Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
@ Germantown Elementary
On Page 4 of the 2016-17 Parent-Student Handbook, our Philosophy Core Values are outlined. It reads:
The school district, in an active partnership with parents and community, will promote excellence in a caring environment in which all students learn and grow. This partnership shall empower all students to develop a strong self-esteem and to become responsible learners and decision-makers. The school district is committed to developing and using a visionary and innovative curriculum empowered by its knowledgeable and dedicated staff. The expectation for all who are a part of the Germantown Elementary experience is respect for others.
Several key words and phrases are highlighted in this statement because they are the driving force behind our continuous efforts to improve as a school district. With the transition from the ISAT test to the new, more rigorous PARCC assessment two years ago, our test results dropped significantly. As a result of the subpar results, we came to the realization that if we do what we have always done, we are going to get what we have always gotten. In today’s education world, that simply isn’t good enough. At Germantown Elementary, we take great pride in the education we provide our students. Our school district has historically ranked high among all schools in the state of Illinois where academic achievement is concerned. When we saw a substantial drop in the results, we felt we had no other choice but to take action. After all, it is our responsibility to support our students in their efforts to master the foundational skills that will help them meet the standards and be productive members of society. It is because of our commitment to providing our students with a visionary and innovative curriculum and our Bulldog pride that we have implemented some new strategies and practices this year. These changes are most notable in the junior high for two reasons. First, the data indicates a greater need for change in the junior high. Second, with several new teachers in the junior high this year, it posed the perfect opportunity to implement change. We understand that change is hard. Please know that the change we have implemented is based on research and best practices in education today.
This Frequently Asked Questions document serves to help our stakeholders understand the ‘why’ behind some of the new practices and strategies we are using.
Why are textbooks no longer the basis for all instruction? Every classroom has a spectrum of ability levels and reading levels. A textbook is written at one level. A student working above that level will be bored while a student working below that level will be overwhelmed. The textbook only meets the needs of the very few students working around the level that it is written. Instead, we pull from a variety of resources, such as Newsela and ReadWorks, that allow our teachers to differentiate instruction with leveled text that meets the needs of all students. In addition, a textbook limits a teacher to what and how they teach. It also does not have the rigor that is needed to meet the demands of the New Illinois Learning Standards. For these reasons, we still use the textbook as a resource, but it is no longer the centerpiece for all learning.
Why are we teaching the ELA standards in social studies and science? The New Illinois Learning Standards are comprised of several different strands. One of them is called Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. This strand consists of ten standards. They are assessed on the PARCC test that is administered in the spring. In fact, our results from the most recent PARCC test indicate two of our biggest areas of weakness are Reading: Literacy in Science & Technical Subjects and Reading: Literacy in History / Social Studies. The standards dictate that we teach ELA in social studies and science. Because it is an identified area of weakness for our school district, we feel obligated to do a better job of addressing these standards in the classroom. In addition to this, social studies and science are technical subjects. The informational text associated with these subjects is challenging to read. By teaching our students how to apply reading skills in science and social studies, they will be better equipped to make sense of what they are reading and communicate more effectively across all subjects.
Why is there less direct instruction by the teacher and more in the way of student-led learning with the students engaged in small group activities? Today’s children are being raised in a digitalized world where their brains are constantly stimulated by multiple streams of media. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, at the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the average attention span of a human being has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013. With this in mind, one of the reasons direct instruction is taking a back seat to student-led learning is because today’s children struggle with attending. Along with this, during direct instruction the students are passive learners. As a result, they are less likely to master what they are learning. During student-led learning, the students are engaged in lesson activities that get them doing instead of watching. We live in a sports-driven community. How does a basketball player get better at shooting free throws? They do not sit idly by listening to the coach talk about proper free throw techniques or watching the coach shoot free throws. Rather, they practice shooting free throws themselves with the coach on the sideline providing them with support. What does an effective volleyball practice look like? Does it involve the athletes sitting on the sideline watching the coach talk about the skills, or does it involve the players practicing the skills themselves with the coach providing instruction as they work? The same applies to the classroom. While the students are busy working on the skills, the teacher is providing support that helps guide them to a successful experience with the content. To gain mastery, the students must be doing instead of just listening. Lastly, by giving the students increased ownership in their learning, we are empowering them to problem-solve, think critically, and take charge of their education. Confidence is a very powerful thing. When you believe, you can achieve. We are working hard to empower our students to reach new heights with their education through student-led learning. At Germantown, student-led learning involves small group activities that get students working together collaboratively. To be successful in the real world, one must be able to successfully work with others. The skills the students learn here through small group activities will hopefully go a long way to helping them experience success in high school, college, and life in general.
Why has the focus shifted from memorization to effectively using our resources?
In today’s classroom, there is less of a focus on memorization and more of a focus on using resources effectively. Instead of the students being asked to regurgitate information they have memorized for a test, they are being asked to take what they know and apply it. Often times, they are asked to use their resources, such as a textbook or a literature book, to find examples they can apply to a question. In the real world, when we as adults don’t know the answer to a question, we have to problem solve and figure out where to go to find the answer. By teaching our students how to use their resources, our goal is to help them strengthen a skill they will use for a lifetime.
What is the purpose behind flexible seating? Flexible seating involves using a variety of seating options instead of solely utilizing desks or tables with traditional chairs in the classroom. The idea behind flexible seating is it promotes a classroom environment that is conducive to open collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. It gives students choice in how they learn. While some students like the structure of a traditional chair, others benefit from being able to release their excess energy by sitting on a yoga ball. The choice belongs to the student which is yet another way we try to empower our students where their education is concerned.
We understand that teaching and learning looks drastically different than when we were students in grade school years ago. As the times have changed so have the needs of the children. We must advance with the times if we want to meet the needs of our students. Our ultimate goal is to take this school from good to great. We feel strongly that the changes we are making will get us there, but we need everyone to believe in the process and believe in us for that to happen.
If you have any other questions that you would like addressed, please bring them to our attention. This will be a working document that we add to as needed.