Kids Just Want to Come to School
Tracy Foster is the principal of Randle Highlands Elementary in Ward 7. This year, the school instituted what’s called “blended learning,” or integrating digital content with traditional teaching to personalize learning for students. Students participate in a rotational model for English Language Arts and math—one-third of that time is spent in a teacher-directed group, one-third is spent on the computer, and one-third in independent, partner, or student-led group activities such as math games or research projects.
Both student and teacher benefit from blended learning: through working on the computer, the student receives individualized lessons tailored to his or her level and speed, and the teacher receives real-time data to see how the student is progressing.
So far, results have been positive, to say the least. Advanced students in English Language Arts have doubled. Advanced students in math have increased 7 times over.
Principal Foster shared her thoughts on this and more during an hour-long interview at the school, home of the Randle Highlands Hornets.
On what she’s proud of:
I am proud of our teachers. I’m proud of the way they were able to implement our digital learning program. I’m proud of our school culture that allows learning to happen on a regular basis. But what I’m most proud of is the fact that the kids honestly like coming to school here. Our student satisfaction rate is above 90 percent. Kids just want to come to school. That really means a lot to me. Over the winter break, all the kids just wanted to come to school. On the last day of school year, kids were literally crying. Kids who didn’t normally cry, cried too—I mean, kids were crying everywhere. I’ve never seen that in all my years.
On making school fun:
We try to build an intrinsic love of learning, but I also like to give big incentives. I really believe in making school fun. One year, for the first day of school, I hired actors dressed as Disney characters and Marvel Comics superheroes to greet students as they entered the building. Our honor roll children have gone ice skating or laser tagging. We’ve gone bowling. Our kids have gone to the White House. And it’s not just the honor roll kids. If you make a 10 percent increase in your interims [district assessments given every 6 weeks] you get rewards too, such as trips. I don’t believe in giving little incentives, but I do believe in big ones. And when we do celebrate, we celebrate it big.
On technology in the classroom:
I’m from Silicon Valley. It’s hard for me to envision schools, institutions of learning, or businesses without computers.
Blended learning helps us tailor a lesson specifically to what the child needs. For example, a teacher might be teaching how to reduce fractions. But if a student can’t divide, he or she can’t reduce a fraction. The computer program adjusts difficulty based on student performance, and at some point can even re-teach the skill of the basic dividing. If we see a student repeating a lesson over and over, you might want to adjust the level of the material. It gives real time data, daily. We don’t have to wait for an interim to come out.
The kids are completely engaged. You walk into a classroom, and they are so focused and engaged on their digital learning.
When students log on, they will see their goals, where they need to be, where they are going, what their lesson is. The technology is a huge mechanism that lets teachers work with students one on one. It protects the time that the teacher has, and helps students work purposefully.
A memorable moment:
I had a 4th grader last year who came from another country. She said she didn’t want to grow up to clean houses like her mom. She appreciated school so much that she saved up her allowance and bought Georgetown Cupcakes for the entire staff. The same little girl had a fundraiser and donated the money to the school. The fact that she could see so much value in education at such a young age was something special. She was quiet at first, but she just blossomed into a whole other student. She was one of the most appreciative children I’ve ever met my entire life.
Hopes for the future:
I hope our school will provide students with foundational skills that will allow students to take advantage of every opportunity presented to them. Regardless if it’s in middle school, high school, college or later in life, it’s our civic duty and responsibility to enable them to be able to take advantage of any opportunity for anything they want to do.