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Superintendent's Blog

Words placed vertically in a row
Picture from the New York Times Learning Network. *See link below.

Perhaps you noticed that on Thursday, August 15, 2019, the five Principals presented to the School Committee the School Improvement Plans for the year. And perhaps you also noticed that the Marathon and Elmwood Schools’ shared Improvement Plan has a vocabulary goal.

When I first started teaching—and I’m sure many of you will remember this practice—teachers handed out 20 words a week to students, expected the kids to learn the words, and then we had a quiz on Friday. Every Friday.  These words were rarely in context; they simply came from vocabulary books. Anything from “aberration” to “zephyr” was fair game.

Research demonstrates a strong correlation between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension, and “a number of studies have shown that early vocabulary knowledge is a powerful predictor of young students’ reading comprehension years later.”1

Research also shows it’s relatively ineffective to do what I used to do in the early 1990s; that is, hand out words and have kids memorize the definitions.

Instead, kids need to mess around with words. They need to break them apart, make educated guesses at their meanings, learn about root words, and decide where words might fit contextually into the world, to name a few practices.

I used to play this sort of game with my adult learners in graduate classes. I’d give them a word like “prestidigitator,” and ask them what it meant. In small group conversations, many came up with “presto” meaning fast and “digit” relating to fingers. With this knowledge, they never forgot that a prestidigitator is a magician of sorts who does sleight of hand tricks. 

Kids also need time with words. They need to see, hear, and say the words over and over again. We can help children by talking to them in grown-up language. Sure, it’s a little anomalous to hear a six-year-old using words like “anomalous,” but I’m sure a six-year-old could understand and use that word. Seriously. And, once kids get accustomed to saying words, these words become a part of their quick retrieval system, and the words start appearing in students’ writing. Such exciting stuff!

So, yes, the Marathon and Elmwood Schools are serving up some vocabulary fare this year. 

Maybe you, too, will nosh on some words at home? Vocabulary work provides great literacy nutritional value for students of ALL AGES! To that end, here is a link to the New York Times Learning Network*.  (Check out some of the Vocabulary Video Contest Winners!)

And maybe you’ll like FreeRice.  I used to play this with my own children for hours!

ENJOY!

1Beck, I.L., McKeown, M.G., and Kucan, L. (2008) Creating robust vocabulary. The Guilford Press: New York, New York.

Yes, I know it's not all about test scores or recognitions, but it is quite an honor for the Hopkinton Public Schools to be ranked by Niche as the second best school district in the state of Massachusetts!

Thank you to the students, teachers, paraprofessionals, staff, administrators, school committee, and parents, who have made this possible.

So. Well. Done.

Congratulations Certificate

I am proud every day to be your superintendent.

I grew up in a small middle class mill town, right here in Massachusetts. Our white colonial house sat next door to a house not dissimilar from ours in its age, architectural design, and size. What made the houses unique were our backyards. Mine had a pool. The neighbors had a nice flat stretch on which we played “diamond sports”—baseball, kickball, softball, whiffle ball—and other games like red light, red rover, tug of war.

Six kids lived in my neighbors’ home. One of the oldest frequently babysat for my brothers and me; the younger ones became our playmates. All told, about a dozen kids from several families inhabited a quarter mile stretch of country road, and together we comprised what might be called a clan, ranging in ages and in athletic prowess.

On any given summer day, we might exist as both friends and bitter enemies. Once a game got going, a disagreement about either a play or maybe the rules themselves could launch us into an abrupt game over.

"You were out."

"Safe."

"Out."

"No way. My foot was on the base when the kickball hit my thigh."

"Liar."

"It was. I swear it!"

"You never own up to it when you get picked-off. I’m taking my ball and going home."

In about fifteen minutes, we’d be so bored we’d be back at it. On the field again. Picking new teams. Using rock-paper-scissors to determine which team was up first and who’d have last raps.

 I share this scenario because during those summer days, I learned a lot about fairness, argumentation, making concessions, winning, losing, acknowledging that someone else had more talent than I did, understanding that some kids are faster, smarter, or better skilled.  

The concept of free play comes up a lot these days, especially in education and in particular in regard to social, emotional, and behavioral learning.

I’m not going to say much more about the old neighborhood—I’m sure my kickball prowess (or lack thereof) is of little interest to you. But, I am going to offer you a great Ted Talk that was shared with me by Elmwood’s Principal, Mrs. Carver, about the influence of free play on kids’ development. The description of the Ted Talk by Dr. Peter Gray reads, "In this talk, Dr. Peter Gray compellingly brings attention to the reality that over the past 60 years in the United States there has been a gradual but, overall dramatic decline in children's freedom to play with other children, without adult direction. Over this same period, there has been a gradual but overall dramatic increase in anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness, suicide, and narcissism in children and adolescents."

I hope you enjoy this Ted Talk; I myself found it quite interesting.

Happy summer. Happy play.

 

  • Superintendent

With the launch of our new website, I’m pleased to introduce the Hopkinton Public Schools’ Superintendent’s blog.  Coming off the July 4th weekend, coupled with this being my first installment, I had vowed to keep it light. Sort of give both the readership and myself the opportunity to dip our toes into this new messaging forum pool. Hopefully, this will become an interactive forum where we listen to each other’s voices.

Over the holiday weekend, I did a lot of entertaining, reconnecting with family and friends, serving up plenty of grilled meats, and taking sunset jaunts around the lake on what I call my husband’s “broken down barnacle barge,” a moniker stolen from The Brady Bunch (Season 2, Episode 17, circa 1971), yet an apt name for our second-hand pontoon boat. Let’s just say it’s life-jacket-worthy. 

What was missing from my action-packed weekend, however, was all the reading I promised myself I’d do. You probably know how that goes. You’d like to take just an hour to crack open a novel, but something always seems to get in the way; in my case, this past weekend, it was food prep, bathroom scouring, and changing sheets for the coming-and-goings of overnight guests.

I bring it up because I believe families hear a lot about the “summer slide” alongside educators’ promotion of summer reading. Perhaps your children are also rationalizing, “But, if I do my summer reading now, I won’t remember any of it in August,” or “Seriously? It’s only the Fourth of July; there’s plenty of time before school starts.” As a former English teacher, I never thought I’d “hear” myself saying this in print, but summer reading, while purposeful, is not what’s most important. Rather, enjoying reading—whatever you’re reading!—is what matters. This summer, I’d encourage all Hopkinton Public Schools families, if you haven’t already, to discover what you love to read and take the time to do that. Try not to view it so much as a luxury (“luxury” often implies “once in a while”) but rather as an exercise for your mind and your spirit. Especially your spirit.

That might mean letting your work email go. Or, putting down the phone or gaming device. Or, piling dirty dishes in the sink. Or, driving another 50 miles before getting that overdue oil change.  You get the idea. Reading needs to be a priority—not just a luxury. Not just a summer activity.

Although I said I was going to keep it light, my excitement for the topic might make me a fibber—in a good way, I hope. Even though it is likely to weigh down this post, I’m going to share with you a TED Talk by Rita Carter a “writer, broadcaster, and journalist who specializes in the workings of the brain.” The description of her TED Talk reads “Speaking is already in our genes. But reading is not. Until about 100 years ago most people didn't do it all. When we read fiction especially, we create new pathways in our brain. Reading 30 pages of fiction every night, gets the pathways thicker and thicker. Our brain needs a workout just like our body.”

Now I understand there’s a particular irony in promoting reading by offering a TED Talk, but I think Carter’s message is interesting. And, if you don’t have the full 15 minutes to watch this because you’re setting aside the time for a good book, just watch from about the 10-minute mark. I like what she has to say about building the brain and building one’s empathy.

Give the gift of reading to both your mind and your spirit. 

HAPPY SUMMER! HAPPY READING!

 

  • Superintendent