How are students growing as communicators? This is the central question that Old Kentucky Home Middle School has been focused on for the last several months as they move to foster skills that will continue to help students once they leave their halls.
Backpack LEADer Randi Jury said this central question has been a school-wide effort and they are taking many different steps to incorporate it into every part of the school. Since October, OKH Principal Mandy Puyear said it has been amazing to see how students and teachers alike have rallied behind this central thesis since its inception.
Jury said there are three main points as to how they are implementing the central question, and they first began with the mindset of communication is important as a school. Across all three grades at OKH, they have also began using claim, evidence, reasoning (CER) as a strategy, which breaks down the process of the scientific method. Lastly, they had their school-wide writing, which put staff in the position of learning as they wrote essays and feedback just like the students.
“I think that was pretty powerful seeing teachers seem to buy into it more like there’s more buy-in because they understood it,” she said.
Puyear said teachers starting off with writing gave students the chance to see their educators as learners. The experience proved to not only encourage teachers to move forward with growing as communicators themselves, but to be examples for middle school students’ growth as well.
“It was really led by those conversations … our teachers really felt like it was an area that would impact all classes,” Puyear said. “It would impact our students to be citizens, become citizens one day. They are now, but how they contribute differently when they leave us. Then we started thinking about how are they growing? Because the question, you know, at one point was like, how can we ensure our students are effective communicators? And then we were like, well is anyone really effective? And then is it ever something that you just stopped learning? So, how can we kind of narrow our focus and think about communication is you have to have a claim, you need to have evidence when you’re speaking and using a strategy that was universal, then measuring that progress with our strategy to see if it was impacting the learning of our kids.”
Puyear said helping students become better communicators looks different in every subject, but it isn’t all about writing. Willie Moore’s leadership class recently wrote and performed self-reflective poetry. Jury said many collaborate on a Super Bowl project, which brought together both math and English to use claim evidence reasoning and writing. Puyear said it’s about going beyond being a writing tool, but rather being a thinking tool.
“I think really digging in deeper for me into strategies in the classroom because, I think for a long time and even in here teachers, when we were doing this together, they’re like, ‘Kids aren’t gonna write,’ ” Jury said. “They just had this mindset of kids can’t or kids won’t. I think just continuing to model and continue into, to have them use strategies. … I think that’s going to really help and just continuing to support teachers, like making sure that when we’re doing the modeling or doing something school wide, that we’re not just saying ‘Here. Do it.’ That we’re going through the process with them so that they’re part of it.”
Puyear said they have seen students connect to their school’s central question and they have already seen them be successful. Several OKH students recently entered into the Chamber of Commerce’s Civics Bee, which required them to write an essay; they took home the top 19 out of 20 spots from across eight different counties.
“I just really want to celebrate our students and our teachers,” she said. “I think that’s what it comes back to is that. Randy and I couldn’t have this idea or couldn’t have this plan without anybody else. They have been leading this. Our kids, if they weren’t energized by it, or if our teachers weren’t energized by it, there wouldn’t be 19 out of 20 winners.”
Looking ahead, Puyear said it’s all about keeping the momentum going and finding ways to have data to show the growth in their student’s communication skills. She said as this program is still in its infancy, they will be involving parents and the Site-Based Decision-Making Council in the process as well. Jury said it’s all about embracing the new processes as they move forward and learning new ways to incorporate it into the classroom.
“It’s going to be something new, but it’s just the next step,” Puyear said. “And they’re not just communicators. This is just one. They’re so much more than just communicators, but it’s one piece of data that we have to bring awareness to and make clear. I don’t know how to do that, but we’re going to involve people in that conversation. We’re going to try.”