceless look on their faces when they complete this task!
By: Senior Kindergarten Teacher Abbie Duvall
September 23, 2021
When the year starts in Senior Kindergarten we want the students to feel welcome, safe and known. It can be scary entering a new classroom, with new teachers, new friends and with lots of things you don’t know. Our goal is to make each student feel a sense of belonging; we want the students to feel happy when they walk into our classroom. Having a morning greeting is one way we instill this sense of recognition and love in our classroom. As simple as a greeting sounds, the positive impact it can have on a child can make all the difference on how they feel about themselves and how they treat others.
Our greeting starts our morning meeting time. We sit in a big circle on the rug with students and teachers. Our greeting can be done in a lot of different ways, from just looking at the friend next to you and saying “good morning”, to singing songs, sharing our weekend plans or learning something new about each other. This time together seems so simple, but it creates a unity among the students and teachers. We learn more about each other, create respect and love as a class together. Our morning greeting can also bring some students out of their comfort zone. When students feel safe and recognized they feel okay to take risks and be vulnerable. Taking risks and being open allows students to learn more from each other and learn more about themselves. The greeting also leaves room for individual personality to shine through and provides equity and safety. The goal of our morning meeting is for all of our students to greet one another and be greeted equally. Without even knowing it, students begin to develop relationships, memories, and manners when looking friends in the eye and greeting them in fun and different ways. No matter how busy our schedule is or how fast we need to make our daily greeting, as teachers we always make sure to do it. We want our students to feel important, special, loved, and to feel seen within their classroom community. The act of this intentional greeting each day is a sincere acknowledgement of each student and teacher. This is something that can and should be continued throughout the grades, to help ensure students continue to feel special and seen everyday they are at school. Junior Kindergarten and Senior Kindergarten are great grades to begin this daily greeting, but continuing this into later grades keeps that respect, and recognition of each other’s presence as the children learn and grow together.
By: Upper School Science Teacher Julie LaConte
September 10, 2021
Scientists are not afraid of change. They embrace it and they learn from it. This idea has served as a guiding principle for the introduction of the 2021-22 school year in the upper school science classroom.
One of the most important changes our young scientists have already experienced is the re-introduction to the physical spaces of their specialty classrooms. As their specialty teachers wandered the halls on carts in a nomadic procession from homeroom-to-homeroom last year, the 2021-22 school year has transitioned us happily back to our home bases. It’s unclear who is more excited to be back in the specialty classrooms, the students or their teachers! We have spent the past three weeks learning procedures and processes for each of our specialty areas. Focused by our responsive classroom training, all teachers have invested concerted efforts to teach transition processes including line spacing, carrying materials from classroom to classroom, hand sanitizing upon entry to a new classroom, and organizing their physical spaces to maintain social distancing protocols in all classrooms. We have also re-introduced the science process skills of observation, experimentation, predicting, and communicating, which are universally beneficial critical thinking skills. We already see the rewards of spending the initial time to explicitly teach these processes as students are beginning to naturally incorporate these skills into their daily school life.
As we reintroduced ourselves to the upper science classroom, the 4th-6th graders have examined other ways scientists embrace change. Each grade level undertakes a different scientific challenge at the beginning of the year that models the processes scientists in the real world experience. Sixth graders are exploring the historical and technological changes that moved us from the theory of spontaneous generation to the acceptance of the modern cell theory. Fifth graders participated in a mystery cube experiment and realized that scientific questions don’t always get immediate answers. And the fourth graders began the year with a challenge requiring them to assemble a puzzle shaped like a square from four pieces. Most students accomplished this in less than 30 seconds! Then, a fifth piece was introduced and the challenge remained the same...build a square from all pieces. This proved to be a much more challenging task! The students worked with a partner to try a variety of ways, and persevered through failure after failure. Each time a pair would come close to solving it, a hint would be given to all students and they would use that new information to guide subsequent attempts. In this way, the 4th grade scientists incorporated new information into their existing construct about how to solve the puzzle. After all groups experienced success, the students engaged in a thoughtful discussion about how this activity mirrored what scientists do in the real world. The students pointed out that science is like a puzzle to solve. They noticed how the first part of the task seemed easy, but then realized they didn’t have all the necessary information (pieces). They discussed how getting new information means they have to start over and “throw out” what they thought they knew. Because they were seated in a socially distanced, three-feet apart setting, the students pointed out that scientists with different perspectives often see results in a different way. They noticed that collaboration was incredibly helpful and the process of trial and error is essential to scientific discovery. All students agreed that even through frustrations, they persevered because they had not exhausted all possible solutions. Finally, the discussion turned to the current state of our world and how this activity mirrors our situation with the global pandemic. Even at a 4th grade level, the students were able to articulate that this simple square puzzle was reflective of the scientific challenge facing our world today. We are working to solve the problems created by a brand new virus and the challenge of incorporating new information into what we have already learned about Covid-19 is often frustrating and confusing.
As we progress through the 2021-22 school year, the upper school scientists will continue to build on these science process skills to examine concepts in life, earth, and physical science. Our focus on embracing change in the science classroom over the first three weeks of school will build a foundation for us to experiment, collaborate, and continue to respond to the challenges created by the change that surrounds us.
By: Lower School Director Rachel Dixon
September 7, 2021
Just before the school year began, our faculty had the opportunity to engage in Responsive Classroom training. Responsive Classroom is an approach designed to support social/emotional learning, promote joyful classroom communities, empower students, celebrate students as individuals, model and choose language that promotes student understanding and build strong routines that facilitate the learning process. Certainly, none of these ideas are new to our Rossman educators, and through this professional development, we enjoyed collaborating and sharing ideas to promote these practices in our classrooms and create a common language across our school.
One central tenet of Responsive Classroom is the critical window of the first six weeks of school to establish routines and procedures. The groundwork laid during this time sets the tone for the remainder of the year. Great intentionality and planning are dedicated to the manner in which teachers introduce even the simplest of routines such as how to walk in a line down the hallway or how to follow the morning routine upon entering the classroom. Interactive modeling and practice are essential elements of this process as routines are reinforced and grow in familiarity. Below are some of the benefits of the planning, time and focus dedicated to establishing routines.
It becomes rote. When routines are second nature, time and attention can be focused on the “meat” of school, the engaging instruction central to the Rossman experience.
It creates a safe environment. When students have clarity around expectations of behavior, they know the ins and outs of a “typical” day but are also able to respond with appropriate attention and trust when the unexpected happens (i.e. a fire alarm). Children thrive when emotional security is established through the presence of clear boundaries and expectations.
It promotes classroom community. Ambiguity can lead to stress and conflict. When all students are engaged in a shared set of expectations, our Rossman values of kindness, honesty, respect, and responsibility flourish. Routine-setting extends beyond the basic procedures into conversations of how to treat others and how to problem solve when conflicts do arise. Having concrete strategies that have been practiced through explicit modeling allows students to confidently, respectfully, and independently tackle challenges when they arise in a way that maintains a kind and caring classroom environment.
This simple, yet powerful, practice works beyond school walls as well. When working with children at home to build or adapt routines, remember the importance of repetition, modeling, practice and buy-in. The investment on the front end pays dividends in the long run!
- What is a teacher?
- Weaving Movement Throughout the School Day for Student Success
- The Hidden Curriculum
- Pandemic Innovations Open New Doors at Rossman
- Math Flexibility: The Key Component of Math Fluency
- The Silver Linings of Pandemic Education at Rossman
- Third Graders’ Creativity Showcased in Published Writing
- Growing Up in a House Full of Books
- The Benefits of Music Lessons
- Fourth Graders Take Part in the Publishing Process
- The Importance of Outdoor Play
- Impact of Covid-19 on Science Education Spotlights Resilience of Upper School Students
- Nurturing the “Six Necessities of Learning” at Home
- Building Number Sense and Reasoning in Math
- Creating Combats Stress and Anxiety
- Movement, Wellness and Personal Fitness in Cold Weather
- Why do we take ERBs, and what do they tell us?
- The Power of Enthusiasm in Fifth Grade
- When Reading and Writing Come Together in SK, Magic Happens
- Routine, Consistency and Grace: Back to Basics in a Challenging Parenting Season
- Rossman Alumni Network Continues to Give Back
- Adaptive Community Leadership
- Back to School Week 2020: Head of School Remarks
By: Permanent Substitute / Extended Day Supervisor Jose Holliday
May 10, 2021
A teacher is a gardener. When I think of teaching and beginning a new school year, I am excited by the possibilities of what my students can grow to be. A teacher, much like a gardener, must consider if the environment is prepared for success. A new seed or plant will not be very successful if the conditions are not right to meet its needs to grow. The same can be said for a student. A student must be in an environment that has been set up to meet his or her needs and has been thoughtfully considered for success. A developmentally appropriate environment for plants is one in which there will be ample sunlight, good soil, and access to water. Also obstacles to its growth must be removed such as weeds.
In comparison, a teacher must provide students with a caring relationship, interesting and engaging instruction, and developmentally appropriate materials. When a plant is not growing as it should, a gardener will look to the environment and consider what needs to be changed in order to best meet the needs of that particular plant. Much the same way, a good teacher will reflect upon the methods and materials being used along with the environment to make proper adjustments for optimal growth. These considerations also help to ensure effective classroom management as student needs, effective instruction and genuine care are provided.
A teacher must have a solid understanding of the goals he is trying to accomplish in the classroom with his students. This means providing the best possible environment with the best possible tools in order for those students to grow successfully — much like a gardener would do for the plants for which they are responsible. This may require digging beneath the surface in order to discover what may be holding growth back. Just because we are doing what is needed does not always mean the student is able, and this requires closer attention.
If a plant is not growing as it should, a gardener will look at the environment the plant is provided and may be required to even dig beneath the dirt to see what is happening at the root to determine the best tools and methods that are needed to help the plant be more successful. When needs are met, a safe and caring environment is provided, and adequately armed with an extensive knowledge base, a teacher, much like a gardener, will be successful in growing and producing a harvest of learners.
By: Sixth Grade Teacher Leslie Stallone-Levitan
May 5, 2021
As a former anxiety-ridden small child who would hyperventilate at the thought of potentially seeing a classmate in public, I have always been interested in learning new tools to give students for managing their worries.
In the book Superpowered, authors Reena Jain and Dr. Shefali Tsabary offer kids practical ways to transform anxiety into positive stuff, like bravery, excitement and resilience.
When children think about the future, they start experiencing what the book refers to as, “what-ifs.” “What if I bomb the audition?” “What if I get a bad grade on my test?” “What if I don’t make the soccer team?” As adults, we know it can sometimes be tough to get off this hamster wheel of worry. It can be all-consuming and cause us to feel stuck. Imagine what it’s like for kiddos! This book offers practical exercises to help keep them grounded and in the present moment.
First, we’ll take the what-if, “What if I don’t get a good grade?” While the worry is a common one, it’s the ending kids construct that can really help or hurt them. An unrealistic, nonproductive ending might be: “I might not pass the class. Then I might get rejected from the school of my choice. Then I might not get a good job…” Thoughts like this defeat the kid before they’ve even begun!
When a kid is spiraling in this way, it gives us, the parents and teachers, an opportunity to step in and help them form a more realistic, productive ending.
So to the what-if, “What if I don’t get a good grade?”, we could respond with, “I’ll study more or get a tutor.” Or “I know that grades are just feedback on things I’m still learning.” Or “It feels bad at the moment, but I know this feeling will pass.” These endings are grounding and remind the child that they are in control of their situation.
Second, we can teach the kids a strategy the book refers to as “if/then.” It’s an easy and fast way for kids to make a mental plan that will chop their worry off at the knees. The first step is to have your child write down their what-if. (I encourage kids to have a designated notebook for this, so they have a protected space to work out their worries).
Let’s say the child writes, “What if I raise my hand and say the wrong answer and everyone laughs?” You would then help them carve it into an “if/then” statement. It might look something like this:
IF I raise my hand and get the wrong answer and everyone laughs…
THEN I’ll laugh along with them and remember that making mistakes helps my brain grow and we all make mistakes.
I love this strategy, because it gives kids a plan of action — something concrete that can guide them when they encounter or engage in the situation.
As an adult, I constantly get caught up in chaotic what-ifs spirals. But when I manage them by crafting realistic endings and “if/then” statements, I feel like I’m able to take back control and remain focused on the present.
By: Permanent Substitute / Extended Day Supervisor Brenna Lacey
May 5, 2021
This winter, the Senior Kindergarten bird unit ended with a wonderful performance of the book Noisy Bird Sing-Along by John Himmelman. Wearing the mask that each had made and decorated in art class, students represented the different species and performed the unique bird calls in the book as our school librarian, Marie Unanue, narrated. Before helping film the performance, I discreetly propped my phone in the back of the room and hit record for a behind the scenes timelapse video. The result was a 30-second clip that could be a subcategory in Newton’s existing law of motion — a kindergartener in motion stays in motion! They wiggled and giggled while bringing the wonderful story to life.
I can say with certainty that by the time my adolescent years rolled around, I had not developed a love for being active. If only I had known how many benefits regular physical activity during childhood has to offer! It promotes lifelong health and well-being, as well as prevents risk factors for various health conditions like heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes1. Compared to those who are inactive, physically active children and adolescents have higher levels of fitness, lower body fat, and stronger bones and muscles. The benefits of movement for school-aged children go even further to include improved cognition (e.g. academic performance, memory) and reduced symptoms of depression, making movement throughout the school day paramount to student success.
So, where does movement and activity fit into the school day? Anywhere and everywhere! The second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services, recommends that children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 do a minimum of one hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily. Yet, only an estimated 28% of children meet this threshold on a daily basis2. The faculty and staff at Rossman understand the importance of using physical activity and movement to enhance the learning process and are committed to increasing each student’s amount of daily physical activity. This in turn optimizes a child’s social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development through active learning.
Rossman uses physical activity and movement to promote active learning by weaving it into academic instruction in addition to the daily recess and physical education breaks that are specifically designed for it. Below is a sample of how active learning is incorporated into a regular school day at Rossman.
8:15am — Math warm-up activity in the classroom
The teacher presents a math question with four possible answers, each corresponding to a corner of the room. The students have time to solve the problem in their head and then, on cue, all students move to the corner of the room that matches the answer at which they arrived.
8:40 a.m. — Math measuring activity
As students learn how to measure in meters and yards, they are divided into small groups and head to the outdoor courtyard to measure various distances.
10:00 a.m. — Recess on the outdoor playground or field
Students are encouraged to be active and engage with their peers in activities of their choice through free play.
11:30 a.m. — Brain break
After lunch, a short guided activity offers a good transition into Writing Workshop. GoNoodle offers fantastic exercises designed to practice deep breathing, body awareness and mindfulness.
1:00 p.m. — Science class with wobble stools
Wobble stools in the science classroom keep the body in motion as a form of active sitting. Wobble stools allow for natural movement, good posture, and keep the body alert while learning about everything from bugs to magnetism!
1:45 p.m. — P.E. in the gym
Physical education is incorporated into every single school day at Rossman! Good sportsmanship, development of strong basic sport skills with fundamental motor movement, and teamwork are the underlying goals for the high-energy activities that feel like play. P.E. is at the top of every child’s favorite class list!
I’ve become familiar with signs and clues of restlessness in each grade level as a permanent substitute this year and therefore regularly see how consistent classroom movement and activity results in improved concentration, ability to stay on task, and increased engagement. All of these factors contribute to a more productive learning environment and a happier, healthier child. Whether wiggling in Kindergarten or an impromptu brain break in sixth grade, Rossman is keeping kids in motion for a bright, successful future!
By: Remote Learning Coordinator/School Counselor Martha Hyland
April 28, 2021
Children are captivating, complex, beautiful creatures with a hunger to learn and to share all the exciting things they are learning. Just last week, as I was taking temperatures for morning carpool, I heard a Lower School student working through their math facts. Their older sibling hopped out of the car, corrected the younger sibling’s math, and happily walked into the building reciting more complex math to themself. It was the perfect picture of a Rossman student. Ask any of our students to tell you something about science, or social studies, or grammar, and they would be able to dazzle you with all sorts of information that has soaked into their growing brains. But there’s one “subject” that they might not be able to put into words ... the hidden curriculum.
This curriculum is not unique to Rossman. In fact, all of us are lifelong students of the hidden curriculum. It targets the growth of our social-emotional intelligence, which Tim Elmore describes as, “the sum total of our self-awareness + self-management + social awareness + relationship management”. We call it “hidden” because it is not taught through lectures, or measured through assessments. It is learned through our daily interactions and through social successes and failures. In a year of unprecedented social isolation, our children have missed out on many of the normal daily interactions that grow and strengthen their social-emotional muscles. Here are a few tips to become a teacher of the hidden curriculum as you help nurture your child's emotional literacy through a strong parent-child dialogue.
Learn when your child best engages in conversation.
Some questions to ask yourself are: Is my child a morning person, or do they prefer to chat when I am putting them to bed at night? Do questions fluster them and shut them down, or do they need guiding questions to help them get started in a conversation? Do they prefer sitting and having a conversation, or do they pour their heart out while being active? Are they talkative when they get in the car after school, or do they need time to decompress? Knowing when they are at their interactive best will help you to have more intentional and successful conversations.
Listen, but also teach.
Fred Rogers once said, “We speak with more than our mouths. We listen with more than our ears”. Body language that shows you are engaged and interested is a great teaching tool! Additionally, nothing will help get a child talking more than knowing they have your undivided attention. While you actively listen, you can also coach your child by asking questions to help fill in the blanks of their story. Some guiding questions could be:
- Who was there?
- How did he/she respond to that situation?
- How would you have responded if that happened to you?
- What part did you play in that situation?
By asking guiding questions you are able to both gauge your child's social awareness and give them tools for their own future communication. As you listen to their story, reflect back what they have told you. For example, “It sounds like you were upset that Johnny took your ball. I’d love to hear how you two solved that problem.”
Avoid open ended questions.
We’ve all been there. You sit in the carpool line, anticipating seeing your child after eight hours apart. They climb in and you say, “How was your day?!” and you are met with a grunt as the car door slams. This is a sure sign that your child has hit an emotional wall. After giving them a few minutes to decompress, try asking more targeted questions. Instead of asking, “How was school?” try, “tell me something that made you laugh today.” Instead of, “How was your math test?” try starting with, “What were the hardest and the easiest parts of your math test?” In doing this, you are training your child to give you specific details and context as well as opening the door to continued conversation.
Be encouraged! The conversations you are having daily with your children have the potential to carry a lifelong benefit. Nurturing their social-emotional development will not only benefit your child, it will also benefit your relationship with them through the many seasons of your life together.
By: Upper School Director Jordan Andes
April 21, 2021
This year, I start most of my mornings in the 6B classroom. If you walked into the room, you would likely notice natural light pouring through the wall of windows. Your eye may then find the rainbow tower of construction paper and a shelf lined with bottles of paint. In a typical year, the 6B classroom is the art room.
Our art teacher, Erica Spangler, starts her day a few doors down in the Extended Day room. Because many specialist classrooms have been repurposed to enable adequate social distancing, the Extended Day room has become a temporary office for teachers. There, “Super Spangler” is joined by other colleagues who have been inspiring students and bringing their subjects to classrooms via specialist carts outfitted with materials for their subjects.
Most mornings in 6B, I hear a comforting lull of conversation coming from the Extended Day room. Some days, the soft chatter becomes boisterous, and deep belly laughs cascade down the hallway. Sixth grade students, arriving for the day, hear their teachers laughing and look at one another. Their eyes brighten, and their cheeks rise. Even behind a mask, students’ smiles are unmistakable. Amidst change and challenge, joy is alive and well at Rossman.
In a typical year, the highly collaborative nature of the Rossman faculty sets our school apart. In a pandemic year, faculty collaboration is an expression of what it looks like to not simply react to new circumstances, but to respond purposefully. After speaking with faculty, one common thread running through reflections on the current year has been the support and collaboration between teachers across subjects and grade levels. While the pandemic has brought many challenges, I am proud of and inspired by the many ways in which our community has found opportunities to grow and make silver linings.
“When we went remote in the spring, I did lots of research to find tools to use to reach kids when teaching online. That really opened the doors.” Pre-COVID, Julie Smith attended workshops to study the concept of math flexibility as a way to support students’ math fluency in first grade. New digital resources like DreamBox, webinars with Greg Tang, and Estimation Mysteries have become sources of inspiration and have helped the first grade teachers further challenge students to find multiple ways to solve problems. Such tools have also inspired additional ways in which to use physical manipulatives in the classroom –– Estimation Mysteries has become a class favorite math activity!
Mrs. Spangler noted that “Zoom is a tool that has expanded our reach and opened up greater availability to welcome guest speakers beyond St. Louis.” While learning about collage, third grade students were able to Zoom with guest artist Reggie Laurent. Based in Atlanta, Laurent creates beautiful, bright pieces that emphasize every color and demonstrate beauty in inclusion. Hearing from Laurent and considering his pieces inspired students to use colors in new ways. During a woodworking project in fifth grade, students Zoomed with Little Rock artist John Bruhl to learn more about his process and designs in making furniture. While working on whiteboard animation videos, sixth grade students had the opportunity to learn from local artist Brian King, an expert in storytelling through cartoons, who shared his screen over Zoom to provide insights into his creative process.
In music, students have continued to rehearse and perform in class throughout the year. With the temporary suspension of large crowds for live performances, class periods formerly designated for program rehearsals have offered room for new ways to explore curriculum. Combining her passion for traveling, history and music, Amira Fuller developed a world cultural unit in Upper School. Students explored nine different cultural music backgrounds (Native and Latin American, African, Middle Eastern, Indian, Australian aboriginal, Indonesian, Chinese, and Japanese). Exploring different sounds, students learned how music is used in other parts of the world in order to relate to and appreciate different cultures.
Outdoor spaces have become an even more invaluable part of our campus, providing students with space to spread out, move around and take in the fresh air. In Spanish class, Keylah West reflects that “the outdoors added a new dimension” to her classes. In the warm sun, students have enjoyed space to work and learn together, creating stories in Spanish, acting them out, and filming them around campus.
Director of Admission Katharine Durham reimagined traditional open houses to welcome prospective families and share about Rossman School. This year, the in-person open house turned into a series of webinars, each centered around a core aspect of our school: social-emotional learning, engaging academics, and confidence and character. Through Zoom, we were able to reach a broad audience in the comfort of their homes or at the office, both live and through recordings. In each webinar, administrators, faculty, students, and Rossman parents spoke to core aspects of our philosophy and practices to establish the foundation for true learning and growth. The digital format has allowed us to capture a glimpse of Rossman and connect with the community in new ways.
“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” As we are able to gather and use spaces as we have in years past, I am excited to see how Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words hold true. What innovations from teaching in a pandemic have brought value and will continue to shape what we do?
With many weeks of school left to enjoy, we also look toward the year ahead. As we plan, we recognize ways we have innovated and the projects, approaches, tools, and techniques we have implemented. We reflect on the relationships that have grown and the parts of our day that have become dear.
By: First Grade Teachers Julie Smith and Arika White
April 13, 2021
As we approach the last semester of first grade, most first graders feel confident with addition facts to 10. Students will continue to prepare for second grade and build addition facts to 20 using techniques such as counting-on, making-ten, identifying fact families, and using number bonds. After they learn these techniques, they can start to recall basic addition to 20 fluently.
What exactly is math fluency?
There are 3 parts to math fluency: accuracy, efficiency and flexibility. Accuracy is the ability to correctly answer a math question. Efficiency means the student can solve a computation problem quickly. The most important and often “missing part “ of fluency is flexibility. Flexibility with numbers is when a child can manipulate a number in a variety of ways in order to make the calculation easier. A student with number flexibility can quickly identify 18 in different ways: 10+8, 9+9, 12+6, 20-2. Flexibility with numbers allows a learner to put strategies in place when they do not instantly know the answer to a math question. Purposeful practice and a lot of game play allows first graders to build their math flexibility. As students build their flexibility, they become more accurate and efficient.
First grade math learners continue to build their flexibility and number sense each day with activities and games that promote conversations about numbers. First grade daily math lessons start with the popular estimation mystery, estimation clipboard, mental math challenge, or cube-and-dot combination quick looks. Next, students engage in a short math lesson displayed on the Smartboard, while they show work on dry erase boards. Daily lessons end with a math game or activity where students have the opportunity to “play and talk math.”
Games offer the opportunity to talk about strategies and practice a newly learned technique. Students become more efficient at using strategies as they develop automaticity with basic facts. Methods utilized during games are making-ten, decomposing a number leading to 10, identifying the relationship between addition and subtraction, and creating equivalent but easier known sums. Students use various manipulatives (rekenreks, ten frames, cuisenaire rods, number cards, etc.), and they are encouraged to think aloud while they play. For example, one of the facts for addition to 20 that students often find easier to learn are “doubles”, e.g. 6+6=12, 7+7=14, etc. Once they are fluent in “doubles”, we can build on the known facts and introduce derived facts using doubles.
Building addition flexibility and emphasizing the relationship between addition and subtraction will help young mathematicians become comfortable with subtraction. For example, as the students play Go Fish for 10s, they can ask themselves questions like, “What do I need to add to 7 to make 10?” Studying fact families also establishes the relationships between numbers and aids in a child’s understanding of the logic behind addition and subtraction. Once a child knows the relationships of the fact family members, it's easy to see who is missing at a quick glance. Solving addition and subtraction problems is then much easier and starts to become automatic. Take, for example, the fact family 4,6,10. These three numbers are used to generate a fact family consisting of two addition and two subtraction facts. 4+6=10, 6+4=10, 10-6=4 and 10-4=6. Children are encouraged to ask themselves: “What number should I add to 6 to get 10?” Ultimately, after many experiences, children will be able to solve such problems automatically, just as they do the addition facts.
While students are busy playing games and talking about their thinking, teachers have the opportunity to employ assessment techniques that provide far better data than a timed quiz. When students achieve mastery through games and other activities (as opposed to drills or rote memorization) they become more excited and confident in their abilities.
Walk by our first grade classrooms at the beginning of a lesson and you will hear students sharing their observation during an estimation mystery or cheering as “the final number” is revealed. Peek in during the last 20 minutes of class time and mathematicians will be in 2-3 partner groups playing a game or working on an activity designed to provide an opportunity to practice their math flexibility.
Building math flexibility with the use of visuals, manipulatives and math games that promote thinking helps bridge from strategies with single digits, to strategies with all kinds of other numbers. Strategies learned for fact fluency apply to whole numbers, decimals and fractions.
We want to create flexible math thinkers who can justify and explain why an answer to a math problem is true!
By: Lower School Director Rachel Dixon
April 6, 2021
The spring vacation was a time of reflection as we passed through our pandemic anniversary, recalling where we were one year ago and what we have accomplished since that time. The transition to remote learning last spring was intense and unfamiliar, and the preparations for the 2020-2021 school year brought a whole host of new challenges as we “reimagined” just about everything under the sun. Our attention turned from connecting to children from afar and completing all of our end-of-year objectives to adapting our curriculum to fit within the boundaries of COVID protocols and helping our students adjust to a new way of doing school.
Though his year has brought its anxieties and challenges to be sure, there has also been much to celebrate. Perhaps the two “silver linings” of pandemic education that I appreciate the most are the ingenuity of our educators and the opportunity for our children (and ourselves) to grow in and exercise resilience.
“Ingenuity, plus courage, plus work, equals miracles.” —Bob Richards
The flexibility and creativity of the Rossman faculty and staff are nothing short of remarkable. Not only have our students received the strong, rigorous curricular experience they would in a “typical” year, but in many cases they have been the beneficiaries of new and innovative approaches that have made strong impacts on our program. In the coming weeks, you’ll have the pleasure of hearing about more specific examples of this ingenuity from our Upper School director, Jordan Andes. The determination of our faculty to maintain excellence and to meet the needs of their students has created new procedures, approaches, use of space, projects, and celebrations that I expect (and hope) will remain a part of our work as we return to “normal.” This can be entirely attributed to the courage, hard work, and resilience of Rossman faculty and staff.
“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.” —Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Some of the skills learned and practiced in school are visible and concrete such as reading or recall of math facts, and some are much more subtle. Resilience is one of those more subtle skills, but one of incredible value and importance. It is also a skill that has been gaining increasing attention as essential to the healthy development of children. Resilience acts like a muscle. We want to stretch it, and in doing so, grow it. Too much stress or adversity is harmful, but small doses help us build our resilience muscle.
There are various strategies through which we can support the development of resilience in children. Here are some of the most effective strategies:
Build and maintain strong relationships.
Provide a safe and nurturing environment.
Help others (serving others provides perspective and empowers us).
Engage in conversation about feelings and answer questions that arise.
Practice problem solving and goal setting.
Learn to cope with and adapt to change.
If you think this list sounds a lot like the mission and vision of a Rossman education, you are absolutely correct. Thankfully, these strategies are lived out on a daily basis here at Rossman. Having that strong layer of support already in place was an essential piece of our success in educating students over this past year.
The pandemic has provided us all — regardless of age — with the opportunity to further build our resilience. The approach to learning and the supportive nature of our community here at Rossman leave us well-poised to counter the stress and change of a pandemic situation and to ultimately strengthen the resilience of our students. Further, the ingenuity modeled by our incredible faculty and staff reinforced the ability to problem solve and to stretch and grow through challenging circumstances. From mask-wearing and social distancing to limited social interactions and occasionally, learning from home, our students have demonstrated their ability to stretch and tackle these less than ideal circumstances.
Recent conversations with families of prospective students have focused on COVID protocols, the adaptations we have made to learning, and how our youngest learners have adapted to a new way of school. In these conversations, I speak to the ingenuity of our faculty, the resilience of our community, and the support, grace and joy that are found sprinkled throughout all we do at Rossman. We have all flexed our ingenuity and resilience muscles this year, and we will be forever stronger for it.
By: Third Grade Teachers Lynn Frankenberger and Kristie Kerber
March 29, 2021
According to author Neil Gaiman, “A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.” For teachers, observing students become completely engrossed in a book is such a beautiful sight. A long-standing tradition for the third graders at Rossman is to become published authors. Every year, the students choose one of their writing pieces that they have written from September through March to publish in a hard-bound book through a company called Studentreasures. This lasting keepsake showcases their creativity through these incredible stories that they are proud to share with their family and friends for a lifetime.
Throughout the year, the third graders experience the entire writing process — prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing — to write several pieces such as a Witches’ Brew recipe, persuasive essay and personal narrative. The students integrate the many mini-lessons taught in the classroom into these pieces. For example, they incorporate striking words and phrases that catch the reader’s eye, use showing details that bring their story to life, and add their voice so that the reader feels a strong interaction with the writer.
Once the students have chosen which piece they would like to publish in our class book, they spend time revising with their family using our comments and suggestions on ways to improve their writing. Along with the story, the students digitally illustrate a picture to accompany their writing using the website Explain Everything. These pieces of writing and illustrations are sent to the company for final publication in a hard-bound book.
It truly is inspiring when alumni return to Rossman and inquire about this beloved tradition. We often hear, “Do you still publish the stories that the students write in class?” or “I still have my book on my shelf at home!” Statements like these are the reasons we continue this tradition to this day. This book really is a treasure.
By: Librarian Marie Unanue
March 9, 2021
I love collecting books. I love the weight of the book in my hands, the way a new book smells when you first open it up and turning the pages one by one. I love deciding where the book will sit on my bookshelves and admiring them from afar. I love being able to pull one off the shelf to share with a friend. To me, there’s nothing better than having a house full of books.
Growing up, our home was packed with books on shelves, stacked on nightstands, or lined up on a counter. Buying books, collecting books in a series, receiving books as gifts, and regular trips to our favorite book store to add even more to full shelves was a regular part of my childhood experience. Years later as a young teacher I heard Jim Trelease, the author of “The Read Aloud Handbook,” talk about the importance of having a print-rich home and the direct-correlation to higher reading scores for children. Throughout the world and across all social levels, the children who read the most, read the best. It’s not surprising to learn that the children that read the best read at home and love to read.
Listening to Jim Trelease speak, I remember him comparing a school-reader to a lifelong reader. A school-reader finishes high school, relieved that she no longer has to read another novel. Trelease stated that when a young person graduates from high school and walks off the stage, diploma in hand, your greatest hope is that she’s thinking, “Yes! I can finally start reading all the books I’ve been wanting to read.” Growing up with a house full of books is a start in that right direction.
The number of books you have in your home can have a direct and powerful impact on literacy and education. Even a home library with as few as twenty books helps to create a culture of reading and learning at home. A recent study showed that the more books there are in a childhood home, the higher degree of proficiency in literacy, numeracy and information technology as an adult. This 2018 study published in “Social Science Research” surveyed over 160,000 adults in 31 countries to find out how many books they had in their home at the age of 16. Eighty books resulted in “average” levels, with proficiency improving up to around 350 books.
Everyone wants children to love to read and become lifelong readers into adulthood. Having a home library is the first step towards that goal. Home libraries send the positive message that reading is important and isn’t just something to do at school or at the library. Creating a home library does not have to be an expensive venture. Hunt out bargain book sales wherever you can. Search through the “For Sale” carts at your neighborhood public library, local thrift and used books stores, and book fairs at local schools, churches and community centers. So fill your home with all kinds of books, magazines, newspapers, comic books and catalogs, and let your children discover the stories within the stacks and piles that surround them.
Create comfortable reading nooks in your home with pillows and beanbag chairs and reading buddies on hand — places that invite your children to curl up with a blanket and a good story and get lost. One of the best things about a home library is that you can pick up a book whenever you want and read in your pajamas on the couch, in a tent in your backyard or under the covers with a flashlight when you’re supposed to be sleeping. You can crack open a new book to read or grab an old favorite to read for the tenth time. Books become friends that you keep by your bedside, bring with you to the kitchen table and pack into your backpack before walking out the door.
So is it worth it to have a home crammed with books or neatly lined up on shelves in this digital-age that we live in? Looking around me at the books lining my shelves with photos and knickknacks tucked in around them, I always find myself smiling. I love sharing my home with books. I say yes!
By: Music Teacher Amira Fuller
March 3, 2021
Should I have my child in music lessons? This question is frequently asked by parents of young children, and my answer is if you are able to find time in your child’s schedule and they’ve shown interest, then yes! Music lessons are invaluable tools that teach children important life skills like patience, focus and self motivation, as well as give them the ability to play an instrument. Music lessons have also been proven to help young children learn and do better in other subjects in school. When it comes to music lessons the answer is always yes because the joy of being able to make music isn’t the only benefit.
Learning to play an instrument requires a lot of time, effort and most importantly practice. Practicing an instrument is something that has to be learned, it takes time to be able to sit down and work the most challenging parts of a song or a scale until they are smooth and easy. Practicing is a challenge for everyone, but if your child learns how to practice at a young age it will be a helpful skill they can call on in other situations when they’re older. For example, a child who’s spent hours practicing an instrument will find themselves more capable when presented with a challenging math problem. Through their music lessons and time spent practicing they will know how to sit, think through the problem and solve it instead of getting frustrated, skipping it and moving on.
Music has strong ties with many other important subjects in school. Music and math go hand in hand as music uses math in many different ways — from intervals, to rhythms, to time signatures — so it isn’t surprising that many musicians find math to be more approachable. Music has also shown to improve a child’s ability to learn languages. One methodology of music learning, the Suzuki Method, which is often associated with violin, approaches music in the same way as languages are learned. It starts with listening to music, then playing the music, then learning to read music, and the final step is to learn to write music. It is unsurprising that music would aid in the learning of a language when one understands how similar they are at their core. When learning to play an instrument a child is strengthening their understanding of both music but also unconsciously laying groundwork that can help them succeed in other subjects.
Being able to play an instrument can be such a joy for a child. Making music can be an outlet for emotions, it can be a way for a child to build confidence, and it can be a way for them to stand out and shine. Encouraging your child to take music lessons benefits them in so many ways. Learning music teaches children how to practice and maintain focus, it helps them in other important subjects they’re learning about, and it can bring them so much happiness and joy. So if your child has mentioned wanting to learn an instrument or is curious about music, sign them up because you will be setting them up on the road toward success.
By: Fourth Grade Teacher Jessica Arnold
February 25, 2021
Recently, fourth graders had the opportunity to help a published author complete her next work. Through cooperation with the Young Editors Project, an organization that connects young readers with authors who write for them, students were able to read an unfinished manuscript of a graphic novel targeted for children in their age group. As a class, we read the entire text of the story, and about a third of the illustrations were completed for us to enjoy. The chance to read a fantastic book, still unfinished and unavailable to others, was thrilling! As we read the story aloud, we placed checks on the draft in places where the class erupted in laughter, and we double (or triple!) checked the parts that we especially loved. After reading the manuscript, each student completed a survey to give details about their experience with the story. This gave them the chance to describe their mental images, explain thoughts they had about certain characters and elements of the plot line, tell about anything they found confusing, and give suggestions to the author for possible revisions.
This rich learning experience provided numerous lessons and opportunities for growth. For one, it showed students that real-life, published authors think a lot about what their readers will think and feel. They care so much about this, in fact, that hearing from early readers is a critical part of their revision and publishing process. This experience also showed students that authors and readers do not exist in independent silos; they are intimately connected and can influence each other in powerful ways. Learning this important lesson can have a positive impact on a students’ writing skills as well as their reading abilities. After all, the two are inextricably linked. As readers, when we take the time to analyze the author’s goals and think about why they made the decisions that they did, the text takes on a deeper meaning than what was seen at first glance. And of course, it is impossible to truly excel at writing without giving careful consideration to one’s readers. Although this may seem obvious to adults, who have many years of experience with reading and writing, the value of this perspective taking is not always so clear to a fourth grader. It takes time and experience to realize that if we truly want to write something that entertains, teaches, persuades, or ignites new ideas, we must try to read our work through the eyes of another.
While this particular activity was a wonderful one for helping students become more conscious of the author-reader relationship, there are certainly many other ways to encourage a child to become aware of it. When opportunities arise at home, I encourage you to remind your child to notice the deliberate choices that authors make in order to reach their readers, or when writing, to take time to think from the perspective of their own reader. Doing so can go a long way toward, not only strengthening skills, but also deepening the sense of connectedness that we can experience when we share our thoughts, ideas, and emotions through writing.
Questions to Ask When Discussing Reading:
What do you think the author wanted you to learn when reading this book?
Do you think this is a good title? Why do you think the author chose it?
How did the author help you connect with the characters?
What did the author do to keep you interested?
Questions to Ask When Discussing Writing:
Is there anything your reader might not understand? Could you explain more?
What is the big idea that you want your reader to learn?
How do you think your reader will feel when reading this piece?
Have you given your reader enough details to visualize the text and make personal connections with your writing?
By: Lower School Science Teacher Jess Baker
February 11, 2021
Much of my childhood was spent outside. I grew up having easy access to nature right in my backyard — trails, creeks and animals of all sorts. My siblings and I spent countless hours every week engaged in unstructured outdoor play, exploring together, making up games, and riding bikes on the “roads” we created. I’m fairly certain my parents were unaware of the developmental benefits of sending us outside to play all weekend long, that’s just what parents did “back then,” right? I’m sure you remember these days too. Because of these seeds sown by my parents, being outdoors has become a love of my own.
Nowadays, encouraging kids to spend sustained amounts of time outdoors can seem to be a daunting task. Outdoor play has to overcome the strong pull of screen time, but I promise, it can be worth the gentle nudge out of the door. Sustained time playing outside will result in cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits for your child.
I love how Peter Gray, writer of Free to Learn talks about the benefits of play:
“In free play, children learn to make their own decisions, solve their own problems, create and abide by rules, and get along with others as equals rather than as obedient or rebellious subordinates. In vigorous outdoor play, children deliberately dose themselves with moderate amounts of fear — as they swing, slide, or twirl on playground equipment, climb on monkey bars or trees, or skateboard down banisters — and they thereby learn how to control not only their bodies, but also their fear. In social play, children learn how to negotiate with others, how to please others, and how to modulate and overcome the anger that can arise from conflicts. Free play is also nature's means of helping children discover what they love. In their play children try out many activities and discover what their talents and predilections lie. None of these lessons can be taught through verbal means; they can be learned only through experience, which free play provides. The predominant emotions of play are interest and joy.”
I have recently been inspired by the blog 1000 Hours Outside. This blog (and its social media accounts) highlights the developmental benefits of time spent outdoors for children. 1000 Hours Outside is most known for its challenge to track your family’s time outdoors to add up to 1000 hours in a year. You can also start with a more manageable challenge of 100 hours. There are free printables to track your time where your child can color in a small part of the picture for every hour spent. I encourage you to check it out for yourself! It’s a phenomenal resource.
In December, I did an outdoor unit with first grade to encourage the children to play in the cold weather. Winter can be a tough time for kids and parents alike, being cooped up in the house for weeks on end especially in the midst of the pandemic where we literally can’t go anywhere!
I gave the children some ideas of things they could do, and told them to have fun, explore, build, and play. I was there as an observer, a guide, and to make sure they were safe. They were the leaders in their learning. In spite of the chilly temperatures, the kids could have stayed out there for hours. Both groups of children ended up working together to build what would be lovingly named the Evergreen Forts.
It was amazing to see how the children organized themselves and assumed different roles, some staying near the site to build the structure, while many others searched for and gathered the structural materials: sticks, logs, and fallen trees. I helped when they asked, but I also watched in amazement as they solved problems together and collaborated in ways that would be difficult to facilitate in an indoor learning environment. The engineering, the collapses, the struggle to find the perfect piece. Their minds were busy problem solving and continuously engaged in deep, meaningful ways. What they created was amazing and was quite the buzz around the older grades at school. The fact that the little kids could make such amazing structures.
I encourage you to get your children outdoors. Winter offers so many excuses to stay in, but I think it is one of the best times to get outside! Bundle up and head out on a new adventure together with your little ones. Children are amazingly resilient and with the right outdoor gear will be stoked to explore with you!
There is a deep refreshing that comes to our souls when we inhale the crisp, cold, winter air. Nature has a way of healing us. Nature has a way of connecting us. Nature is magical. Of all the times in our lifetime that we need it most, this is it. Give your child the gift of the opportunity to fall in love with nature.
Here are some ideas in our area:
- Castlewood State Park
- Endangered Wolf Center
- Laumeier Sculpture Park
- Lone Elk Park
- Creve Coeur Lake
- Mastodon State Historic Site
- Two Rivers National Wildlife Reserve
- Pere Marquette State Park
- Eagle Watching
By: Upper School Science Teacher Julie LaConte
February 1, 2021
The global pandemic has changed nearly every aspect of our lives for the past year, including how we teach and our school experiences. As we approach the one year anniversary of the introduction of COVID-19 protocols into our daily lives at Rossman School, I have taken some time to reflect on the impact I have felt teaching Upper School science during the pandemic.
In Upper School science, Rossman students explore topics in life, earth and physical sciences in hand-on, engaging ways. They question, predict, design experiments, analyze results and communicate their findings in scientific language. I enjoy the opportunity to teach the same students for three consecutive years and watch their growth as thinkers and learners. I am lucky to have the opportunity to develop close relationships with students based on our common shared experiences over the course of our time together.
When we moved to emergency virtual learning last spring and then returned to campus this school year in a very different setup, I struggled to make sense of how to incorporate a rich science experience into these new protocols.
I suddenly gave up my classroom to become a traveling teacher on a cart, moving to six different classrooms throughout the day. I gave up my lab tables where students eagerly share materials and work together in favor of socially distanced, plexiglass-enclosed desk spaces in their homeroom classes, while also incorporating students connecting virtually from home. Recreating every lesson across three grade levels to incorporate this “new normal” has been a daunting task.
As challenging as it has been, I am in awe of where we are six months later.
The Upper School science students have adapted to our procedures without a second thought. The level of flexibility they have shown and their willingness to try new things outside of their comfort zone has been inspiring. Experiments have often become demonstrations. Activities and games where students are moving freely through the classroom have been loaded into online apps or platforms for individual play. The pace of the lessons is often slower, as we pause to sanitize equipment, like microscopes, in between each student’s use and then load them onto my cart for transfer to another classroom.
But through it all, the depth of learning is still evident.
The students have been eager for each class and participated enthusiastically. They have been patient with the change in processes and helped work through glitches in new technology platforms and applications. They have remained positive, even when faced with the replacement of some anticipated traditional projects, with COVID-friendly alternatives. They have engaged in deep and thoughtful discussions about our usual topics of study, but also current health issues such as virus transmission and vaccine development, making important scientific connections to their real-world experiences.
I realized recently that the sixth graders have had a very unique experience in Upper School science. Their first year with me, in fourth grade, was “normal.” In fifth grade, their science experience started “normal” enough and was then disrupted in the spring as they transitioned to virtual learners. Now, they have returned in sixth grade back to campus, but a very different campus than they left. I decided to ask them about their experiences across Upper Science and how this has affected them.
“Upper Science is fun, mostly because of the variety of things we do. That helps us understand concepts more. It's also super cool when we get to do experiments and see what we are being taught in front of us.” —Anna
“I would say that my experience in science has been challenging but fun … It is always fun because you are always working on something.” —Tom
“I would describe Upper School science as interesting … I learned a lot of different things that I didn’t know. I even had fun during online! I first didn’t like science, but once I started Upper School science, it changed my perspective a lot.” —Maddie
“I would describe Upper School science as an interesting experience. I’m still a little shaken by the COVID experience but I'm happy that Rossman remained active. I'm especially interested in science as it's one of my favorite subjects. COVID has been a strange situation and I'm happy that in science Mrs. LaConte has been able to talk about the science of it.” —Christopher
The sixth graders’ responses showed me that even though it looks very different from years past, rich scientific learning is still clearly occurring.
Even more importantly, this year has instilled in our students the valuable skills of resilience, flexibility and determination that will serve them long after leaving the halls of Rossman School.
“Upper School science is amazing and cool.
Science is one of the reasons I want to go to school.
From photosynthesis, water cycle, and cells.
From domain, kingdom, phylum, to all the organelles.
Food chains and animals, physical and chemical changes.
Mrs. LaConte’s educational class is amazing for all ages.”
By: Junior Kindergarten Teachers Julie Renne, Mary Schwartz and Diane Vujnich
January 27, 2021
The quintessential early childhood educator Fred Rogers has left us quite a legacy of knowledge regarding how children learn. His Six Necessities of Learning are basic ideas — practical and simple. During these times when learning at school and learning at home are the new “norm,” it’s more important than ever that teachers and parents partner in assisting each child to reach his full potential. The Six Necessities of Learning apply to students at all ages and stages of development and are easy for parents to use as a basis for at home learning. They fit hand in hand with the social-emotional learning that Rossman weaves into every class and grade level, and they are the foundations for academic confidence. The Six Necessities of Learning are:
- a sense of self-worth
- a sense of trust
- a sense of curiosity
- the capacity to look and listen carefully
- the capacity to play
- times of solitude
All of these necessities are introduced very early in your child’s life, and most come naturally to you as you parent your child.
Self-worth is something that your child feels as you, through your words and actions, teach them that they are a valued member of your family.
Trust is built as you are consistently present, providing for your child and demonstrating your love for him.
Curiosity about the ever-changing world around him allows your child to ask questions about everything that touches your child’s mind and imagination. The love and security you provide for your child allows him the freedom to ask questions and clarify his feelings as he learns.
The capacity to look and listen carefully are learned by your child as you encourage him to make observations of the world around him, conversing about what is seen, heard or felt and allowing him to express his thoughts, ideas and feelings about what is observed.
The capacity to play is important as children learn through play, and is best demonstrated through non-electronic means. Play gives your child’s brain the opportunity to freely learn through the interactions of the imagination and the toy (or something in nature). Contrary to societal beliefs, your child does not need to have every minute of the day programmed and scheduled.
Time for solitude allows your child to relax, be alone with his thoughts and let his imagination grow. “Boredom” is one of the best ways to encourage creativity!
These foundations for academic growth and success are present in your child at all times, just waiting to be nurtured. With these foundations in place, your child will be open and receptive to learning. By nurturing your child in this way, regardless of loss of time “in school,” your child will always be ready to learn, formally or informally. The world is your child’s classroom. Opportunities for learning are all around us — and your child is ready!
By: Second Grade Teachers Maggie Martin and Jamie Rhinesmith
January 19, 2021
I (Jamie) still remember the day I walked into a coworker’s classroom and proudly showed him a poster I had made for my fourth graders who were struggling with long division. On the large sheet of paper, I had written a catchy mnemonic device and carefully drawn a related picture to spell out the steps to follow when solving a division problem. As a third-year teacher, I thought it was not only “Pinterest-worthy,” but also a flawless way to get my students to follow the process of long division. I was a bit taken aback when my coworker was much less enthusiastic about my poster. Instead, he gave me a quick warning to “be careful,” explaining that it isn’t our job to get our students to memorize math procedures, but to help them explore and gain a deep understanding of the concepts. This small moment sparked an ongoing journey and passion for learning how to best help my students grow into mini-mathematicians.
In second grade here at Rossman, we certainly aren’t teaching long division, but we’re committed to this mission to help our students build number sense and reasoning through various routines and practices.
If you walk past our classrooms and hear students cheering, it might mean we’re in the middle of one of our math warm-ups. These math warm-ups get the students engaged and ready to start math class, as well as teach a variety of math concepts through exploration and student conversation. One such warm-up is called SPLAT, in which students view some dots on the Smartboard, and then some of the dots get covered with an ink splat. Students mentally figure out how many dots are covered. The discussion that follows often includes elements of a variety of second grade concepts, such as addition and subtraction, and occasionally more complex concepts, including multiplication, division and fractions. Other warm-ups that help get students talking about math include Esti-mysteries, number talks, choral counting, and Which One Doesn’t Belong discussions.
Another practice we follow to help our students develop a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts is following the Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract (CPA) approach to teaching math. In this progression, students start to explore a math concept using a concrete model, such as base ten blocks, pattern blocks, coins, etc. This hands-on approach allows students to manipulate the objects and truly see why a concept works the way it does. Every Tuesday during our math centers, we have a whole center devoted to hands-on practice of a skill. As students begin to master a concept with concrete manipulatives, they may start to use pictures to represent these models, such as number lines, drawings, part-part-whole diagrams, etc. Finally, we connect these representations to number models, including the traditional algorithm you and I learned to use when solving an arithmetic problem. This practice helps students not only to solve a problem efficiently, but understand why their chosen strategy works.
Math guru Greg Tang wrote, “Math is profoundly different than other subjects. Every skill, strategy, and standard is part of a conceptual and technical progression that begins in elementary school and builds through middle and high school.” The teaching practices that we are employing here in second grade help students see the relationships between various concepts and their progression as they move into higher grades.
By: Art Teacher Erica Spangler
January 4, 2021
I remember meeting with Mrs. Zurlinden before spring break in March of 2020. We had discussed the very real possibility of moving to remote learning after the break, and I wondered what that scenario could possibly look like for art. How could I teach art remotely? Mrs. Z told me one thing I’ll never forget, “Your job is to bring joy to the kids.”
I left that meeting with a huge weight of responsibility on my shoulders. Bring joy. That was my goal for the spring, but I realize it is and has been my goal each day as an art teacher.
The highlight of teaching art on a cart comes from two words I hear at least six times a day. As I roll into each classroom, a child inevitably proclaims “Yay! Art!” Those two words are music to my ears. Students are eager to engage in creativity, and the arts are a wonderful place for children to get lost in the creative process.
This fall I read Rebekah Lyons’ book Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace and Purpose. In her book, Lyons suggests four rhythms we can incorporate into our lives to replace stress and anxiety with peace and purpose. One of the rhythms she focuses on is “create.” Lyons suggests that through creativity, we can take a break from stress, anxiety and boredom. This got me thinking about my role as an art teacher — the primary encourager of creativity in children.
Process Over Product
For some, the idea of creating art can produce anxiety. That is in part because we live in an age of social media, where everything seems to be posted, “likes” tallied, and the importance of product is valued more than process. In the book, Art & Fear, the authors suggest that some people won't even begin creating because they are afraid the outcome won’t be good enough. The creativity Lyons talks about is creating for the sake of creativity. It’s making something for its own sake — not to be judged, compared or shared on social media. The goal of creating to relieve stress and anxiety is focused on process rather than product. In the art world, we call that art for art’s sake.
The Art of Distraction
Creating can reduce stress and anxiety in both children and adults for many reasons. Sandi Schwartz, author of the “Happy Science Mom” blog, shared that “[Painting] helps me get lost in the moment and forget my worries.” She suggests that art serves as a distraction, it creates flow and mindfulness, and is a form of self-care. I see all of these at play when children are in art class — whether in the art studio, at their desks in homeroom, or at the outdoor painting studio.
Distraction is a strategy that helps reduce stress and anxiety. “...when distracting themselves, children are not actively avoiding their feelings but rather temporarily shifting their thoughts and attention to a more pleasurable activity. According to Skinner and Zimmer-Gemback (2007) distraction is considered a form of accommodation in which children use flexibility to focus on another topic and thereby adjust their emotions” (Drake & Winner, 2012).
Distracting ourselves through creativity is different from distraction through entertainment. Entertainment, such as video games, binge watching Netflix, or scrolling through TikTok videos doesn’t actually require brain involvement. When you create a work of art, your brain is engaged as you are distracted from stress and anxiety. Whether you are creating a drawing or painting from scratch, or coloring in popular relaxing coloring books, you are making choices about your art. It is my joy to watch students become distracted from the stresses of the school day — especially this year — through art. They are so concentrated on what they are making, that they get 30-45 minutes free of worries about masks, social distancing, the pandemic or even how well they did on a recent test.
Schwartz listed both flow and mindfulness as positive benefits from art. She wrote, flow is “the state of being completely engaged in an activity. Mindfulness occurs when you are absorbed in the present moment” (Schwartz, 2016). My favorite moments in art class, and they occur daily, are when students get lost in their art. They are so absorbed, that they forget their surroundings. They are not distracted by other students or the final product. They are excited and busy creating. This is a vital part of your child’s day.
Say Yes to Mess
I know as a mom of three with busy schedules (in a non-COVID year), that the last thing we think to do is take time to create. COVID-19 has drained us as parents, so the thought of building a fort (and then having to clean it up), baking a cake from scratch (and then having to clean it up), sitting down to build with Legos (and then having to clean it up), can be at the bottom of our list ... because we’ll have to clean it up! Not to mention painting or making recycled sculptures! However, I urge you to take a risk and say yes to the mess if it means your children can create with you.
One of my friends does not enjoy a messy house, but she still creates with her kids. They scrapbook together and recently got interested in intricate paint-by-number kits they ordered through Amazon. Many enjoy intricate coloring books or making zentangles. These are creative options that are less messy, equally engaging, and give us, as parents, opportunities to encourage creativity by partaking in it with our children. Children learn by example, so if they see us create, they will join us. If they see us on our phones or in front of the TV, they will do the same.
Art for All
Everyone does not like to create in the same way. My 13 year old is eager to build out of Legos. My 10 year old loves cardboard construction and baking. My 16 year old daughter creates music on her cello. (Music and art both relieve stress and anxiety achieving the same effects of distraction, flow, mindfulness and self-care.) I would argue, however, that everyone is experiencing a level of stress and anxiety at this time. The pandemic has affected us all, including our children, and we all need to find positive ways to work towards peace and purpose. I encourage you to seek out a way to connect and create with your child on a regular basis. It is a fun and positive way to deal with the hard emotions we are all facing. We all get to bring joy!
By: P.E. Teachers Larry Huusko and Jenna Lucas
December 11, 2020
Watching Junior Kindergarten run and play during free time in P.E. is one of my favorite moments. The furthest thing from their minds is personal fitness. They are just enjoying themselves. Through their creative movement, they exercise almost every muscle in their body. Every class has exciting and active free time prior to class actually beginning.
During the warm months it is easy for anyone to “just go outside and play,” or if you’re an adult, to do some gardening or lawn work or walk the dog to get active. But what do you do when the weather turns cold and nasty?
I say, turn to your children. Let their creativity shine! Give them parameters: Don’t break anything, don’t hurt yourself or others, and be aware of others around you who may not want to “play” your game or participate in your activity. To get the whole family involved, let each member of the family be in charge of one day’s game or activity. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. Here are some simple suggestions to spark your creativity:
- Go up and down the steps 10 times.
- Try to touch each wall in your house in the shortest period of time.
- See how many times you can touch all four walls in one room (cleared of furniture or in the basement).
- Stuffed animal bowling: Set any collection of items up in a room with hard floors (carpet doesn’t work very well), and using bowling techniques and stuffed animals try to “bowl down” all the items.
- Finally, put multiple ideas together and form your own Family Olympic Games. Form teams, if your family is large enough, and individual challenges. You could even hold an “opening ceremony parade, special “gold medal” ceremonies, and a “closing parade of athletes” ceremony.
The bottom line is: be creative in your activities to keep them fun and exciting. Letting your children lead gives them ownership of their play and also of their fitness. If you don’t have any timing equipment such as a stopwatch, I like using “ONE MISS-IS-SIPPI, TWO MISS-IS-SIPPI” so the winner (if that is important) can be spread around.
Another way to keep the exercising going is to make your activities goal-oriented. “After 10 push-ups you can play the video game you desire for a half hour. After walking the dog you can watch the T.V. program you wanted to watch.” Do your CHORES, get your REWARDS.
Have fun, stay active.
By: Lower School Director Rachel Dixon
November 30, 2020
Many of our faculty have administered the ERB quite a few times over their years at Rossman. They have gotten to know the detailed set of directions read before each testing section quite well. These typically conclude by saying that we cannot answer questions about the test during testing and encourage students to ask any questions before starting. This year, one student quietly raised a hand and asked his teacher, “I do have a question. Why do we take this test?” Thankfully, our Rossman faculty understand the importance of answering that question. Ever wondered this yourself? Below I will explain a bit more about the purpose of ERB testing and what it can — and cannot — tell us about our students.
What is the ERB test and how is it administered?
The formal name for the assessment is the Comprehensive Testing Program (CTP-5), and it is designed by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB). The test is taken each year by all Rossman students beginning in second grade and is intended to evaluate their understanding of reading, listening, vocabulary, writing, and mathematics. The number and type of subtests vary slightly by grade level with second grade students taking four subtests, third grade students taking five subtests, and our fourth through sixth grade students taking eight subtests. All subtests are multiple-choice.
At Rossman, we test school-wide over the course of a week. Scores are received back from ERB after winter vacation and are typically distributed to families in advance of February conferences.
Though some schools take the CTP-5 in the spring, Rossman opts for fall testing, allowing us to receive our scores back during the school year. This enables us to utilize the data to improve responsiveness to student needs within the same school year.
Why do we take the ERBs, and what do they tell us?
There are several reasons we take the ERB at Rossman:
The test provides valuable insights into our students that inform how we can best support them. By identifying areas of relative strength and weakness, we can better tailor classroom instruction for each student. The data we receive back from ERB offers deeper analysis of performance in different strands within each subject area. For example, in reading comprehension, a student may perform well on questions relating to vocabulary in context and explicit information, but may need additional support around information that is implicit in the text.
Student performance not only holds us accountable for addressing student needs, but also for continual review of our curriculum. This way we evaluate our program to determine if there are areas that require our attention.
Five years of testing helps to tell a story over time about student progress. By tracking a student over time, we can celebrate successes and strengths, and ask questions and provide support where necessary. During the secondary school application process, this story also helps inform part of a school’s understanding of a student.
The significant caveat we must consider is that the ERB scores provide a snapshot of a student on a given day. Though a student’s performance can provide us with valuable information, we also must be mindful of the limitations of this data. It is important to consider the limitations of a student’s response to a set of 40 questions. This is yet another reason why we like to review student data over time.
What don’t ERBs tell us?
Quite a few things. CTP-5 scores tell us nothing about creativity or innovative thinking. They tell us nothing about a student’s ability to collaborate or their leadership qualities. And ERB scores tell us absolutely nothing about one of our most essential Rossman values —character. A standardized test does not speak to kindness, honesty, respect and responsibility, though we believe these qualities to be as essential as a student’s academic performance. Scores are just part of a much larger data set we use to understand our students.
This year in preparation for “ERB season,” I thought it might be interesting to take a walk down memory lane and review my own ERB scores from elementary school. What did my data tell me? I was not a particularly strong tester in second and third grade. Thankfully, with time, practice and instruction, my scores started to improve and by sixth grade, my scores were solidly competitive.
Did these scores inform my school experience? My family and teachers likely spent time considering them and determining how best to support me. Did they shape the person I am today? Other than informing my current work with students and families around testing, probably very little. What I can say is, it is nice to be able to look students in the eye during testing and say, “I had to take this when I was your age. Just do your best.”
By: Fifth Grade Teacher Zack Mouw
November 16, 2020
While conducting a literature review on teacher enthusiasm during my graduate studies, I discovered that there are numerous positive effects on students when educators are enthusiastic about teaching and passionate about their content areas. The literature review consistently revealed greater amounts of intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy among students when high levels of teacher enthusiasm were present.
Joining the fifth grade teaching team at Rossman this year has only increased my awareness of the positive effects that teacher enthusiasm can have on student outcomes. For Mr. Valdez, passion begins with teaching mathematics, as he has always loved discovering solutions to mathematical concepts. Furthermore, the challenge of meeting the needs of students with various math perspectives has always been intriguing to him. “Each student sees math from a unique perspective, which is often very different from my own. Finding ways to make our mathematical viewpoints meet requires me to understand ideas in multiple ways, which is one of the most powerful and exciting aspects of math,” the veteran educator explains. Mr. Valdez understands that not all students enjoy math, but believes that when students realize how interesting and surprising math can be, their perspectives can change. “Teaching math to kids who don’t want to be there is very difficult. But when you get their trust and you get their intrinsic motivation going, it is the most rewarding.”
Understanding that communicating clearly and coherently and having the ability to express oneself and connect with others is critical to succeeding in life, Ms. Menees strives to engage with her students through writing. “There is nothing better than getting to know my students through their written work or helping them get to know themselves and each other by providing them opportunities to write and share their writing! It is a joy to watch them develop their personalities, voice and confidence throughout the year,” she states. Ms. Menees’ passion for writing is palpable, and the enthusiasm she brings to each lesson is contagious. “I am never bored with what we are doing—the same prompt or project leads different students in a million different directions, and I think the kids can see how much of a kick I get out of all of their ideas and writer’s voice, which motivates them to want to write and share their work! I think they see my delight and come to trust that what they have to say is important.”
My instructional enthusiasm can most often be seen when teaching reading comprehension, and the love for reading that Rossman students display makes my job easier and allows me to focus on teaching deeper comprehension skills and critical thinking. There is nothing more rewarding in education to me than having students express their own enthusiasm for reading class.
Whether it is math, writing, reading, or another subject, teacher enthusiasm is always on full display in fifth grade at Rossman. It is exceedingly exciting and invigorating to watch students develop intrinsic motivation and grow in their self-efficacy for academics!
By: Senior Kindergarten Teachers Lauren Brody and Abbie Duvall
November 9, 2020
Senior Kindergarten is an exciting year full of growth and development. The students enter the classroom on the first day of school excited for what is to come and all there is to accomplish. Steadily, programs and topics are introduced throughout the school year to help the students learn new strategies and master concepts. Two essential programs introduced during Senior Kindergarten are Guided Reading Groups and Writing Workshop.
In our daily Guided Reading Groups, students participate in small group activities that help them combine their previous knowledge with newly acquired strategies to further develop their reading skills. They begin the school year by solidifying their recognition of letters and their sounds. From there, students begin working on acquiring reading strategies that help them use their sounds to decode words. We use a system of reading in which each step is not learning words in isolation, but the development of the power to identify words from patterns of letters. This approach translates letters into sounds and sounds into meaning, which eventually becomes automatic.
For our writing program, we use Lucy Calkins’s Writing Workshop. This program begins with an introduction to writing and then takes the students on a yearlong journey full of experiences with different types of writing. The students become writers on their very first day. They participate in a mini-lesson in which a writing strategy is introduced and demonstrated. Then, the students go to their writing area and work on their stories. While working independently or with a teacher, students stretch out words by saying them slowly and listening for the sounds they hear. Then, they write down the letter sounds they hear to form words and sentences. Throughout the week, the students will conference with a teacher. These conferences provide our students the opportunity to read through their stories and work on further developing their writing skills.
Separately, these programs are very successful; however something magical happens throughout the year when the two programs intertwine. In Guided Reading Groups, the students may break down a story and write about its beginning, middle and end. They might even expand the story by writing the next chapter. Sometimes, they feel comfortable with trying to write the story from another character’s point of view. While writing, it is fun to watch students think about a book they’ve read and try to bring concepts of the book into their writing. For example, they may want to rhyme a story like Dr. Suess or they may want to tell their reader about the time they found their favorite stuffed animal like in the book Corduroy by Don Freeman. When the students feel comfortable with intertwining their reading skills and writing skills together, the possibilities are endless.
By: Learning Consultant Heather Blome
November 4, 2020
In the wake of the ongoing pandemic, the approaching flu season, shorter days due to the recent time change, post-Halloween fatigue (for those who celebrate), and the election, now seems like a good time to remember the basics of parenting: routine and consistency. Amongst routine and consistency, I would like to also stress the importance of feeding healthy habits and giving ourselves grace. There are so many stressors in our lives, for both kids and parents, that we all need to be intentional about caring for ourselves so we can care for our little and big kids alike.
Let’s face it, any one of the above named stressors can throw us for a loop, but all coinciding can make the weight on our shoulders feel heavy and unmanageable at times. I want to take the time to emphasize the importance of a few basic routines and ways to show our kids consistency in the next few months when things around us may feel out of control. Some of these “basics” can include sleep hygiene, nutrition, having a solid after school routine, and having fun with your family.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the recommended sleep guidelines by age are:
Recommended Hours of Sleep
Preschool (3-5 years old)
School-age (6-13 years old)
Teen (14-17 years old)
Young Adult (18-25 years old)
Adult (26-64 years old)
Getting enough sleep is essential for our bodies to function properly. In kids a lack of sleep can cause irritability, a lack of focus, anxiety and more. Visit SleepFoundation.org for more information on setting up the sleep environment and for more information about sleep hygiene.
MyPlate has a wealth of information for healthy eating for the whole family. A good rule of thumb is to aim for two fruits and vegetables a day and avoid sugary drinks. Sweet treats are fine in moderation in combination with physical activity.
After School Routine
The evenings after school can be different for everyone. With many activities or little to none during the pandemic, it is a good idea to have a routine in place. Here is an example of an after school routine, which can be easily modified to fit your family:
Snack right after school and then a short playtime outside before dark
Some students will be more independent with homework than others, but it is always a good idea to have an organized workspace close by an adult for the children who need checking in on or in their bedrooms where it is quiet for those who are more distractible but independent.
Dinner time and after dinner game or reading time
Bedtime routine: bath, books, and bedtime
If you need more ideas for schedules — morning, afternoon, dinner or bedtime, check out this article from ADDitutde.
The best way to get out of a rut or get over the “getting dark at 5 o’clock blues” is to give yourself, your child(ren), or your family a break and do something fun. Here are some simple suggestions that need little to no planning:
Dance to your favorite music
Do a craft
Play hide and seek
Build a fort
Have a movie night
Take a walk or exercise
For more family fun while stuck at home, explore these ideas from Parents.com.
By: Sixth Grade Teacher Rachel Price
October 28, 2020
One thing I’ve come to love about Rossman is our incredible alumni network. Our graduates go out and do amazing things for their communities, but they also make time to come back and serve our Rossman students. This fall, I am grateful to the many Rossman alumni who took time out of their busy schedules to participate in our Sixth Grade Alumni Interview Day.
As sixth grade teachers, Jordan Andes and I aim to equip our students with the skills they will need to succeed in the future. One of the ways we do this is by having our students practice their interview skills. Last year, Jordan had the wonderful idea of inviting alumni back to campus to facilitate mock interviews with our sixth grade students. Thus, “Alumni Interview Day” was born. We were able to have our second annual Alumni Interview Day this fall in a virtual format; each sixth grader was able to participate in a Zoom interview with a Rossman alum. It was such a joy to overhear snippets of each conversation: “What are some of your strengths?” “Who do you admire/look up to?” “What do you think makes a good friend?” I was delighted to hear our students’ eloquent yet earnest responses.
While our alumni continue to give back to us, it is also impressive to see how Rossman maintains support for their graduates. Every year, the Rossman School Alumni Association, led by Director of Development Cathleen Wyckoff, puts together care packages for Rossman alumni who are in their first two years of college. This fall, our sixth graders were able to help put these care packages together. Mrs. Wyckoff set up an assembly line and we placed Rossman gear, candy, snacks, and much more in each package. Our students also wrote personal notes to the college students and included them in the care packages. As the sixth graders marveled at all the snacks and swag, they kept saying, “I can’t wait until I’m in college and I get one of these from Rossman!”
A few days ago, I checked my mailbox at school and found some letters addressed to our sixth graders. At first, I wasn’t quite sure who they were from. One student had a letter written to him with a return address in Tucson, Arizona. I went up to this student and said, “Do you know anyone in Arizona? You got a letter from someone in Tucson…” We decided to open the letter together. As we read the hand-written note, we realized that the college student who received the care package with his personal letter had written back. A huge grin spread across this sixth grader’s face as he realized he was holding a letter from a college student written just to him! In our attempt to support our college alumni, they returned the favor tenfold by giving support back to our current sixth graders.
Our alumni are incredible examples of what it looks like to carry the Rossman values into adulthood. As I look at the sixth grade class this year, I can’t help but already feel proud of the kind, honest, respectful and responsible alumni they will be in six short months.
By: Upper Social Studies Teacher/Student Council Coordinator Erin Moore
October 20, 2020
Student Council allows students to become actively involved in decision making for the Rossman School community. With everything happening in the world right now, it is more important than ever to encourage students to express themselves and have open lines of communication with both the faculty and student body. Allowing students to take control in a time when they feel like they have none, can help them express their emotions. It is also crucial that we keep a sense of normalcy within the school and something as identifiable as Student Council is a great way to achieve that goal.
This year when asked why they wanted to run for Student Council, students responded with, “to make the school a better place,” “to take a risk and try and experience new things,” “the ability to get to know and work with students in different grades,” and “to have fun!” Even with everything happening, Rossman students still model the attitude of positivity and optimism! Students are having to find new ways to reach out and keep the lines of communication open with their classmates and the school as a whole. Students had the opportunity to create videos to encourage their classmates to vote for them and it was amazing to see their great ideas and to witness them adapt to our changing times! Watching them create videos to get the “word out” and increase student participation in fundraisers is another great example!
This year, Student Council’s focus is on keeping school spirit high and adjusting our usual routine to accommodate certain limitations. Now, instead of meeting at school on Tuesdays, we all head home and prepare to connect via Zoom. It is so enjoyable to allow students time at the beginning of meetings to share a little bit about themselves and their goals for Student Council. All members have made it clear that even though things look different, they are still excited about the experience and want to continue with certain traditions as best they can. One of those is fundraisers for those less fortunate. Student Council’s October sock drive will benefit a local homeless shelter. Students are taking into account that many are struggling right now and that every little bit helps. It is inspiring to see their excitement over the idea of helping those in need. (Pictured: Student Council representatives announce sock drive results.)
The social studies teacher in me did come out during the election process for Student Council. The process provided an easy and relatable way to bring the way elections work into the classroom. Running the elections this year, I found it easy to relate to the process for the upcoming elections in November. It definitely sparked some great debates in class and showed students democracy in action!
By: Head of School Elizabeth Zurlinden
September 8, 2020
I’m sad that we cannot gather tonight in the Pratt Performing Arts Center to celebrate the start of the school year in typical fashion — with personal introductions of the incredible faculty and staff who care for your children each day and our annual slideshow that features each of your one-of-a-kind children enjoying their everyday moments at school. This is certainly not a typical year, there will be nothing ordinary about it. From global shifts to personal adjustments, the coronavirus pandemic has caused myriad worldwide changes and imposed on nearly all aspects of our lives, but it has also unlocked creativity, resourcefulness, delight and newfound appreciation for simple things often overlooked in our pre-COVID lives.
Throughout this summer, our first few days of school and especially tonight, my heart is full of gratitude. Without a doubt we have experienced great loss and hardship, but with a shift of perspective, and if we squint, we can make out in the distance something beautiful that is being born in us, both individually and collectively, during this difficult pandemic season.
I love beautiful architecture and one of my most favorite buildings is in Paris — Saint-Chappelle, a beautiful holy chapel that took nearly a decade to build. It sits in the shadow and steps away from the astonishing cathedral of Notre Dame, which took 182 years to build. I’ve been reflecting on beauty that is formed over time as I navigate our current circumstances and wonder if the formation of architectural greatness is at all similar to the formation of character and virtue that is taking root now in us and our children. So often we talk about developing resilience, which is likened to an elasticity of spirit and will that bears hardship but then returns to its original shape after compression. Resilience is often associated with “bouncing back” after adversity or trauma.
But similar to the slow, intentional, relentless build of a great cathedral is the cultivation of the virtue of patience, formed over time, shaped by incremental change. The Old French meaning of the word patience is “to suffer.” It is the quality of being willing to bear adversity with calm endurance. In today’s hurried culture, some may associate patience with waiting for something to pass. But true patience suggests a defiance to break, like resilience, but is softened by a tenderness to allow oneself to be refined by hardship, not returning to our original shape, but made new, changed.
Arguably, asking us to return to the persons we were before this life changing pandemic is simply shallow. What kind of people do we want to be as we rebuild our lives, our families, our community when we emerge from this long suffering season of pandemic? And how have we been shaped in ways that have made us stronger and kinder and more patient? This worldwide, life defining year has forced our 60-mile-an-hour lives to screech to what a Japanese theologian calls the speed that love walks, three miles an hour. We have been slowed down, we have had to live small, walk slowly and endure calmly.
I’m certain that we feel the same daily weariness. I’m ready to enter a post-COVID world with the virus as a speck in my rear view mirror, but I’m not willing to hurry back to what was, what we recall as our normal. Rushing backwards fails to take into account who we’ve become in these hard days, how we’ve been shaped by patience, how we’ve endured while faithfully and calmly moving forward.
We now have a new perspective. A crisis has provided clarity. Hardship has become a powerful teacher. Loss has taught us what we take for granted. COVID has exposed much about us and our community. It has also heralded a call to assume responsibility for rebuilding our lives with great intention and hope.
As we rebuild, let us consider that we are architects, not of great cathedrals, but of greatness in our children. Like beautiful, holy chapels, our children’s hearts are worth our enduring commitment to a work that will define our lives, will never be finished, will require great sacrifice and will receive little recognition. It is walking the speed of love with patience.
Over the next couple nights, you have the great honor to meet with your children’s homeroom teachers and hear recorded messages from all our specialist teachers and the counseling team. These men and women have all dedicated their lives to encouraging greatness in the lives of their students. Consider yourselves incredibly blessed that your children spend their days with these extraordinary teachers.
Just these past few days of school have revealed what I too often take for granted, our teachers are heart-driven and wholly dedicated in their service to Rossman and your family. If we were gathered together tonight, I’d ask them to stand and I’d ask you to join me in thanking them with a round of applause. As we celebrate this start of a very unique and historic year at Rossman, please find some creative way to applaud and thank your children’s teachers. They are so deserving.
Enjoy the opportunity to connect with teachers and each other. I look forward to the year ahead and our partnership together as the Rossman community.
- The Many Advantages of One Class per Grade Level
- The Relationships That Move Our Mission Forward
- Doing the “Rot” Thing at Rossman School
- A New Perspective of Thankfulness
- The Benefits of Bonding with Furry Friends
- Authors in the Making
- Alumni Spotlight: Claire Pieper (Class of 2008)
- Team Sports and the Individual
- Math Myths that Inhibit Learning
- The Power of Education and the Philosophy of Ubuntu
- Why Study Geography?
- Keeping our Connections
- Project Based Learning
- Teaching Comprehension
- The Gift of Words
- New Year To-Do List: Honor Each Day
- Is Early Math as Important as Early Reading? ...Yep!
- Strategies for Improving Executive Functioning
- A Foundation for Success: Play-Based Learning and Its Role in the Rossman Curriculum
- Passive vs. Active Listening
- The Power of a Library Card
- Rossman School Gala Raises $232,000
- Nuance: The Power of Positive Phrasing
- A Student-Centered Approach to Learning
- April Spotlights Poetry in Rossman’s Robust Writing Curriculum
By: Lower School Director Rachel Dixon
September 16, 2019
Our students, families, faculty and staff love being part of the intimate and tight-knit Rossman community. Part of being a small school means that we are structured with one class per grade level. We believe this comes with many advantages for our children and families. Here are a few that we believe make a big impact in the educational experience of Rossman students:
Over their eight years at Rossman from their first days in JK through sixth grade graduation, students and parents alike form a tight bond amongst each other. These close relationships are a hallmark of the Rossman community. Families make connections that last well beyond their years at the school. These close relationships also help students build an appreciation for others as they learn to celebrate the similarities and differences among their peers. Our students and families applaud each others’ achievements and offer a network of support through challenges. In this way, Rossman is so much more than just a school.
Tighter school-wide curricular alignment
Every year at Rossman, teachers and administrators focus on how to best align curriculum from grade level to grade level to ensure that we are seamlessly building from where we left off. While many schools must devote time as grade level teams to aligning curriculum across several classrooms at a single grade level, our teachers can focus on aligning the entire experience of a Rossman student over eight years. This creates a more focused and cohesive program.
This also allows teachers the flexibility to support each unique class in the best way possible. If there are certain areas or units of study that a cohort of students is particularly excited about or with which they need more assistance, teachers can accommodate those interests and needs without the pressure to finish in the exact same spot as other teams teaching the same grade level. This flexibility is celebrated by our teachers and represents the type of tailor-made education that is received at a high-quality independent school such as Rossman.
Less summer anxiety
With only one class and one set of teachers, there is no need to spend the summer wondering about which teacher you will be assigned to or which classmates you will be with. For many students (and parents), this can be a huge relief. This also allows us to celebrate grade level transitions early through a Move Up day in the spring.
Better awareness around strengths, needs and areas for support
Every class has its own unique personality. They have their preferences and passions, areas of strength and areas for support. As teachers work with the class from year to year, they can continually improve strategies for support and opportunities to leverage strengths, passing this information along to the next grade level team so that we are planning and catering to the specific abilities and interests of each group.
The comfort to take risks
If you had the pleasure of listening to Elizabeth Zurlinden’s Back to School Night speech, she shared a story of a Rossman graduate who attributed her ability to take risks with her learning and overall self-awareness to the level of comfort she had with her classmates. A safe learning environment is critical for growth. When students feel known, valued and accepted, they can stretch themselves to try new things and feel comfortable making mistakes. It is through this trial and error that true learning occurs.
It is such a treat to witness the special bonds that emerge between our children, families, faculty and staff, all in the context of a rich and thoughtful learning environment. Rossman is a small school with a big heart.
By: Director of Development Cathleen Wyckoff
September 6, 2019
Around the start of each school year, Rossman and many other independent schools around the world, gear up for the start of their Annual Fund Campaign.
With just a quick Google search, you can find things such as “incredible” strategies, “awesome” appeals and “best” practices to enhance such a campaign. There are also articles highlighting three major components of a successful campaign and critical elements of an annual appeal letter, along with samples of Annual Fund videos ranging from serious to comedic.
While all this can provide some new ideas to a development or Annual Fund director, what really matters in giving is the meaningful relationship between the donor and the organization.
People give to things they believe in, are passionate about, and that hold a special place in their heart. Philanthropic donations are almost always made based on emotion rather than logic. Think about your own giving and your relationships with those organizations – why did you start giving to them?
At Rossman, we are blessed to have such an incredible community of supporters. We take our job of educating the next generation very seriously. Head of School Elizabeth Zurlinden remarks, “We intentionally plan each learning experience to engage our students’ hearts and minds, enlarge their perspectives of our ever-changing world, and encourage their individual growth. At the core of our work is knowing our students well and honoring their unique contributions to our community.”
It’s the relationships with our students, and ultimately families, that allow Rossman to continue to its mission of “providing a strong, well-balanced education within a nurturing community committed to excellence.”
To kick off our Annual Fund, this year we again charged forward with an Annual Fund Blitz. Our goal is a campaign that is educational, inspiring and engaging — using a fun approach with meaningful conversations detailing how all Annual Fund gifts are instrumental to excellence in every aspect of our school. But we know in our hearts, that our families give because they have a special relationship with faculty, staff and friends. And when you have a special relationship, you want to watch that relationship flourish, be successful and continue the goodness that is at the heart of it. And we are grateful and better for it.
CEO of the United Nations Foundation Kathy Calvin once said, “Giving is not just about making a donation. It is about making a difference.” We are so blessed that our Rossman community makes a difference every day in the lives of our students and faculty.
By: Upper School Science Teacher Julie LaConte
October 3, 2019
If you have joined your child for lunch in the dining room lately, you’ve probably noticed the addition of several bins and posters along the side wall. As we’ve settled into our routine here at the beginning of the year, students and staff are redoubling their efforts to make Rossman a more sustainable school. One of the main areas of focus has been decreasing the waste created in our dining room and correctly managing the waste we do create.
When students are finished with their lunches, they carry their trays to the waste station on the side of the dining room. It is here that the students “stop and sort!” Student council members have helped the school by creating posters that are displayed above each bin so the students know exactly what items go in each location. They don’t walk up and dump everything in the trash can anymore. Instead, you can find students thoughtfully sorting their waste into the correct bins. Silverware goes into tubs so it can be washed by the kitchen staff and reused by others, thus decreasing our waste from plastic utensils. Recyclables like applesauce containers, jello cups, and yogurt cups are emptied of any leftover food onto the tray and then thrown into the blue recycle bin. As our students learned at the beginning of this year, we have another bin at lunch representing a new option for our food waste: composting.
Last year, the class of 2019 began a project in upper science to track the amount of food waste we were producing as a school. They spent several weeks weighing the amounts of waste created at all the lunches throughout the day and were shocked at how much we were wasting. They started to explore ways to reduce our waste. With the help of cafeteria manager Glenda Lay and the entire kitchen and custodial staff, many changes were put into place last year. Students now find pitchers of milk on their tables instead of using individual cartons, which were adding to landfill waste. Straws were eliminated from the cafeteria. Individual bags of snacks, like potato chips, were swapped out for large bags that are distributed in servings on the students’ trays. Students are encouraged to take only a small serving first and then are welcome to return for seconds. Sandwiches are cut in half and are now an option for smaller appetites instead of wasting an entire sandwich. Additionally, the class of 2019 began investigating the process of composting food waste. They explored the different methods of composting and decided that a compost tumbler might be the best option for our school. At the very end of the 2018-19 school year, a compost tumbler was purchased and installed in Beth's Courtyard. Check it out next time you have a chance if you haven’t noticed it yet!
This year, to build on the efforts of the class of 2019, we began the school year in upper and lower science classes by teaching students the science behind composting. We explored the various types of composting and discussed what kinds of items we can compost in our tumbler. Students learned that composting creates new soil by the process of decomposing a combination of green organic matter and brown organic matter. Green organic matter is food waste that is high in nitrogen, while brown organic matter includes drier yard waste such as wood scraps, dried leaves, and grass clippings, which are high in carbon. The students and staff learned that because we have a closed tumbler system, we are a bit more limited in what can be composted than some other methods of composting. We are able to compost our raw fruit and vegetable waste, which acts as our green organic matter, as well as our napkins and paper towels, which serve as the brown organic matter.
Our sixth graders serve as the “compost captains” for the school. At the end of their lunch period, which is the last lunch for the day, two sixth graders volunteer to empty all remaining raw salad bar items into the compost bins. They carry the bins out to the courtyard and dump the waste into the tumbler. A new addition to the job is stopping by the restrooms at the end of the day to empty paper towel waste from the compost bins that have been added to the main restrooms. The students turn the tumbler daily to mix the brown and green organic matter where it “cooks” and the decomposition process continues.
As we have discovered so far this year, the process is far from perfect or easy. We produce a lot of green organic matter and have struggled to balance it with enough brown organic matter. The paper towel and napkin waste takes up a lot of volume in the tumbler, and as such, can’t be added everyday. The resulting combination in the tumbler has been very wet and we are working hard to balance it with enough brown matter to dry it out. Our hope is the compost will begin to break down properly and result in some wonderful rich, organic soil that we can then use to plant more lettuce this year in the Drosten Greenhouse!
Even with all the challenges, the students and staff are committed to working towards a more sustainable Rossman and properly disposing of our waste in environmentally and economically friendly ways. When students and staff “stop and sort” they are exemplifying the three pillars of sustainability by taking care of themselves, taking care of each other, and taking care of this place. We are very proud of their efforts so far this year and look forward to our future progress with educating for sustainability!
By: Art Teacher Erica Spangler
August 20, 2019
Over spring break last year, my husband (John), daughter (Ellie) and I went to Kawete, Uganda. There we worked at CCLS-U, an elementary school that is supported and funded by their sister school here in Kirkwood, MO, where my husband is a seventh grade teacher. That trip was life-changing for the three of us in many ways. It impacted my husband and I both as teachers and parents; left its mark on my daughter’s heart who is now thinking of going into social justice as a career; and it grew our hearts for a community of beautiful children and teachers across the world who are more like us than we may think.
CCLS-U was a dream of a pediatrician, Dr. Kent Killian, and his music-teaching wife, Katie. He had visited Uganda on a medical mission trip and quickly fell in love with the people and the country. One of the things he noticed, however, is that people cannot get out of poverty without an education; and, it is hard to get an education if people are sick … and in poverty. The Killians have dedicated much of the past 10 years to helping empower hundreds of children and families through education and better health. Their passion has spread to all of those who have traveled with them and spent time at this wonderful school serving the village of Kawete.
Our team of 19 parents and teens had many tasks to complete over our 10-day trip. Working together and in smaller teams, we fixed up the chicken coops, built walls to divide the nursery school area, gave vaccinations to the entire school, visited with every child on behalf of their USA sponsors, painted two murals, taught the girls about women’s health, taught all of the students about the need for and proper way to wash hands, delivered goats to all of the graduates and their families, treated the members of the village for a variety of ailments in the school’s on-site clinic, built a 9-square in the air outdoor game, and spent time playing, visiting and loving on the 400 students and their teachers. Wow! That’s significant!
One of the highlights of my trip was introducing the students of CCLS-U to painting. Rossman sent me with watercolors, brushes and paper as a gift. I did not imagine that the children in Kawete would not have had a chance to use color in their art. They were amazed! First, I taught the preschoolers how to use watercolors by adding water to the paint. On paper, I made a squiggly line of each color in the pack. The students carefully copied what I did. Initially, I did not realize they would do just what I did as the teacher. Many did not experiment since that is not the culture in their education. Rather, they learn from and copy just what their teacher did. After that, I encouraged students to mix colors and see what they could do with the paints. The children loved it!
I also had the opportunity to paint a wings mural with the older students. It was inspired by our all-school wings mural from last year as well as the art of Kelsey Montague. My job was to complete a large mural in just five days in one of the classrooms at the school. The first day, we washed and painted the wall in the sevent grade classroom. Since it was so hot, the paint dried quickly and I was able to draw the mural with chalk that same day. However, I needed to get a feel for the space so I went into the classroom once it was empty to look at the wall and make small sketches of my idea. I was followed into the room by one boy. As I sketched, I offered him some markers and paper. He sketched beside me. Within minutes, a few more children joined. I didn’t have a lot of extra paper, but I had the Kelsey Montague coloring book. I tore pages out for them and had them share the markers. Soon the classroom was full of children happily coloring alongside me as I drew. When I was confident with my sketch, I began to draw it on the back wall of the classroom in chalk. All the while, the children colored, chatted and asked for more coloring pages. They were content to do so for two hours while I was drawing the mural. It was amazing and such a treat for all of us! That was a very special day!
The next day, I traced the chalk drawing in black paint with the help of many of the youth who came on the trip. Two seventh grade boys from CCLS-U also helped, as well as our bus driver. We took a break from painting in order to teach the girls about women’s health. I had been trained through Days for Girls as an Ambassador for Women’s Health. Through this program, I helped teach the older girls about their changing bodies, the importance of abstinence, cleanliness and the menstrual cycle. We provided reusable menstruation kits for them, teaching the girls how to use them. It was well worth the break from painting to be a part of this very important education.
That afternoon was another highlight of mine. I dotted each feather of the mural with the color of paint we would use to paint it the next day. Again, I had my posse of children who were enthralled with what I was creating in the seventh grade classroom. I showed them how to make orange by mixing yellow and red paint. It is a lesson we take for granted. Many children had never used paint and had no idea you could mix colors to create new colors. They were amazed! What fun to be a part of this discovery. (It reminds me of when I teach the color wheel to my first graders! They also mix their paints as they discover and create all of the colors from just red, blue and yellow! We all learn that, it’s just a matter of when we get the opportunity to do so!)
On Thursday it was finally time to paint the feathers. The fourth through seventh graders each took turns painting a feather or two. They absolutely loved being able to be a part of this project which was so new and different for them. It was on this day that I stepped back and just let them do it. I knew they could. It was so exciting for them to help, and they wanted to make it beautiful. So, I released control and realized this was their mural – not mine. What a gift to have that insight, step back and just enjoy children creating. I also realized that my “art room” in Kawete was so similar to my art room here at Rossman. Children love to learn, discover, take chances, have new opportunities, and just be. Their mural is beautiful and just needed a vision and a bit of guidance.
The final day of work on the mural was touch ups with black and a chance to take a picture of each student in front of the wings. Our last day at CCLS-U was a Saturday. The whole school was gathered and they thanked me for helping them create their wings mural. They all ran towards me — about 400 kids — and gave me a giant group hug. It was a moment I will never forget.
As I start this new school year, I start it with a new perspective of thankfulness. I will always have a special place for the children I taught in Uganda (I do intend to go back!). I will always have special memories of sharing this extraordinary trip with my husband and daughter. More importantly, I learned so much about humanity and children. We want to create! We want to have lives in color! Right now, and right here, we have more than we could ever need and hope for, and we have an opportunity for great education in this wonderful school we call Rossman. This education is empowering our children so that one day they, too, can help others around the world to experience a life in color like we get to enjoy each day.
As you begin the busy routines of school and after school activities, I hope you are able to step back and see the extraordinary children you have and enjoy those special gifts and talents they each possess. The best part of my job here is setting a vision, giving some guidance and stepping back to see them CREATE!
By: Fourth Grade Teachers Amy McMullin and Taylor Berns
April 27, 2020
Year after year, we witness fourth graders burst with excitement when participating in our service project, supporting the Humane Society. It’s easy to see how much children love animals. More recently, we’ve noticed this affection in our fourth grade Zoom meetings. During any given virtual gathering, you may see dogs, cats, hamsters and other beloved family pets pop on the screen while hearing a collective “awww” from the class. While many of us feel a deep connection with animals, children in particular form especially strong relationships with our furry friends. The best part is that animals don’t just make kids happy, they can provide long-term benefits to a child’s well-being, and you don’t have to own a pet to reap some of the rewards.
Studies from the National Institute of Health (NIH) have shown that childhood pet ownership increases self-esteem and empathy for others. Other studies have found that pets have the ability to reduce loneliness and boost one’s mood. In addition the NIH states that, “Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure.” It is even possible that having a pet “may facilitate language acquisition and potentially enhance verbal skills in children.” Studies have also shown that early exposure to animals may help protect young children from developing allergies and asthma. And this is not to mention the obvious need for increased responsibility required to care for a pet. The benefits are clear enough that you may want to reconsider your response the next time your child begs, “Can we please get a dog? Please?”
While having a pet is a powerful way to forge the child-animal connection, it may not be possible due to allergies, schedules or other limitations. The good news is that there are lots of opportunities to support and connect with animals outside of ownership. When it’s safe to venture out again, your child may like to participate in our local Humane Society’s Shelter Buddies Reading Program. It’s an opportunity for children ages 6-15 to read to the animals and has the benefit of strengthening their reading skills without any judgment from their furry listener! The Humane Society also offers a Summer Camp for ages 6-14. Your cat-loving kiddo may enjoy visiting a “cat cafe” such as Mauhaus Cafe in Maplewood for some furry snuggles and a delicious treat. This could be a fun place for them to do homework periodically and perhaps offer some motivation! Do you have a child who loves farm animals? One of our favorite aspects of our service project is visiting Longmeadow Rescue Ranch in Union, MO, which provides rehabilitation for farm animals on their ranch of 165 acres. Our fourth graders love getting up close to horses, cows, pigs, goats, and more, giving them some much-needed love and interaction. Until it is safe to leave home again, there is always the option of donating online to support animals, which can certainly provide similar mood-boosting benefits and the feeling of connection.
During a time when we need connection more than ever, it’s important that we do what we can to help our children cultivate bonds that help them feel fulfilled. Connecting with or supporting animals is a great way to do that! The benefits could last a lifetime.
By: First Grade Teachers Julie Smith and Arika White
October 15, 2019
First-grade teachers are in our third year of Lucy Calkins Writer’s Workshop implementation. The curriculum is research-based and used in classrooms across the globe. Our units of study focus on narrative, opinion, and informational writing. This program helps to develop a life-long love of writing and equips each author with the tools and independence needed to create books of all varieties.
During a unit, students are guided through the writing process. They begin by brainstorming an idea, planning their piece, writing, illustrating, revising and finally, publishing.
Writer’s Workshop is a great way to encourage structured and supported independent work time. Throughout this process, small mini-lessons are used to introduce new skills and build on previously taught lessons. Mini-lessons engage students in specific and applicable skills.
During independent work time, teachers are able to meet one-on-one or in small groups, addressing specific needs as they arise. Where Poems Hide: Finding Reflective, Critical Spaces Inside Writing Workshop by Amy Seely Flint and Tasha Tropp Laman states, “Teacher’s noticed a shift in classroom dynamics, as well as in children’s literacy learning. Not only were children more engaged in writing, the teachers commented that they knew their students better than ever before.” This precious one-on-one conference time is not only helpful for students, but educators are able to see how each writer is progressing, plan upcoming mini-lessons, and reinforce previously taught skills.
The last ten to fifteen minutes of each workshop is reserved for students to share with the class. First- grade writers jump at the opportunity to sit in the “author’s chair” and share their creative books. Since implementation, we have noticed an increase in student engagement, stamina, and an intrinsic love of writing. Teachers can help children be successful writers by building a foundation of writing skills, consistent conferring, and discussion, letting students write about their interests and providing a platform for celebration.
Parents also play a vital role in building a love of writing. Below are a few ways to encourage your young authors at home!
-Have your child pick out a diary or journal
-Write down special family memories or stories
-Take a travel journal on family trips
-Create a writing station in your child’s room or in the home with colorful paper, markers, scissors, etc.
-Celebrate written work by sharing it with family and friends and posting it around the house
-Dictate stories or let your child use a computer to type
-Learn more about topics your child likes (dinosaurs, ballet, soccer, gardening, etc.)
-Play games that encourage writing
-Create fun story prompts
-Write with your child!
By: Head of School Elizabeth Zurlinden
October 22, 2019
Great Stories. Great Graduates. A special interview featuring a mother-daughter duo.
Benjamin Franklin once said, "An education is the investment with the greatest returns." A friend of mine who sent her daughter to Rossman years ago is always quick to share that it was one of her best investments. Funny thing is, her Rossman alum daughter now enjoys a burgeoning career in NYC in the field of investments. As head of school, I am always curious to learn what families value in a Rossman education, so I enthusiastically took the opportunity to interview this mother-daughter duo about investing in elementary education and their Rossman School memories. For this unique Alum Spotlight, let me introduce you to Claire Pieper (Class of 2008) and her mom Tammi Pieper.
Claire, let’s catch up. Tell us about where you are now and what you do professionally.
"In June 2018, I graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in economics, and shortly thereafter, I moved to NYC. I currently work on the trading floor at one of the world’s largest investment banks, dealing with Treasury Bonds and Interest Rate derivatives."
What are three words to describe your daily work?
"Dynamic, fast-paced, intellectually challenging."
You work in the finance industry analyzing investments. Do you feel your education at Rossman was a good investment?
"Definitely! All the opportunities in my life have been born out of a superior education and a community invested in my growth. Rossman instilled in me a love of learning at a very young age, as well as the importance of mentorship, friendship, and community."
Tammi, what was important to you when you were looking for an elementary school for Claire? Why did you select Rossman?
"Alan and I both believe the benefit of a strong education to be invaluable for a happy, purposeful life. Like many parents, we started Claire’s college fund at birth and never doubted that she would attend. As parents looking at elementary schools, we carefully contemplated the value of a private versus public education. Given we lived in Ladue with access to good public schools, it was important that the institution we selected not only have strong academics but also recognize the importance of nurturing and guiding the developing minds of young children. Without a doubt, Rossman seemed to best demonstrate both our academic and personal values."
Claire has attended wonderful schools – a great secondary school and university – but you once said the best investment you made for her education was to send her to Rossman. Please explain.
"While we are so proud of Claire and her accomplishments, we are most proud of the graceful young woman she has become and her ability to overcome challenges. And we recognize that she benefited from many outside influences during her journey to adulthood, starting with Rossman. Since our children spend half their waking hours at school, the importance of selecting an elementary school community of administrators, teachers and parents who share your values is paramount. When Claire arrived at middle school, it was apparent that the foundation of values (kindness, respect, responsibility, honesty) she learned at Rossman was as important as academics. At Rossman, our family developed life-long friendships that we continue to cherish today and will always consider a blessing."
Claire, how did Rossman prepare you for secondary school?
"Rossman taught me diligence with my schoolwork and provided a good foundation in writing and mathematics while instilling the importance of values of honesty, respect, and kindness. For example, I fondly remember reading Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” in sixth grade, an example of how Rossman pushed us to be analytical and intellectually mature."
Is there a Rossman teacher you had a special connection with or who had a great impact on you?
"Annie Menees and Lynn Frankenberger — both took a unique interest in bonding with their students, investing in their academic and personal growth both inside and outside the classroom. For example, during the summer, Mrs. Frankenberger helped me with my writing skills and Ms. Menees gave me tennis lessons!"
Tammi, is there a particular teacher that you remember fondly?
"Claire’s art teacher Mrs. Crosson was one of the most imaginative and creative teachers we encountered. We have several of Claire’s favorite pieces framed and displayed in our home, and just recently, Claire and I went through her portfolio and were amazed at the projects and what she accomplished at such a young age. However, as with many teachers at Rossman, Mrs. Crosson’s attention to Claire’s needs outside the classroom are what I cherish and remember most. When Claire got paint on her new “Lilly” outfit and became very distressed, probably fueled by fear of telling her mom, Mrs. Crosson saved the day. She hand-washed Claire’s outfit and hung it out to dry so that Claire could finish her day happy without any worries."
Claire, it’s been more than a decade since you were a Rossman student. What are a few of your favorite Rossman memories?
"Field-day, art classes, ghost in the graveyard in PE class, the Rossman song!"
What is your favorite Rossman tradition?
"Probably the basketball game with the secondary school alumni. While at Rossman, students always look up to the high-school grads returning – almost like the movie stars coming back home. Conversely, when on the brink of graduating from high school and heading to college, it’s wonderful to reconnect with your elementary school peers and teachers. Moreover, my Rossman classmates are still some of my closest friends, even though we attended different high schools and colleges and now live in different cities."
Tammi, are there special memories you have of your family’s Rossman days?
"We loved the Holiday Programs, Grandparent’s Day and Field Day, and especially enjoyed sharing these days with Claire’s grandparents and extended family."
How did you get involved in the school?
"We served on numerous annual giving campaigns, chaired the plant sale, worked on school auction committees and were Room parents during first and sixth grades."
Any advice for current Rossman parents?
"Get involved and enjoy the Rossman community. It’s a very special place!"
Claire, when I interview Rossman alumni, I always ask them the same closing questions. So, what was your favorite…
"Anytime we got chocolate milk or churros!"
Holiday program song?
"Little Dreidel! I love that our program touched on the many traditions, cultures, and religions celebrated during the holidays."
"Sketching and Painting beautiful houses on Lafayette Square; I loved that the school pushed us to learn and explore a historic neighborhood in Saint Louis and capture it via the arts."
"In general, I loved sixth grade as we were given the opportunity for increased independence and responsibility. Specifically, sixth grade camp offered a special chance to bond with our classmates."
Any advice for Rossman parents?
"Trust the process. Rossman helps build the mindset for success in a nurturing and caring environment."
Complete this sentence. Rossman is _______.
"Rossman is a second home, where children can learn, explore and have fun."
Tammi, how would you complete this sentence? Rossman is ________.
"Rossman is a magical place for nurturing young hearts and minds."
By: Physical Education Teachers Larry Huusko and Jenna Lucas
October 28, 2019
As you grow and develop as an athlete, your individual skills also improve. In team sports, this individuality may seem lost or insignificant. Nothing could be further from the truth. The better, more confident the individual is, the better the team will be. An athlete who knows their own ability level and enjoys participating with others in a team sport will enhance and improve the overall performance of the team. A piece of that growth is clearly defining the role of each player.
All team sports have various roles that must be performed simultaneously at a high level to be successful. Understanding your role is a vital part of gaining that self confidence and an important part for the success of the team.
A Flag football team, for example, has many players. The center must successfully hike the ball to the quarterback at the appropriate time to begin each play. Without a successful hike the play doesn’t happen. Multiply this by the other players and their roles on offense and you can begin to see the complexity of playing a team sport and just how important each member of the team is.
It’s great to be the “Tom Brady’s” of the sports world, but all of his teammates must perform their roles exceptionally well for the touchdowns to happen.
Knowing your role and understanding how it fits into the team’s strategy could be the difference between winning and losing. But, more importantly, understanding and enjoying your role will lead to trying your hardest for your team and can bring you self confidence to grow as an athlete.
By: Sixth Grade Teacher Rachel Price
November 6, 2019
This fall I’ve been working my way through Jo Boaler’s book, Mathematical Mindsets (2015). Boaler has authored fourteen books, numerous research articles and is currently a Mathematics Education Professor at Stanford University. Her resources and philosophies about education have been very inspiring to me; they are changing the way I think about math, talk about math, and teach math. In the opening chapters of Mathematical Mindsets, Boaler outlines and dispels common myths that most of us have believed about math. She argues that these myths inhibit learning. I think many of these myths, whether we realize it or not, are ever-present in most math classrooms today. While I would urge you to read Boaler's book to learn more, here’s a brief breakdown of two of the myths and the proof against them:
Myth 1: Being good at math means being fast.
If you’re one of the first ones done with your work, you’re a “math person”, right? While this is a familiar train of thought, it is not based in truth.
To combat this myth, Boaler points to the life and experience of Laurent Schwartz. Schwartz (1915-2002) was a French mathematician who won the Fields Medal and is often regarded as one of the greatest mathematicians of his time. In his autobiography, A Mathematician Grappling with His Century, (2001) Schwartz admitted that in math class, he often felt unintelligent because he was never very fast. Schwartz came to this conclusion: “Rapidity doesn’t have a precise relation to intelligence. What is important is to deeply understand things and their relations to each other” (Boaler, 31).
Not convinced? In the 1930s, Jean Piaget rejected the idea that learning was about memorizing procedures. (Memorizing procedures implies that math can always be performed quickly.) Instead of memorizing procedures, Piaget proposed that true learning depends on an understanding of how ideas fit together. This understanding takes time to develop. Thinking slowly and deeply about connections should be celebrated and encouraged in math!
Myth 2: Math is all about right and wrong answers.
When students are asked what math is, they often say it is a subject in which you memorize procedures and get questions right or wrong. Math is viewed as a performance subject, but this is such a narrow take on the wide, beautiful, creative field of mathematics. Math is much more about patterns, connections and relationships. Boaler points out that, “Knowledge of mathematical patterns has helped people navigate oceans, chart missions to space, develop technology that powers cell phones and social networks, and create new scientific and medical knowledge, yet many school students believe that math is a dead subject, irrelevant to their futures” (Boaler, 23).
I want our students to leave Rossman excited about all the doors that math can open! I want to teach math in a way that inspires curiosity, wonder, creativity, and risk-taking and combats the idea that math is just black and white, right and wrong. I hope that within our math classrooms we can dispel these myths and change the way we think and talk about math, creating lifelong critical thinkers.
If you’re interested in learning more about Jo Boaler, check out the resources below:
Quotes and ideas in this article are from Boaler’s Mathematical Mindsets (2015).
Reference: Boaler, J. (2015). Mathematical mindsets: unleashing students potential through creative math, inspiring messages, and innovative teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass & Pfeiffer Imprints.
By: Upper School Director Debbie Brummit
November 13, 2019
As a young educator, I had the privilege of spending time in Cape Town, South Africa. I was there not long after apartheid ended and a new democracy was developing. Along with this new democracy came many changes in education, especially for people of color as adequate education had been denied them for many years. Many injustices, due to a corrupt government and a racially segregated population, prevented an entire generation from reaching their substantial potential. People were forced to live in township squalor, and education was minimal at best. While there, I worked with teachers from these townships who valued education and believed that this would set their young people free. I did not know then that the lessons I learned in South Africa would impact the educator that I would become and the philosophies that I would hold dear.
There are two lessons that I value and think about almost daily from this experience. Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” First, the fact that an oppressive government would choose to deny education as a tool to gain strength, proves the power of education. This means, that one of our responsibilities as parents and teachers is to ensure a quality education for our children. This also illustrates that our job as effective educators is necessary for the success of our community. Instilling the desire to learn, the ability to ask questions, and a passion to make a positive impact in our world, makes our roles as parents and teachers invaluable.
The second lesson I learned from the people in South Africa is the idea of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is an African term from the Zulu tribe which is most often translated as, “I am because we are.” This powerful idea of community and spirit overcomes obstacles and creates an environment where all people can grow and learn from and with each other. Just as at Rossman, these educators from South Africa and those they serve believe deeply in the idea of creating open conversation, trust, and love with all working for the common good. They believe that their happiness is bound in the happiness of those around them.
Rossman School is in many ways different than the township schools in South Africa. However, the philosophies and beliefs that educators hold dear are true for both. At Rossman, teachers, parents and students believe that education is powerful. At Rossman we believe that our happiness is bound to the happiness of each other. I am grateful that I have found a school in which to work where I see the power of education happening daily through a supportive community.
By: Social Studies Teacher Erin Moore
December 5, 2019
It is that time again for the preparation of the annual Geography Bee at Rossman School. Every year, the fourth through sixth graders brave the unknown and take a risk with the GeoBee, and every year I am asked “why do we do this?” This year, instead of saying “because it’s tradition” I decided to talk with the students and together figure out, why do we have the GeoBee?
While yes, tradition is one reason, we also talked about how our world is ever changing and that can feel overwhelming to us. Students feel these same challenges in social studies and when they witness what is happening in this world, they are inclined to want to make a difference. You might ask what this has to do with geography, but I think it has everything to do with it. To learn the location of places and the physical and cultural characteristics helps us to function more effectively in our increasingly interdependent world. I think that is why the annual Geography Bee at Rossman is so important. We are encouraging our students to go outside of themselves and learn about the world around them and see how their actions can have a lasting effect.
It is essential that students understand the history of the past and how geography has played important roles in the evolution of people, their ideas, places and environments. Why is there conflict in certain areas? What materials or natural resources are located there and how does that influence the conflict? These are all questions we study and ask in class and to know the answer, we look at the geography of the area. The Geography Bee helps students make connections to places that they hear about in the news or in class and brings these places into their realm.
Studying geography gives us a chance to appreciate Earth as the home of humankind and provide insight for wise management decisions about how the planet’s resources should be used. This last idea that I came across might have impacted me the most. Here at Rossman we want our students to know that while they are so important, they are also one part of our world and to understand global interdependence and to become a better global citizen is a goal of ours. I want my students to leave my class understanding that what they do impacts our world and that when they feel like they aren’t making a difference, to know they are.
By: Senior Kindergarten Teacher Abbie Duvall
April 21, 2020
Quotes you may hear an SK teacher say in the classroom: “keep your hands to yourself,” “come to the rug,” “let’s read a book,” “time to line up,” and many more. What you hear an SK teacher say on a ZOOM call: “we can’t see you,” “don’t unmute yourself,” “can you hear me?” and “I miss you!” The phrases and dialogue are very different from our norm in the classroom. I catch myself saying “I miss you” every day because I miss my students and our Rossman community.
One of the many reasons I became a teacher was to try and connect with children. With our recent change to teaching online, it’s hard to maintain that connection and I truly miss them each and every day. Experiencing this change and adjustment has made me realize more than ever how connection and time spent with your students can make a world of difference in each other's lives. I am trying to create a way for my students to feel the positive presence of learning and connection during this difficult time.
Students won’t always remember an exact rule or lesson, but they will remember the fun memories they had with their teachers and classmates. I miss lunches with my students, opening the classroom door in the morning to say hello, the little hugs I get on a daily basis, but I want them to know our connection is not lost. Although things have changed for the time being, we need to remember it isn’t forever. There are ways we can keep our memories, connections and have fun even if we aren’t together at school.
School is about learning new skills and growing in our knowledge, but it is also about learning who we are as a person and how our relationships and actions shape us for the future. Without a connection to the classroom, the teachers and each other, our academics can become an annoyance or struggle. I never want my students to feel this way about learning, and that’s why helping them enjoy their learning is so important. My favorite and most informative years of my own schooling were always the ones where I felt safe and connected to my teacher.
Now, when you aren’t in a classroom and can’t actually physically be together, connection becomes a challenge. As educators we are determined to keep the connection going strong to help our students through this difficult time. We are working hard to find new and exciting ways to keep spirits high and remind our students we are here for them. Writing letters, making sure we say hi to each student when they enter our ZOOM lessons, and just making them smile on screen are ways to help them. When I record my lessons I ask questions to the blank screen, leave pauses for them to answer, make jokes and try to talk to them like they are there. I have even gone as far as posting dance videos to “GoNoddle” so we can “dance together.” These actions have allowed me to find some normalcy during this time but also keep the connection I have as a teacher.
Things are changing daily but remembering the importance of staying connected to one another and allowing ourselves to have fun and be silly will help our students’ education grow as well as our own. Being a part of our Rossman community is a huge blessing and one that has helped me grow as an educator but also as a person. I hope through this time we use our memories and connections to keep our Rossman community happy and strong.
By: Second Grade Teachers Melissa Kriegshauser and Maggie Martin
December 11, 2019
Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge. We are inspired by project based learning and excited to incorporate it into our everyday learning. Recently, entire schools are taking this approach to teaching. With so many resources at our fingertips, it’s easy to try these new teaching and learning methods with our students. With our 1:2 ratio of iPads in the classroom, technology is often a major factor in our projects. In second grade, we try to incorporate projects into our teaching in a variety of ways. We know as teachers, students tend to relate and connect more to a project, so offering this throughout the year differentiates our teaching and learning and brings excitement to our students’ faces.
We read five literature books throughout the entire year in small groups and at the end of each novel, we assign a week long project. Each child gets to choose from a collection of four projects, ranging from adding a chapter to the book, answering comprehension questions, building a prop/item related to the book, or writing a letter to and from characters in the story. The students work on the projects at home and bring them to school when they are due. Later we give them the opportunity to share their projects with the class, presenting them to everyone. At the end of the year, one of our projects offers the option to build a kite. The students who choose this project get to go out to our field and try their kites out in the wind! We have had much success in the past. For another novel we read, students all get to choose a point of view of one of the animal characters from the story. They creatively brainstorm and develop a short story on our iPads using the Explain Everything app. This allows them to engage in the use of technology, art and writing all within a single project.
Our black history studies that coincide with black history month is another great example of project based learning. From books about these famous Americans, to the Worldbook app, to autobiographies, our students use several resources to find information about their chosen person. The students take notes and the project culminates with a research paper and drawing of their famous person in their element. We love to see the quality information that is gathered and hear how much the students learn about these famous, memorable Americans.
During the spring, our students work with partners to research countries in Africa and create a poster with facts and illustrations. Using worldbookonline.com, they enjoy this partner project and learn much more about countries all over the world!
As our education continues to evolve, so will our projects and areas of focus. We are enjoying seeing the minds of our students grow with our project based learning in second grade.
By: Permanent Substitute Jose Holliday
January 13, 2020
Comprehension is an essential part of the learning process. This constructive process is one that requires students to make connections in order to understand what they are hearing and reading. Comprehension should be interactive between teachers and students. This is where students learn to become problem solvers, infer, compare and contrast, relate what they are learning to background knowledge, among many other meaning-making benefits.
Comprehension is a vital skill to one’s everyday life no matter what walk of life he or she is in. Students must be able to make connections in order to express ideas, gain important subject matter and develop new insights. Our job as teachers is to guide our students down the path to making these connections through collaborations and discussions in order for them to make sense of presented information. Knowing best practices is vital to achieving comprehension goals with students, and some of those methods will be explored.
Comprehension is one of the many areas in which Rossman teachers strive to use research to teach students how they learn best.
Having students answer questions is a common way of testing the comprehension of students, but this often involves lower level thinking. However, retellings can help teachers extend the thinking of their students and allow for the students to express connections made with their reading. For example, a first grade student might read a story during our guided reading time and be asked to tell a teacher the story to me in their own words. This can be an important assessment tool as students demonstrate their understanding of the structure of a story such as the setting, characters, the problem and resolution, and sequential order of events in the story.
In today’s schools, students come from all different kinds of backgrounds and thus, will have constructed knowledge in numerous ways. Therefore, a student-centered approach is necessary. Teachers can also use retellings to then guide their questions as students demonstrate their comprehension. In this way teachers can begin with specific learning goals and objectives but allow for student connections to take discussions and activities a different route. his can be an effective assessment tool for teachers to determine where students are in their understanding and make the necessary adjustments to meet them where they are. Concepts may need to be readdressed and new instructional strategies put into place.
Predictions & Personal Connections
It is essential that teachers truly know their students well in order to best match instructional practices. As students make use of their prior knowledge along with making personal connections, teachers can then use this information to determine the next steps of instruction. Using predictions is one way for students to bring their backgrounds and personal lives into the learning process in a beneficial way. This also provides students with a “why” for learning, and their personal connections bring value. When students know the “why” for learning along with seeing the value of their learning, they are more likely to be motivated, which will only be beneficial to their success in learning. Also, allowing students to check their predictions and make changes based on what they have read yields benefits.
The Path to Independent Learning
The ability to understand new information is vital to any student’s learning process. Using the best research-based comprehension strategies will set students on this essential path. The connections students are able to make through prior knowledge, personal connections, collaborations, and teaching strategies, such as story mapping and word webs, sets them up with the tools necessary to be successful, independent learners. Teachers must know their students and their backgrounds in order to know the best way to teach. Students not only need to feel connected in the classroom, but also connected to what they are learning, as this will enhance successful comprehension.
By: Third Grade Teachers Lynn Frankenberger and Kristie Kerber
January 21, 2020
The “Gift of Words” project is one of our favorite third grade writing projects. We began by reading the book Be Good to Eddie Lee, which is about a boy who has down syndrome and how he was not treated kindly by his peers. We held a classroom discussion about how we should treat each other with kindness and how everyone has different gifts that shine. We then shared with one another the amazing gifts that all of us have (e.g. some of us are good at climbing trees, drawing, doing math, being empathetic with others, being helpful, reading, kicking a ball, telling jokes, turning a negative into a positive, etc).
After this discussion, each student randomly chose a classmate’s name from a hat. The students spent the next couple of days observing one another and brainstorming with their parents. Our goal was for them to be intentional and sincere in what they wrote about each other.
Once they gathered their information, their assignment was to write about three unique qualities that their classmate possesses and how he or she demonstrate these gifts. Some examples are:
“Her light shines brighter than the sun on a hot summer day in July.”
“Her best gift of all is that she does not leave people out.”
“My favorite gift about this person is that he is very creative.”
“It’s easy to see how he is caring towards others.”
“I am happy that I get to share my time at Rossman with her. She is such a gift to our class.”
“She truly shines brighter than 1 million rays of sunshine.”
“One of his best qualities is that he always gives a helping hand.”
After the students completed their writing, they typed, printed and adhered it to a canvas. They then decorated the canvas with thoughtful stickers, jewels and ribbons based what they felt that classmate would like. Lastly, they wrapped up the gift in a gift box with wrapping paper and a bow. On the day before winter break, the students exchanged their gifts with one another. It gave us goosebumps to see how much they appreciated the beautiful gift of words that were written about them.
Be sure to stop by the bulletin board outside the third grade classroom to read all about the unique gifts that our third graders possess.
By: Head of School Elizabeth Zurlinden
January 29, 2020
January 1, 2020. A new year. The dawn of a new decade.
The magnitude of this significant day was not lost on me. I love New Year's, not the eve spent watching the ball drop in Times Square, but the wee hours of the new year's first sunrise.
Like most years, I welcomed this new year in the small beach community our family loves. Waking before the moon retired, I tiptoed through the hushed house, hopped on my bike and pedaled the few minutes to the ocean. In either direction, the white sand beach was completely barren. This is my new year tradition, a solo beach walk at sunrise, my footprints marking the first steps into a new future, time spent in the stillness of morning set to the soundtrack of the lapping ocean tide. A breathtaking beginning to a new year.
Walking beside the ocean waves as the sun peeked above the horizon, I focused my attention on the rhythms of life's constants, the ebb and flow of the tide and the rotation of day and night. I considered my own life's rhythms and the beauty of this simple, solitary day.
A Challenge for Each New Dawn
"Imagine if we treated each new dawn of each new day with the same reverence and joy as we do each new year." This quote by Angie Lynn offered me a challenge. How would I honor each new dawn?
A new decade is too overwhelming to contemplate. I reflected on the past ten years. I began 2010 as a parent to young teens, who then became drivers, high school and college graduates, and I ended the decade with two children who are working professionals. I look to the future with joyful anticipation, but ten years — even one year — is a capacious concept of time that needs to be scaled for my pursuit of living purposefully into the roaring 2020s. There is ample potential in one singular, extraordinary day.
As Tolkien writes, "little by little one travels far." Each 24-hour gift contains the small moments that comprise our journey, our life. For me, the road map for a successful journey is a list - a written record of goals or daily need to-dos. Mundane as groceries needed for the evening's dinner or thoughtful intent articulated in heart-held hopes, my lists reflect my desire to make meaning of my collective days.
Productivity and Persistence
For many, lists record tasks to be completed that reveal both the list-makers’ humanity and creativity, as well as signal their appreciation for the opportunity offered in one day and their determination to make good use of it. For instance, a to-do list written by Leonardo da Vinci is an inventory of his passions parceled out into tasks like, "draw Milan." A to-do list of John Lennon's that was sold at auction for $16,000 recorded books he wanted to read and the need to fix the hook on his bathroom door.
Just recently, I have adopted one of Benjamin Franklin's daily list making habits. He scheduled time each morning and evening to examine his day by asking himself two questions, "What good shall I do this day?" and "What good have I done this day?"
What I admire in my fellow list makers is their productivity. Their achievement of big things, like framing the Constitution, painting a masterpiece or crafting a songwriting career that remains the most successful in history, is evidenced in their consistent persistence in daily tasks, habits and deliberations that paved the path of their life's legacies.
Interestingly, it was at the beginning of the new year in 1888 that Thomas Edison wrote a long list of "things to be done," including items he wanted to create, such as ink for the blind and an electrical piano. That year Edison established 45 patents. Whether it was his intellectual curiosity or his lack of a need for sleep, Edison proved to be quite productive, and I give serious credit to his list making for narrowing his focus to what was important in his eyes to dedicate time and energy.
Author Gretchen Rubin agrees, "Day by day, we build our lives, and day by day, we can take steps toward making real the magnificent."
A Sacred Promise
My plans aren't grand, but I do long to make the most of this one extraordinary life I am being given one day at a time. There is a sacred promise in each new day that mirrors Emily Dickinson's affirmation, "I dwell in possibility" and Steve Maraboli's bold truth, "Every new day is a once in a lifetime event."
Whatever is on your to-do list today that will shape your quiet routines and amazing accomplishments, I offer you a verse from Ralph Waldo Emerson. "Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year."
Happy New Year, everyone! I pray 2020 will be the first glorious year in a decade of blessing for you and your families. And may it begin this very day!
Now that it is nearly February, I am finally able to cross writing this New Year blog post off my list!
By: Junior Kindergarten Teachers Julie Renne, Mary Schwartz Dryden and Diane Vujnich
February 6, 2020
Young children love to count out loud and will happily recite a string of numbers. While reciting the sequence of numbers is a significant accomplishment, it does not indicate a true understanding of mathematical concepts. Counting by rote is a skill that comes quite naturally to most children, as it doesn't require direct instruction to learn the skills needed to count.
In Junior Kindergarten, we provide situations in the classroom to help children quantify objects in ways that make sense to them, such as counting napkins for snack time, chairs for peers, and how many children are having a turkey sandwich for lunch. Math games and activities further help to promote problem solving and develop critical reasoning skills. This in turn allows immediate feedback from peers and/or adults to help assess the “process” rather than the product. It’s the task of the teacher to encourage the child’s thinking in his own way and not to push for the right answers. Age appropriate math for small children is no longer to drill and practice worksheets. Preschoolers learn by counting, manipulating, sorting and grouping REAL objects in connection to everyday experiences.
Math is incorporated in many parts of our day from calendar time and large group activities to small groups and story times. Math concepts and manipulatives are introduced during small group lessons. Because play is an important part of JK learning, the children are drawn to these activities and often request to do them during times of the day when they are allowed to choose their own activities. This repetition is important as each child is developmentally ready for these concepts at different times. Thanks to this repetition, many children can take these concepts to another level by the end of our time together in Junior Kindergarten.
As Juniors are learning more about math through these everyday experiences, they are well prepared for skills to come in Senior Kindergarten — place value, identifying numbers through 100, addition and subtraction, comparing numbers, measurement, and story problems. The introduction of these concepts at a young age not only assesses academics, but also confidence, risk-taking, and problem solving — all of which are abilities used throughout all areas of life. We love our ability to support our youngest learners within the comfort of a classroom that provides supportive teachers and respectful peers. When provided with a variety of mathematical opportunities, your young child is able to open his/her mind to learning that takes place along with enthusiasm, cooperation, curiosity and dedication.
By: Learning Consultant Heather Blome
February 13, 2020
Rossman faculty have been taking extra steps to learn about executive functioning throughout this school year. We began our year learning from an outside professional, who is a licensed professional counselor, about different areas of executive functioning. Recently, many teachers stayed after school to view a webinar from Dr. Peg Dawson, who is one of the authors of Smart but Scattered. As the learning consultant for Rossman, and in my other professional role as a trained school psychologist who conducts psychological evaluations, I also gather a great deal of information on my own that may help support the students and families with whom I evaluate.
When we hear the term “executive functioning,” we may think of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), however there are many types of mental health conditions that may contribute to weaknesses in executive functioning. For instance, kids with learning disorders, anxiety, depression, etc. can also be affected by weaknesses in these processes of the brain. Some areas of executive functioning, as noted by Understood.org, include the following:
- working memory
- emotional regulation
- activation of a task
- inhibition or impulse control
- paying attention
There is a great deal of overlap when thinking about strategies to help children cope with their weaknesses in these areas. Here are some strategies we often discuss in our team meetings with the directors, teachers and/or parents:
- Working memory: A weakness in working memory can affect many organizational processes, including time management. When students are unable to measure the passage of time, they may need assistance planning using external sources of time management. Use of timers, clocks, time deadline reminders, alarms, etc. help them visualize time. Individuals with poor working memory also have difficulty holding information in mind. Therefore, making the information visual increases the likelihood they will remember it. Use of visual forms of information including charts, sticky-notes, signs, picture clues, and to-do lists are some of the ways to make the information visual.
- Emotional regulation: Consistency is key to supporting emotional “dysregulation.” Because kids that lack internal self-control, they rely on adults to set up the structure to help them calm down, reassure them that big feelings are ok, and give them some appropriate coping strategies, such as a chill corner, breathing activities, exerting physical energy, and/or a taking a break.
- Activation of a task: First, it is important to make sure the child understands the directions. Continue by chunking, breaking down each step of the task. Next, give the child a fixed amount of time to complete a portion of the task before checking back in with them. After periods of time requiring extensive focus, give a break for a fixed period of time. Because certain individuals, especially those with ADHD, often lack internal motivation and require external motivation to complete tasks, try using the “First...Then” approach. First homework, then high interest activity or reward.
- Impulse control or response inhibition: We often see our students struggling with impulse control, calling out in class or interrupting others when they are speaking. This is also referred to as acting without thinking. Have a visual reminder of raising a hand first, remind children of expectations before task begins, and give positive praise for when a student is able to control themselves to further encourage the positive behavior.
- Problem-solving: Help break down tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces. Often times children with ADHD feel like aversive tasks are going to take longer than they actually will. They also want to complete tasks quickly just to be finished. Help them set an appropriate amount of time for a task, reward them for effort, and encourage them to solve problems independently before asking for help. Help children learn to self-monitor by having conversations about situations where they were successful compared to a time they were not. Also, talking through their strengths and weaknesses helps them acquire self-insight or self-awareness. This will help them become better academic advocates for themselves.
- Planning/organizing: Systems that make sense for adults to keep things organized may not always make sense to their children. It is important to get the child’s input when organizing their spaces. Generally, students with weaknesses in these areas need fast and easy to organize systems. For example, the child may respond best to turning in completed work when there is just one homework folder versus one folder for each subject.
- Sustaining attention: It is optimal for kids to take movement breaks before being expected to sit and listen. Even still, some kids are just fidgety. Overactivity or fidgetiness not related to the task at hand helps some kids stay focused. To support this learning style, depending on their needs any of the following can be beneficial: use of flexible seating, preferential seating where students are allowed to stand in the back of the class at their desk, use of thinking putty, placing a sensory disc on the child’s chair, and/or trying a fidget that curbs distractibility rather than causing more of a disruption.
Because all children are different and because children’s needs change as they grow, it takes some trial and error to figure out how they learn best. Sometimes executive functions are developmental and other times they prove to be challenges that make learning difficult over a period of time or lifetime.
For more information, check out these great resources for parent education:
By: Lower School Director Rachel Dixon
February 18, 2020
“Play-based learning” is a term that you likely heard while investigating preschool options for your child. But what does it really mean? Here is a run-down of this essential approach, what it looks like in practice and how it supports the learning of young children.
What is play-based learning?
Play-based learning is a child-centered, child-directed approach where teachers act as facilitators in the learning process. Play is the context for learning. This contrasts with academic programs which are more didactic in nature and typically driven by product, rather than process.
Research-based philosophy: Why is play crucial for development?
For a young child, play and learning are intertwined. It is no surprise that research shows play to be the optimal platform through which children learn. As Fred Rogers said, “Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning. They have to play with what they know to be true in order to find out more, and then they can use what they learn in new forms of play.”
Play offers children a way to experiment with causal relationships in a safe, engaging manner that builds off of a young child’s natural curiosity. Play is critical to all aspects of development. A well-facilitated, high-quality play-based program offers a foundation that can be traced to later successes in a wide variety of skills and subjects. The lists below detail just a few ways in which play connects to different developmental domains.
- Language development through peer and adult interaction and conversation
- Literacy development through authentic literacy experiences (i.e. interacting with and creating a variety of print resources such as books, magazines, menus, signs, and labels)
- Sustained focus on a task
- Mathematical applications (i.e. games, patterning, number sense)
- Scientific thinking - developing and testing a hypothesis
- Executive function skills (i.e. memory, planning, cognitive flexibility)
- Creative thinking
- Cooperation and problem-solving skills
- Understanding the perspectives of others
- Building delayed gratification and wait-time for peers
- Developing growth mindset (mistakes are a part of learning)
- Emotional regulation
- Exposure to a variety of tactile and sensory experiences
- Coordination to complete various tasks with both large and small muscle groups
- Practice of fine and gross motor skills through the manipulation of a wide variety of toys, tools, outdoor equipment, and space to explore
How do teachers support learning through play?
A foundational element of a teacher’s training includes learning about Lev Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development.” Simply stated, this idea means that when learning, there is a “sweet spot” that is rooted in our established knowledge and capabilities, but pushes us just a little further so that we may continue to grow and extend our learning. Our teachers strive to find this zone for our students every day.
In a play-based environment, this means that teachers are offering the right materials and activities, but also facilitating play in ways that hit that “sweet spot” for our youngest learners. This might include questioning students as they play or entering their conversation, or it might mean playing alongside and offering extensions either directly or through modeling. For example, a child may love building with blocks and be well-versed in tower building, but with teacher modeling or suggestion, that child may be challenged to take this engineering knowledge to the next level with bridge building. The role of the teacher varies from moment to moment and it is the expert early childhood educator who knows when and how to step in, but also when to step back.
How is it embedded in Rossman’s curriculum and approach?
At Rossman, we offer guided play experiences for our Junior Kindergarten students. This is evident if you have had the pleasure of visiting our JK classroom as the space naturally invites play and exploration. Our materials, activities and environment are intentional and designed to build the skills we would like to see developed in our students. The structure of play varies across our JK day with certain times designated for free choice and others more explicitly guided by teachers. This hybrid offers an opportunity to meet all developmental needs and to challenge children appropriately within their “sweet spot” while also allowing for autonomy, creativity and student choice.
Early academics are infused into teacher-guided activities and through the choices and materials set out for students each day. Concepts such as patterning, sequencing, simple addition, letter formation, alphabetic knowledge, phonetic skills, listening comprehension, and even early reading are part of small group games and activities led by our teachers each day. Our students transition into our Senior Kindergarten program with a strong foundation in skills across all domains, having achieved these through play-based learning that honors the needs of young children.
By: Music Teacher Amira Fuller
February 21, 2020
You’ve heard English teachers talk about passive and active voice, but people don’t often pay the same attention to passive and active listening. As humans, we each experience passive and active listening every day, and both play important roles in our lives. People often assume that passive listening is a bad thing, but it’s not, and it occurs often. Whether you’re humming along absentmindedly to music while driving, or zoning out while smiling and nodding at an acquaintance who’s telling a long-winded tale, there will always be moments of passive listening in your day. Everyone is a passive listener at times and there’s nothing wrong with that. The issue with passive listening is when it occurs during a moment in time where one needs to be actively listening.
Active listening is what we expect our students, family and friends to do whenever we are talking or sharing something with them, and sometimes it requires a little extra thought or incentive to make that happen. In music this year I have implemented a game at the beginning of each Upper School music class called Poison Pattern. This game is designed to engage the students and encourage them to be active listeners instead of simply passive listeners.
In the game, I sing different music patterns with different notes, intervals and rhythms that the students have to echo back, except for the specified “poison pattern.” Before we start playing I let them know what the “pattern” will be for that class and the game begins. Whenever they successfully identify and don’t sing the “poison pattern” they get a point, however, if even one student makes a sound then I get the point. It is a competition between myself and each class to see who will get the points. Through this, students work to be active listeners as well as encourage their classmates to be active listeners. The class works together to engage their listening skills and be ready to learn.
During each class the students have the opportunity to get up to five points. Sometimes they get all five other times only one or two. These points add on to the number they’ve already accumulated from previous classes and rounds of the game. This game is often a good indicator of the level of attention and listening I can expect throughout the class. Eventually, once the class has reached 50 points over a period of several classes they are awarded 15 minutes of free time. The students then discuss different ideas of what they’d like to do during their free time and vote as a class on the activity as well as the day the activity will take place. This reward helps motivate the students to be more successful during the game and be better and more active listeners for the duration of the class.
As teachers we always want our students to be actively listening, but sometimes they need a little push or reminder to be more active with their listening and learning. There are certainly times where it is acceptable to be a passive listener, but it’s all about the time and the place.
By: Librarian Marie Unanue
March 3, 2020
None would argue that reading is essential to a child’s success. Visiting your public library and arming your child with a library card will help prepare and support your child both in school and in life.
Taking your children to the library allows them to see reading is important to you as parents and invites them to be a part of a community of readers. Surrounding your children with readers lets them see and develop good reading habits. Libraries are full of book-lovers. Exposing your children to a large reading community will help guide them on the path to becoming a lifelong reader rather than a school time reader.
Opening New Worlds
Libraries have a wide range of books that open new worlds and spark the imagination. The diversity of a public library collection encourages students to experience new authors, venture into unfamiliar genres and read everything they can find on a topic of keen interest. Regular visits to the library and access to books makes you a better reader. In a library students can find books to read aloud as a family as well as choose a “just right” book to read alone or a book to read to a younger sibling. Selecting your own books and presenting your own library card at the circulation desk can be a powerful motivator. In the words of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of a Library.”
The Most Common Cultural Activity
Upper School students at Rossman are looking forward to an author visit with Newbery Medalist Linda Sue Park this month. In preparing ourselves for her visit, we immersed ourselves in learning about Linda Sue Park. The daughter of Korean immigrants, the author shares the experience of her parents as they arrived in the United States and made their first visit to a public library. Her dad, she states, was “wowed.” He was amazed that you can enter a library, walk out with an armful of books that you don’t pay for, and simply have a librarian ask you to bring them back when you’re done. How does that even work? It’s a great question, but clearly the public library system is alive and thriving. In fact, a recent Gallup poll (December 2019) showed “visiting the library remains the most common cultural activity Americans engage in, by far.” In 2019 more Americans visited the library than went to the movies or visited a museum.
Building a Strong Community
In addition to books, libraries today provide their readers with access to e-books, audiobooks, newspapers, magazines, Internet use, DVDs, and more. Public libraries also offer a wide-range of programming for young people and adults, ranging from author events, story times, book clubs, homework help, craft sessions, game nights, cooking classes, and more. All of this contributes to libraries building a strong community. Connecting your children to the library now teaches them that these resources are available to them. Most importantly, it also introduces them to librarians who can act as both book recommenders and resource managers, offering a suggestion on a good read one day and guidance on using a database on another day.
Adapting and Growing
According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey almost two-thirds of adult Americans say that closing their local library would have a major negative impact on their community. The survey found that over 90% of adults view public libraries as “welcoming and friendly places.” Public libraries are still viewed as critical in promoting literacy, a love of reading, and a positive quality of life within a community. Many people, however, are unaware of all the services that the library offers within a community. Public libraries have adapted and grown with our society, now offering so much more than a commitment to free access to books for all.
A Special Space
I remember when I was finally able to get my own library card and how excited and nervous I was to write my own name on the registration card. Being in possession of my own library card was a proud moment! Regular family trips to the library encouraged my love of books and reading. I soon discovered that the library was like an old friend that greeted me when I walked through the doors. I was as comfortable there reading alone or quietly working on a school project as I was joining friends in sharing good books or sitting at a long table working together on homework. To this day, I feel immediately at home and relaxed in any library I enter.
To quote J.K. Rowling, the best-selling author of the Harry Potter series, “When in doubt go to the library.” I promise you you won’t regret it.
By: Director of Marketing and Communication Sarah Meyer
April 2, 2020
More than 200 people attended the Golden Apple Gala, an evening of philanthropy and fun for the Rossman School community on Saturday, March 7. The biennial event featured silent and live auctions, an exquisite dinner and dancing. In the Starlight Ballroom on the top floor of The Chase Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, Rossman guests enjoyed the sunset views from a favorite venue of the school's founders, Mary Rossman and Helen Schwaner, who hosted events for the Rossman community at The Chase in the school’s early years. Although the city skyline out of the ballroom’s wall-to-wall windows looks quite different today, the return of the Rossman community to this historical spot was meaningful, as was the well-timed opportunity to gather together before the onset of social distancing measures just a couple short weeks later due to coronavirus's spread throughout the region.
The dazzling array of auction items up for grabs in the evening’s auction — including sensational jewelry, rare sports memorabilia, magnificent vacations, priceless experiences and much more — helped the Rossman School Parents’ Club raise $232,000 to benefit the children of Rossman School, more than any fundraiser in recent history. Twelve dedicated parent chairs collaborated to craft the unforgettable evening, which featured nods to Little Golden Books and the 1920s: Nicole Albrecht, Lore Colpaert, Julie Ernst, Alice Flath, Buffy Geller, Barb Giljum, Jennifer Goff, Courtney Goodman, Leanne Groves, Kelly Metcalf, Michelle Ott, and Nima Rothmel. Voice of the St. Louis Blues Chris Kerber infused the evening with great heart and energy as the evening’s emcee and live auctioneer.
The funds raised at the Gala will support Rossman’s endowment, teacher wish lists and the remodel of the William E. Ball Library. The new state-of-the-art space will elevate the library to a place that engages all ages, provides relaxing reading nooks and encourages collaborative work groups.
By: Sixth Grade Teacher Jordan Andes
April 8, 2020
When I was 12, I had a piano teacher named Ruth who did something curious. I loved playing music by ear and was developing a patience for reading music, but I had yet to begin appreciating technique. I didn’t want to practice scales and consider the angle of my wrist. I wanted to play the Maple Leaf Rag as fast (and sloppily) as I could. But she was wise and she could tell I simply didn’t understand the value of holding my hand at a precise angle, letting my wrist drive my fingers up the scale.
Discovering a Difference
So one lesson, she didn’t take her usual seat in the wicker chair next to me. She dragged her chair away from the piano and asked me to simply play scales, alternating between the way I liked to play and my impression of what she was trying to teach me. She sat across the room, head back and eyes closed, listening. I played for twenty seconds, “There it is.” Fifteen seconds went by, “That was it.” Five seconds, “Yes, that’s it.”
She was right every time. She correctly identified when I had tried her technique. She proved to me that there was a difference, one that you could hear and feel. The smallest change of lifting my hand fifteen degrees produced a different sound when I pressed the keys.
Ruth helped me discover nuance, a concept that continues to bring me joy. Some may discover nuance when they adjust their grip on a golf club or tennis racquet, moving their palm just a few centimeters higher. Or maybe nuance reveals itself when one adds a pinch of an unusual spice to a recipe and it transforms the flavor.
Nuance is a subtle difference that has a significant impact. The mechanics of nuance often go unnoticed without a measure of mindfulness, but the subliminal impact colors our experiences. As a teacher, I believe that the words we use when we talk to students hold the power of nuance.
Positively Phrased Directions
Responsive Classroom, a student-centered and social emotional approach to learning, has conducted extensive research and written at length about the Power of Words. I have been fortunate to study with the organization, whose beliefs and principles often compliment our mission at Rossman School. For now, I want to borrow from their emphasis on teacher language and highlight positive phrasing, just one of the ways in which nuanced language can be used to nurture.
As students continue developing skills like self-regulation and executive functioning, it is necessary to give directions and reminders in order to maintain a structured, safe environment in which they can grow and take steps towards independence. Intentional direction allows adults to provide children with “wise external control that keeps them on track,” even when their self-control starts to wane (Denton).
This time of year, as the weather gets warmer and energy levels begin to buzz, one commonly needed direction might sound like, “Don’t run.”
However, what if you replace the negatively phrased direction “Don’t run” with the positive, “Walk”? Or how about “Stop talking” versus “Listen”? Both directions seem to produce a similar result, but the nuance between the two is tremendous. Positive phrasing offers clarity and conveys belief in the child.
1. Positive phrasing gives children clarity. The negatively phrased, “Stop talking,” actually requires children to process two cues. The first cue is clear: stop talking. The second cue, however, is implied and ambiguous: What should I do instead? Should the child be thinking about a question, waiting for a signal, looking up front, listening to a classmate speak? Children can get lost in the space between what they were doing and what they should be doing if the positive direction is not clear. When you direct a student in what to do, they can immediately get on track.
2. Positive phrasing conveys belief in children and encourages their sense of competence and autonomy. Let’s consider another example. “Don’t forget to turn in your homework.” Even when said with the kindest of intentions, the phrasing is negative. The direction betrays a belief that the child was going to forget without your intervention, and it could even imply that the child may not value the task. Consider a positive alternative. “Remember, completed homework goes in the tray.” The positive phrasing expresses belief in the child, a belief that he wants to “cooperate, listen, and do quality work” (Denton). The positive phrasing also builds a student’s sense of competence and autonomy by naming a task he has the skill and ability to accomplish independently.
When we speak to children, even at times when we have to give directions or reminders, language provides us with the opportunity to use nuance for nurture. As Paula Denton articulates, our language can express our “faith in the goodness of children, a belief in their desire and ability to learn.” In other words, directions do not have to be about maintaining control. Directions provide an opportunity to call students into their growing abilities and show that you believe in them.
A few positively phrased directions and reminders to consider:
“Don’t make a mess.”
“No talking right now.”
“Don’t bother your sister.”
“I’m not going to remind you again.”
“Clean up when you’re finished.”
“It’s time to work quietly.”
“Respect her space.”
“Remember what I asked.”
By: Lower School Science Teacher Jess Baker
April 14, 2020
What children learn does not follow as an automatic result from what is taught, rather, it is in large part due to the children’s own doing, as a consequence of their activities and our resources.
—Loris Malaguzzi, The Hundred Languages of Children
When I think back to when I was in elementary school, I remember my most memorable teacher; you know that teacher. I reflect on what I loved about her, why I was so drawn to her class, and what drove me to work harder and push myself further in her class than I did in others. The answer lies much deeper than she was nice or she didn’t give much homework. It was more about how she made me feel. At the core of what I was feeling is that she respected and valued my voice and the voices of my classmates. She genuinely cared and respected us as people and asked our opinions. She valued what we had to say! And, to add to that, she actually implemented our ideas into how the class was run. What she had figured out was how to successfully implement a student-centered approach to learning. She had struck gold, and now fast forward 25+ years and this approach is backed by research and has become a best practice in the field of education.
A Relationship Driven Environment
When you boil it down, a student-centered learning environment is built on nurturing and sustaining relationships with students, relationships that are rooted in love and respect for one another. These healthy bonds create an environment where students are courageous, where they feel safe to put themselves out there. This student centered approach empowers children to follow their curiosities, become advocates of their knowledge, and take risks in their learning. It pushes them to reach higher and go further.
The Belief in the Child
The student-centered approach sees the child as a competent and capable individual, no matter the age. Gone are the days of believing that children are merely empty vessels waiting to be filled. Children come to the classroom with a wealth of personal experiences and prior knowledge that add so much to the learning environment. It is our job to take time to listen to them. Our children have so much to offer!
The student-centered approach allows children to be active participants in their learning, driving the instruction. There is a strong belief that they are valued members of the learning community, and what they have to say matters. Children are naturally curious, full questions and ideas waiting to be explored; they simply need the time and space to do so.
Fostering A Culture of Learning Together
If the students are taking the lead, what role does the teacher play? Teaching with a student-centered approach is an art form and when implemented, it can look a little different depending on the age of the children and the teacher’s unique style. However, the main role of the teacher is to be a guide, to be an observer of the learning that is taking place, to ask questions. All are learners in this environment. “We are all learning, including me,” is a phrase frequently used in my classroom. It is my hope to instill a lifelong love of learning, and I do this by showing them that I, too, am learning with them!
This approach requires the ultimate flexibility in planning. Sometimes the guidance is subtle, and other times we have to take a hard right turn. My job is to help the children steer the boat by asking them questions rather than telling them how to be, what to do; taking more of a consultant approach and advisor role.
I typically begin each unit with a general outline, and then I let the kids take the lead. We talk about what they already know about a subject and then what questions they have and what they want to learn. Students share in the decision making of a project, usually through class brainstorming sessions, where we think of ideas on what direction we can take a project. I sit back and pose questions to the kids, leading them to connections, and allowing them to take the lead in problem solving and long term planning. It is amazing what comes out of these sessions and the great lengths that students go in their learning! The ingenuity is amazing!
By: Fifth Grade Teacher Annie Menees
May 6, 2020
When I speak with prospective parents on tours in the halls of Rossman, I always point out a unique feature of our curriculum: Our students have a class period each day dedicated to writing. This is not the case in many schools where writing is often lumped in with all of the other language arts — reading, vocabulary, spelling, grammar, speaking, and listening. In many “English” or “Language Arts” classes, writing is treated as an extension of reading; students are primarily asked to write about what they read.
This emphasis placed on writing at Rossman is important since writing is a very complex subject that takes a great deal of time and energy to learn. Writing is a productive rather than a receptive language task, so students are expected to produce a result on paper, a fact that can be intimidating in its own right. Staring at an empty paper while experiencing writer’s block can be very discouraging; therefore, children must learn how to help themselves even begin to put pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard.
The process, traits, types and forms of writing
The first stage of the writing process, pre-writing, requires students to learn how to generate ideas. Teacher-led brainstorming sessions and pre-writing forms like lists, T-charts, webs, Venn-Diagrams and templates all help our students get started. Students are similarly guided through the rest of the writing process, from drafting to revising, editing and publishing, helping them to gradually gain the skills, strategies and confidence necessary to tackle each stage independently.
If you observe a writing class at Rossman, you will witness children moving through this process of writing while learning the traits of writing, practicing different types of writing and producing different forms of writing. Just writing about what we do in writing class is dizzying!
While moving through the writing process, students must juggle the traits of writing — ideas, organization, voice, sentence fluency, word choice, conventions and presentation — each of which requires mastery of different concepts and execution of many sub-tasks. For example, “organization” covers everything from introductions to conclusions, ordering of ideas to transitions between ideas while “conventions” includes capitalization, punctuation, grammar and spelling. Our teachers use targeted mini-lessons to teach these traits, drawing attention to one or two at a time with different assignments so as not to overwhelm our young writers.
Through our many different projects, our students also have opportunities to practice the various types of writing including narrative, descriptive, creative, persuasive, informative and, by sixth grade, even analytical writing. Often, these types are not mutually exclusive. Different forms of writing may combine multiple types. For example, students may write an essay that is both informative and persuasive; or, they could write a fictional story that combines narrative, creative and descriptive elements. Other forms of writing that our students have opportunities to try include, but are not limited to, reports, letters, articles, memoirs, journals, advertisements, and speeches.
Poetry as one form of writing taught at Rossman
In April, one form of writing takes center stage at Rossman: poetry. Students and teachers celebrate National Poetry Month across grade levels by reciting poetry and writing poems of their own. First graders learn to write five different types of poems including autobiographical, color, and acrostics and memorize and recite a poem for their annual Poetry Party while third graders try their hands at ten different types of poems including haikus, cinquains and clerihews and present them at their Poetry Café. Fifth graders extend their understanding of grammar by writing “Prepositional Phrase Poems” and are asked to capture the seasonal experience of winter turning to spring through paired poems (see a sampling of fifth grade student work below). Meanwhile, sixth graders are challenged to describe an image through a perspective other than their own and add in an interpretive lens in their Ekphrasis poetry unit. These are just a few examples of the ways in which poetry is highlighted as one of the many forms of writing in April at Rossman.
How do our teachers coax poetry out of our students? During the pre-writing stage, they might use model texts from famous poets to inspire ideas or turn published poems into templates for “inspired by” poetry. They might teach the rules for a strict form of poetry like a haiku or encourage students to write a more free-form poem and give them license to break the rules. A mini-lesson might target the importance of word choice in poetry, especially active verbs and interesting adjectives and adverbs, while the revision process might teach students to add in literary devices like figurative language for style. Regardless of the assignment, our students thrive on the challenge of writing in poetic form and surprise and delight themselves with the lively, authentic and beautiful pieces they produce!
Poetry Spotlight: Fifth Grade Paired Poems
(Click to enlarge)