Retiring Head Stephen Kennedy could have just watched the year go by at the Trinity School in Atlanta, but he chose to keep his foot on the innovation pedal. Among other things, he hired Jill Gough, one of the regions leaders in classroom innovation to make sure the school increases its arc of forward-leaning innovation, and in my short visit at the school, the evidence of thoughtful changes to the student-teacher relationship were evident. Trinity is a highly respected preK-6 whose graduates go on to attend all of the premier Atlanta independent schools. I was honored to sit in with Stephen and his senior admin team to hear how the teachers at Trinity see their role changing as students take more ownership of their own learning. Make sure to check out the video of students on the Idea Wall! (Full disclosure: Stephen bought copies of my book, The Falconer, for his entire senior admin team, but my objectivity remains intact!)
Trinity takes seriously the need for teachers to move to the side of the learning experience, and nowhere was this more evident than in their unique foreign language offering. Trinity students start using Rosetta Stone in Kindergarten and can select from as many as 18 different language options. They can try different languages in the early years, and by 2nd and 3rd grade they have focused in on one language that they will take through 6th grade. We visited a 1st grade class as students logged in to laptops, and confidently began lessons at their own pace where they had left off the previous day. The teacher and an aide roamed the class helping where needed as the students listened and spoke through headset/microphone devices. At this level they alternate days when the students use Rosetta Stone and when their teachers lead them.
In a 5th grade language class, there were eight students studying Spanish, seven studying French, and one taking Mandarin. As they walked in to class, they picked up a daily class agenda that allotted time for individual work on their Rosetta Stone program and research on a project of their choosing. The projects follow the theme of a “culture triangle”, connecting subjects in a country where their language is spoken. The students share their project with classmates in person, and also post them to their class blog. Trinity brings in native speakers in all of the languages for group conversation. We sat in on one such small group in the library speaking Spanish and brushing up on vocabulary.
The Trinity Foreign Language program was cited by NAIS in their Stories of Excellence: Case Studies of Exemplary Blended and Fully Online Learning
Trinity also puts their students squarely at the heart of the assessment process. With their “My Learning Project” process, the students maintain an active portfolio that captures their learning experience all th
e way from the three-year old classes through 6th grade. Using Evernote, the students contribute audio, video, photos, writing, and art work to their portfolio, which over time allows both the student and teacher to focus on the process of learning as much as the products. Several of the faculty particularly noted the strength of capturing an archive of audio files to really find the student voice in learning; and of course parents love that archive as well! This portfolio encourages teachers to connect their subject material to the whole child, not just the content part of the brain.
As I have been saying for most of this trip, there may be no better way to change the dynamic of a learning space than with a coat of Idea Paint on the walls. Trinity has converted a room to a design learning space, complete with an idea wall, some computers,
and flexible, comfortable furniture. Here is a video that shows how even the youngest students actively engage when they can get out of their chairs and interact with the subject and with each other. Note towards the end of the video the teacher recording student reflection to be stored in the student’s portfolio. Now, imagine this activity, not in one design lab space a few times a week, but in every classroom, if we create that opportunity for students of all ages (and adults, too) to engage actively, rather than sitting at a desk working alone.
Finally, Jill shared with me that she is starting a virtual book club amongst some of the interested leadership team, which may expand into the faculty. As a template for discussion, they are going to pilot a simple format they call the 4 A’s: assumptions, aspirations, agree, and argue. The articulation and form of this template are here 4As Protocol worksheet if you want to borrow it.