10/31/2013 01:59 PM Posted by: Ricki Komiss Poster Avatar
Shlenker's PreK-3 students and teachers are featured.


-Thu, Oct 31, 2013

It’s bright and early on a Thursday morning, and it’s Ava Chosnek’s turn to share a story.

After writing the story with her teacher, classmates are chosen for the different characters. A play carpet becomes a stage, the rest of the class an audience, and the children put on an adorable reenactment of the day that Ava got a new bed and furniture at her house.

The cast takes a bow at the end of the little performance amid applause and praise. A chorus then erupts from eager children in the pre-K 3s class who want to share their stories next.

Teaching via children’s stories and dramas is the product of a campus collaboration between The Shlenker School and Rice University. The School Literacy & Culture project, or SLC, combines early literary research with practice through classroom mentoring and professional development for teachers.

Shlenker joined the project in the early 1990s, and educators at the Jewish day school in Southwest Houston have gone on to serve as SLC mentors for other teachers and schools. On Oct. 17 of this year, research pioneers and leaders of the project visited Shlenker for the first time, together, to see the work in action.

‘Finely tuned violin’
The visitors said they were captivated by what they found — storytelling and story-acting from Shlenker students like Ava — and likened the experience to listening to a “finely tuned violin.”

“These are very happy places for children to be,” observed Vivian Gussin Paley, an award-winning teacher and author on whose research the SLC project is based.

“We see little episodes of dramatic play going on everywhere, all the time” in these Shlenker classrooms, Paley told the JHV during the visit. “What I love about these rooms is that they’re rooms to play in.”

Paley was joined by Dr. Gillian Dowley McNamee, an esteemed language and literacy development specialist, and by the SLC’s founder, Dr. Patsy Cooper, and the project’s current director, Karen Capo.

“The play is so beautifully orchestrated, back-and-forth,” noted Capo after spending the morning with Shlenker’s pre-K 3s. “The children step right into listening, negotiating and compromising.”

McNamee observed, “This is what I would hope to see going into schools anywhere in the country,” adding, “Shlenker has a beautifully developed program that is poised for listening to these children right where they are and helping them take next steps.”

‘Making sense of their world’
SLC is now in its 25th year. The project’s founder, Dr. Patsy Cooper, is a former Shlenker parent.

Cooper gave a presentation on SLC 22 years ago during a teacher in-service at the school. Sherry Dubin, a pre-K teacher at the time, attended the presentation and, immediately afterward, encouraged her administration to join the project.

Since that time, Dubin has risen through the ranks at Shlenker, currently serving as the school’s Literacy & Learning specialist. She has championed the SLC project since day one and has become one of its valued mentors, helping to train early childhood teachers in the methodology.

Teaching via children’s stories and dramas is an effective way for children to express themselves, noted Dubin, who’s found that children tell stories about the things they like, the things they fear and the things they’re thinking about.

“We get to see what’s important to them,” the veteran Shlenker educator said. “It’s a way of making sense of their world and it’s a way of thinking through things.

“It builds community in the classroom. It cements friendships that have already begun to develop, and it helps foster the development of new friendships.

“It addresses the child and what’s important to the child,” Dubin said.

Cooper, who has visited the school many times, said that Shlenker and passionate educators, like Dubin, have made “a fascinating contribution” to the project.

“I love the fact that the children at Shlenker are learning in their most natural way — and it’s deep learning,” Cooper observed. “They own their space and they are safe in it. There’s no question that they know what their role is here and the teachers embrace what the children want to do, naturally.”

‘Imaginations lead them’
Marci Powers is a pre-K 3s teacher at Shlenker who sees tremendous benefit from storytelling and story-acting.

“The children are free to play and use their imagination,” Powers told the JHV. “They’re not stifled by something we must teach them or they have to learn.

“They’re the ones who are choosing what they’re doing, and their imaginations are leading them,” she said.

Laura Hall is another Shlenker pre-K teacher, who said she is impressed with the level of involvement that storytelling and acting engenders among her children.

“You get to know the children, and they blossom in no other way,” Hall said. “You really don’t know a child till they let you in on their stories.”

In Ronda Feinberg’s case, SLC has reignited her passion for teaching.

“The ability to fantasize and play teaches children life skills of learning how to get along with people,” the veteran pre-K teacher explained. “This incredible program [SLC] teaches children negotiating skills. It teaches them math, science, the beginnings of reading and writing, and it teaches these skills in a fun and exciting way.

“The beauty of this program and adaptation here is the fantasy play that brings you to creativity for the rest of your life,” Feinberg said. “And, I think my kids are soaring.”
Categorized under:  Preschool

10/18/2013 03:00 PM Posted by: Ricki Komiss Poster Avatar
- Thu, Oct 17, 2013
A Jewish day school in Southwest Houston is leading a national trend of switching from pencil-and-paper to digital standardized testing.

For the second year in a row, administrators and faculty from The Shlenker School have been invited to present on their successes and best-practices with the switch to digital testing at the annual conference of the Educational Records Bureau — a nonprofit organization that provides assessments for achievement and admission for independent and select public schools. This year’s ERB conference will take place Oct. 23-25, in Fort Worth, Texas.
Shlenker students began the transition to online standardized testing in 2009. Earlier this week, second-graders took their ERBs for the first time using school iPads. As it previously did with the online format, Shlenker is piloting the new ERB app for tablet computers.

According to experienced educators at Shlenker, digital assessment testing is better for students and teachers, alike.

Among the benefits they listed for schools, digital formats offer instant test scores; they save time, effort and money, because they don’t have to be shipped back and forth; they encourage greater teacher accountability; and they can help improve focus and confidence, as well as eliminate common test-taking mistakes, among students.
For students who are absent during scheduled test times, the digital format allows them to take the test — again, with instant results — as soon as they return to school.

Challenges associated with the switch include having the appropriate number of digital devices for test taking; having the bandwidth to support these devices; and having capable faculty to administer the tests, as well as troubleshoot problems that may arise during the test-taking.

“It’s worth the investment” to go digital, said Ricki Komiss, Shlenker’s head of school, who has championed the cause and is leading the school’s delegation at the upcoming ERB conference. “It’s worth the opportunity to give students this chance to take the test online. You’ll get immediate results.”

Schools that administer ERBs and are considering a transition to online testing have consulted with Shlenker for advice.
Fall testing
In order to maximize the benefits of going digital, Shlenker conducts its yearly standardized testing in the fall, rather than the spring.

“The reason we do testing in the fall is because we use that data to drive our classroom instruction throughout the year,” explained Casey Suter, Shlenker’s Elementary School principal, who is joining Komiss as a presenter at the ERB confrence. 

Having access to testing data immediately and early on in the school year affords teachers time to identify strengths in curriculum, and to work on areas that might need improvement, Shlenker educators agreed.

They also noted that the strategy makes teachers more accountable and provides them with important information that they can use to their advantage in working with their students.

“That type of immediate feedback is both very powerful and empowering,” said Lisa Sachs, Shlenker’s Math & Technology coordinator, who is joining her colleagues at the upcoming conference.

The former classroom teacher has been instrumental in advancing Shlenker’s digital embrace, according to Sachs’ colleagues.
Digital natives
Doing online testing dovetails with Shlenker’s approach of integrating technology across curricula.

Students at the school are doing more and more learning online, Sachs noted. Current digital offerings include a typing program, a math practice program, Shlenker’s regular math program, and reading and science lessons.

With math-related testing and assignments, the school insists that students still keep pencil and paper handy, in order to solve equations and show their work.

While printed homework is limited to the page on which it’s printed, assignments that are done online allow students to advance further with that lesson, teachers observed. Schoolwork that’s done on a computer, in general, can feel less like chore and often is completed in less time, they added.

Shlenker recognizes that today’s students are digital natives. Technology is part of their everyday lives — of their worlds. Computer skills they learn at school are reinforced at home, and vice-versa. Though technology use comes natural to students, Shlenker also recognizes the reality that it can take time and patience for teachers and faculty, who weren’t raised on digital technology, to master the same skills.

The school is encouraged by the positive feedback it continues to receive from its students, who appreciate having only one question presented on the screen at a time, rather than a printed page of questions; students also report to like the headphones setup of online testing, allowing them to laser focus and block out distracting noises.

Digital tests also eliminate the possibility of accidently skipping a question while bubbling in answers on a Scantron form, which throws off every answer that follows, or the possibility of unitentionally skipping an entire page or pages in a printed test booklet. Getting an answer wrong from an incomplete eraser-job or messy form is no longer a problem either when taking a test online.

Additionally, the digital format can lend itself well to students who have learning differences, teachers noted.

“Computers are what our kids know and do. iPads are what they know and do,” said Karen Miller, Shlenker’s director of Counseling & Family Services, who also is presenting at the ERB confrence.

Planning, pep-talk
Planning is key to successful online testing, according to Shlenker faculty.

“A big component of the success of our experience with online testing has been that we are constantly looking at where glitches might occur and preparing to deal with those issues that can come with technology,” Miller said. “We give the kids a lot of direction and feedback on what they’re going to see on test day and we do a big pep-talk with the kids before they walk in.

“We’re always trying to problem-solve ahead of time,” Miller said.

Sachs added, “We realized early on that we had to do certain things to prepare the students for online testing. For example, our math program offers an online assessment at the beginning of the year and online assessments throughout [the year] that teachers can assign.

“We try and focus on those experiences with other areas of the curriculum that simulate online testing experiences,” she said.

Shlenker’s head of school said that doing online testing in elementary school better prepares students for the standardized testing they’ll encounter in middle school, high school and college. Tests like the SAT and GRE now offer digital options for students.

“We talk to parents and let them know that this is a good thing and, developmentally, this is where students are,” Komiss said. “By the time they get to middle school and high school, this will be second-nature for our children.”

The school’s counselor concluded: “Bottom line, if we didn’t think online testing was beneficial for the students, we’d still be doing paper-and-pencil.

“In our experience, online testing has been better for the students,” Miller said. 

Link to this article at the Jewish Herald Voice HERE.

Categorized under:  Elementary Education

10/08/2013 03:14 PM Posted by: Poster Avatar
Dear Parents and Friends of Shlenker,

Hard to believe it’s October–we have been back at school for six weeks.  The Young Toddlers have settled in to the “school routine,” and our fifth graders are enjoying being the leaders of Shlenker.

October is always a very busy and exciting month for an Admissions Director as this is the time of year when I am able to “show off” Shlenker to prospective and current families.  I am the lucky one who gets to highlight Shlenker’s incredible students, faculty, and staff when I give tours to interested parents.  It is a joy to walk in and out of Early Childhood classrooms and see our youngest students proudly dramatizing their original stories in front of an audience of their peers.  I also love walking down the Elementary School hallways and bragging to our visitors about the amazing projects displayed on the walls.

On Sunday, October 27th, everyone at Shlenker will be the hosts at our Prospective Family Open House.  We want current families to join our teachers and administrative staff members as we welcome prospective families into our school.  We will spend the afternoon spotlighting all the special things we do that makes Shlenker unique.  Our guests will have the opportunity to visit classrooms, meet all of the teachers, and take a “sneak peek” at what a regular school day looks like from Young Toddler through Fifth Grade!  I would be delighted to have current parents participate in our Open House.  I hope you will plan on being at Shlenker between 3:00 and 4:30 pm on Sunday, October 27th.  Please bring your friends!  If you have any questions, please contact me here.  Thanks for sharing your children with us every day and for helping make Shlenker such a wonderful place!

With best wishes,
Gail Rovinksy
Director of Admissions

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