State superintendent visits two Caroline County schools
DENTON — State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon visited two Caroline County schools Thursday, Oct. 11, to get a firsthand look at the student-centered teaching method to which Caroline County Public in the 2017-18 school year. Developed by Learning Sciences International, it shifted the school system from traditional teacher-focused methods to a model that encourages the development of skills needed for
good-paying jobs in the new economy: Teamwork, face-to-face communication, critical thinking and persistence in the face of failure.
The method uses team-based learning, rather than lecture-based. Students work in teams, offering their opinions, learning to accept criticism, giving constructive feedback and finding out failure is not the end, but rather a pathway to learning.
Caroline County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patricia Saelens, Caroline County Board of Education President Louise Cheek and board members Kathy Dill and Tolbert Rowe told Salmon the first year was challenging.
Some students, teachers, administrators and parents objected to the new method, especially at the secondary level.
“Any time there’s something new, there’s pushback,” Rowe said. “But now we’re seeing what these kids can do, and I think we’re getting over the hump.”
Some teachers embraced the new method quickly, Saelens said, while others still have not moved much beyond putting the students’ desks together.
“There’s a difference between a ‘furniture group’ and a team,” Saelens said. “We still have some teachers just putting kids in furniture groups. We are doing a deeper dive this year into the characteristics of a team.”
School principals with an instructional background handled the change well, Cheek said, while
those who had operated more as building managers under the old methods struggled.
In addition to helping students develop the “soft skills” employers say they are looking for, the new teaching method had some unforeseen additional benefits.
Saelens said there has been a big decrease in disciplinar y actions across the school system, as students are more engaged in the new team-based style of learning.
She said the emphasis on group discussions has helped Englishlanguage learning students pick up the language more quickly. Rowe said the increased interaction has also helped those students connect with their peers.
Students are also kind to one another when discussing group tasks, Saelens said.
“They’ve learned to say ‘I respectfully
disagree, and here is my evidence,’” she said.
“There’s still work to be done, but we’re on the right path,” Saelens said. “I think we all now understand our ‘why.’”
At Lockerman Middle School, Principal Nikki VonDenBosch, Assistant Principal Courtney Handte and Assistant Principal Jonathan Grow led Salmon on a tour that included stops in seventh and sixth grade classrooms and the band room.
In a math class, six special education students with individualized education plans learned alongside their general education classmates.
In a language arts class, each student in groups of three had an assigned role: A resource manager made sure the team had the needed materials, a facilitator made sure everyone in the group voiced
their opinions and a presenter explained the team’s work.
At Ridgely Elementary School, Principal Lee Sutton and Assistant Principal Antonio Angeloni took Salmon to kindergarten, first, fourth and fifth grade classrooms.
In one class, students worked in teams to draw a diagram figuring out the width of a rectangle, when given the perimeter and length measurements.
When some teams got stuck, the teacher helped guide them to find the answer on their own.
After her tour of both schools, Salmon said she was most impressed by the level of student engagement in every classroom.
“Teachers are facilitators of learning, rather than deliverers of learning,” Salmon said. “I’m encouraged by the potential of this strategy.”
From left, seventh grade Lockerman Middle School teacher Krista Bennett works with students as Principal Nikki VonDenBosch, Maryland Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon and Caroline Public School Superintendent Dr. Patricia Saelens look on Thursday, Oct. 11.