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Grey Matters, March 14, 2016; Volume 4, Number 26

posted Mar 13, 2016, 5:57 AM by Andrew Shen   [ updated Jun 24, 2016, 5:25 AM by James Marcotte ]

Hi Everyone,

In June 2001, I had just completed my first year as a high school history teacher and made summer plans that included a 10-day Outward Bound adventure out west in Dinosaur National Monument. It was pretty physically grueling though my 24-year old self was able to tolerate the scorching sun, long hikes with heavy camping gear, and even some of the cliffs that we walked along (see photo to right).  The part of the trip that almost did me in and crying “uncle” was the requirement towards the end of the adventure that each participant experience a 24-hour “solo”.  I was brought to a spot far away from everyone else, and had to remain there, by myself, for twenty-four hours, with just my water, notebook, trail mix and sleeping bag.  After about three hours, I was crawling out of my skin and time started to move very slowly (with 21 hours to go).  The end of that solo session could not come soon enough for me.  In hindsight, it did make me more aware of my tendency to rely on frequent distraction and external stimulation.  However, I will freely admit that if I found myself in a situation where I had to participate in a solo again, I’d probably run for the hills.  This memory returned to me the other day for three reasons. First, I came across an article entitled, Why Silence is Good for Your Brain, that offers some science to explain the benefits of “unplugging” and letting one’s mind wander.  Second, there are a few teachers at RJ Grey, like Ms. Watson on 8 Orange, who have taken to embedding some brief moments of meditation before or after a class, so everyone at least has a brief moment of quiet in an otherwise frenetic school day.  And finally, I think the stars are aligning to make sure more articles come across my screen (ironically, I suppose) that poke and prod me to think a bit more seriously about moderating my time online or checking my phone.  I mentioned a few weeks ago a conversation with some 7th grade students where they noted some level of hypocrisy between adult statements and practices regarding screen time.  I read an article yesterday about the results of a recent study on how families navigate use of, and time on, technology.  The most common request from kids, “set down your device, or close your screen when I am talking to you.”  I am terrible at that, and then I get unreasonably frustrated when each of my kids says, “ok, one more minute” a few dozen times when I tell them it’s time to shut off whatever device they are on.  I don’t think a 24-hour solo for my kids and me (and my wife) is the answer, but I am starting to see the potential benefits of setting for myself some hard and fast rules about checking my device. For those who may share this particular struggle, I’ll keep you posted on whether I figure something out.  

Here’s your reminders for this week:

  • Sign ups and tryouts for Spring sports is scheduled for the end of this month.  Now is the perfect time to make sure that all forms (i.e. physicals) are up to date.  Click here for the RJ Grey Athletics page.

  • On Monday, March 21, the portal for current 8th grade students to register for high school courses will be open.  By then, all students will have had conversations with their current teachers about course and level recommendations.  You can click here to view/download the directions for course selection.  I would strongly recommend that all 8th grade families review the entirety of the directions - there is information about the process for override requests that must be followed (without exception) should you wish to pursue that route. Please note that families who might need assistance with accessing the portal should use the high school contact information that is listed at the top of the instruction sheet.  

  • It’s likely that Winter Trimester report cards will be coming home with students this Friday.  Grades are being processed right now, and Friday is our target.  If anything changes, I’ll let everyone know.  

  • Thank you to Debbie Ahl and the Student Council for organizing last Friday’s student basketball tournament.  We are appreciative of the parent donations of food, and the additional on-site support we received from Tina Connors and Sarah Connors, Na Qi, and Lori Krinsky.  

MCAS! I am sharing with everyone some thoughts about MCAS, and a good portion of it is re-used from the past three years, since my/our thoughts on it haven’t really changed, along with our suggestions for how families and students should view MCAS testing relative to other aspects of the educational process.  

If the weather continues to cooperate, we begin the English/Language Arts portions of the MCAS state assessments on Monday, March 28 - so we’ve still got two weeks until it all starts.  Here is a link to the RJ Grey-specific schedule for MCAS testing in March and early April for English Language Arts, and in May for Math and Science.  If your child is absent for one of his/her testing dates, there are a number of make-up dates that we have already scheduled, and we will coordinate those make-ups with students.  When we get closer to the May dates for the Math and Science MCAS I’ll be sure to send out a reminder at that time that addresses the schedule for those days.  

At RJ Grey, we are interested in continuing to express and balance two messages to students about  MCAS.  First, we hope that students do take their participation in MCAS seriously, where they try their best and respond to the questions thoughtfully and to the best of their ability.  At the same time, we want students to know that how they perform on these tests does not define them as individuals, and as students.  It’s one type of measure (given at one point in the year), and like any single assessment, can not truly capture all that there is to know (and needs to be known) about a student’s growth as a student, and all of their other talents and strengths.  

MCAS results are provided to individual families to be reviewed; and as a school, we are responsible for addressing areas of concern that the state may identify based on our results.  So we certainly pay attention to, and we work hard to prepare students for the MCAS, along with our other assessments. However, we never want students to experience anxiety or distress over the MCAS, and to know that there is much (so much) more to one’s development as a thoughtful individual than is reflected in this particular set of assessments.  Each year, I include a link to a 2014 New York Times article entitled,  “How to Get a Job at Google” (click here) that highlights Google’s approach and philosophy to recruitment and hiring, noting a de-emphasis on test scores and GPAs as a predictor for the qualities that they seek, and instead “cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.” In a February 2105 article in the Boston Globe Magazine, a Williams College psychologist presented her ideas about how our schools’ efforts might benefit from a re-orientation of our standardized assessments around skills and qualities that, interestingly, have much overlap with the Google article.  While the author didn’t specifically make reference to Google, it was hard not to see the similarities found in her “7 Things Every Kid Should Master” (and should therefore be the focus of assessments) as she emphasized reading, collaboration, conversation, flexible thinking and use of evidence, inquiry, and well-being.  Just some food for thought as we enter this season of state assessments.  

In an effort to support students during these testing days, we hope to work with families on establishing some routines that will deliver that dual message that I describe above. We begin MCAS testing about 15 minutes after homeroom so we can provide some time to make sure that all students have a chance to settle down and, quite frankly, have the chance to eat something.  If you have time at home, please think about making sure your child has a good breakfast before leaving -- taking a 2+ hour test on an empty stomach can be tough for some (count me as one of them).  If you don’t have time, please feel free to send your child in with some food that they can eat during that brief period before testing begins.  To repeat my plea from previous years, in the interest of avoiding a mess, please don’t send your kids in with a Grand Slam Breakfast from Denny’s, but some water or juice, a muffin, fruit or yogurt.  We will also be providing each room with enough food (water, breakfast bars and other options) for students who didn’t have the opportunity to eat at home, or able to bring something on their own.

Finally, we had our latest installment of Poetry Fridays at the end of last week.  Mr. Malloy offered us a poem by Danusha Lameris who invites us to see beauty in the very ordinary pigeon.  For those who want to read “Pigeons” from Lameris’ first collection of poems entitled, The Moons of August, click here.  

Have a great week, everyone.