Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Importance of Reading

As educators, one of the core beliefs we have is that ALL students can learn.  Beyond just learning, it is imperative that all students learn to learn in a way that best fits their needs.

Reading plays a pivotal part in this journey.  We hope to instill a love for reading in every student that walks through the doors at Woodbrook Elementary School.  This passion for reading must be modeled by peers, teachers, and administrators alike.

Having said that, reading can be challenging.  In addition to being a challenge, many of our students have difficulty finding books that engage their minds.  Books that move them to laughter, tears, joy, sadness, and eagerness.  This, sadly, is especially true of boys.

Our passion to build lifelong readers is not built around an end-of-the-year Standards of Learning test.  We do this to not meet the quarterly and yearly literacy benchmarks.  We do this because reading is an essential life skill for all students.  Reading opens doors and windows to new worlds and adventures.  It teaches you about history, science, love, hurt, compassion, empathy, etc.

The more kids see other kids reading, the more it becomes embedded in their day-to-day lives.  Likewise, the more kids see adults in the building reading, the more they see reading as a lifelong enjoyment more than a certain part of school.  In short, we don't want reading to be a homework assignment or a chore.  We want reading to be a choice, a hobby, a passion.

Recently, Piper Gary, our music teacher, sent out an email with great information about teaching reading to kindergarten through third grade students.  You can view the site she shared below.

Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade

She also shared an infographic that has been making its way through the Internet for years.  It is a great reminder of how important reading is.

While we are aiming to promote reading as an important lifelong skill and passion, we also realize many students don't see it as such.  For those students, we must figure out a way to help them see the value in reading. The illustration above shows them the academic value in reading every night but often that is not enough.  We need to help them see the authentic value and importance of reading.  It is our job to help bridge that gap between school and the real world. 

The picture/tweet above shows a first grader who was authentically engaged in reading.  He was reading a book of his choice and loving it.  His excitement to read for an audience was amazing.  We need to be able to capture this moments more often in the classroom.  If and when students are more engaged in the reading process, they will do it more often without being prompted.  Amazingly, the author of the book being read by the first grader responded to the tweet.  When the first grader saw Steve Antony's response, he smiled from ear-to-ear and was totally enthused that he cared about him. 

This was a powerful learning moment for the student and many staff members as well.  As we move forward, we will continue to learn new strategies and methods to engage authentic reading inside and outside the classroom.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Happy New Year

“Looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely build the future.”  Paulo Freire

As one year comes to a close and another begins, it is imperative that we, as educators, reflect upon the year that was.  There are accomplishments to celebrate from 2017 and also many things to look forward to in 2018. Even so, with all the positive changes happening at Woodbrook, we are also keenly aware of the challenges that we have faced over the last year and will continue to face moving into 2018.  But it is in each of these challenges that we look more deeply at our current practices to help us make well informed decisions that will ensure a high quality learning environment for every student.

As a staff, we are collectively working together to better understand our strengths and identify those areas that continue to require us to learn and grow so that we can better serve the Woodbrook students and school community.  Currently, each member of the Woodbrook staff is evaluating their personal values and beliefs as educators.  This process of self-reflection will eventually lead us on a journey to developing a new Woodbrook vision and mission statement.  This is an exciting way to welcome a new year and a new Woodbrook.  

As winter break begins, we hope that you have an amazing holiday celebrating with family and friends.  Woodbrook is an incredible school filled with many different cultures and traditions.  It is those different cultures and traditions that make each and every student at Woodbrook unique.  As a staff, we value the differences amongst the students and understand that the more we appreciate and comprehend those differences, the better educators we will become.  We also value the important relationship that must be built between our Woodbrook families and our staff.  Consistent communication and collaboration between the two sides is vitally important, and we will continue to improve our school to home communication procedures.  

Our students were first taught by their families and that education carries on.  Now, it is our job to work together to help every student move forward in their academics and character education.  Each week, we have new words of the week to help foster a community of learners who value each other.  The last word before the new year is generosity.  Generosity doesn’t have to solely relate to money or wealth.  It can also represent time, effort, love, kindness, and understanding.  These are all attributes that we want every student at Woodbrook have before moving on to middle school.  

The coming year will bring many exciting changes to Woodbrook.  Some of those changes will take hold before the 2017-2018 school year comes to a close.  For example, it is likely that the new gymnasium and open-space classroom in the back will be ready in the spring.  This will enable our staff to utilize those spaces as a training ground for the upcoming school year.  Over the past 6 months, many Woodbrook teachers have traveled to see similar classrooms across the country.  Recently, we took a team of 10 Woodbrook teachers and travelled to the Northeast to see multiage schools and to learn from educators who are teaching in multi-age classrooms.  Those trips will continue in 2018 so that more staff has an opportunity to see these spaces at work.  In addition, Michael Thornton will be leading professional development sessions on co-teaching and multiage education.  We know that many of our families want to learn more about the multi-age and open space instructional approach. We hope that once everyone returns from break, you will consider dropping in to visit our classrooms so that you can see first hand what teaching and learning looks like in this kind of environment. If this sounds like something that you are interested in doing, please feel to reach out to the administrative team to arrange for a visit. We know we have a long way to go but we believe in this work and will continue learn and grow in order to make our school a success.  John Dewey said, “Education, therefore, is the process of living and not a preparation for future living.”  We are looking into the future to prepare for what will be but we are also looking in the mirror to see what is.  Happy Holidays to all and we will see in you 2018.  Happy New Year!!

Principal                Assistant Principal
Lisa Molinaro         Michael Thornton

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Kindergarten students "Making" and critically thinking about how to get an apple from a tree without climbing

Connecting with the School Community and Beyond

Over the last few weeks, Woodbrook and the Woodbrook PTO has hosted numerous events to bring the community into our school.  Whether is was a PTO Family Dinner Night, Book Fair, a school-wide morning meeting open to the community, a grade-level learning event, or a field trip, we, as school leaders, know the importance of having a school with open doors.  We want parents and local community members to feel at home at Woodbrook. Even a local news TV station, CBS 19, did a story on our school community raising money for a high school in Houston,  Their school was horribly damaged from a recent hurricane. The first night of a parent-teacher conferences went very well.  It is great to have parents come in and talk with the teachers and their children about their journey at Woodbrook.  There will be more on Student Led Conferences in a future blog post.

Also, we were fortunate to have Virginia Delegate David Toscano visited our 1/2 multiage classroom to learn more about the YouVille project they are completing.  The second grade and 1/2 multiage project concluded with a student success night on Monday, October 30th.  Parents came and learned about all the cool projects the students had put together.

At our first school-wide morning meeting, we had community members celebrating with us.  We Skyped with a high school in Houston, Texas that had been hurt by the hurricane.  Our school community raised money to help them.

Skyping with high school in Houston

PTO Family Dinner Night

4/5 multiage trip to Monticello. Parents attended the trip and learned along with the students.
Global Maker Day

Global Maker Day was on October 24.  It was a lot of fun.  For us, it was a pleasure to walk the school and see all the creative learning opportunities happening throughout the school.  When students are given a chance to be think critically while being creative, magic can happen.  The pictures below and the video are great examples of this.

Video of student in second grade making a homemade fidget spinner.  
Build a Rectangular Prism: Starbucks on wheels...yes please.  Critical thinking!!! 

4/5 students were asked to make a rectangular prism.

Learning with Mr. Thornton on how to use Audacity in the classroom.  Trying to make music. 

Making a mix-matched animal

1st grade students are working on building their community: Charlottesville

This week in the classroom...


After returning from our field trip to the apple orchard the students learned that they should not climb or shake the tree to get the apples. We proposed this problem: Show us with these various materials how you can get the reddest apples of the top of the tree without climbing or shaking the tree.
The students work in teams for over to an hour with very little help from any adult creating ladders, trampolines, trained birds and butterflies to retrieve the apples.  They cooperated, shared, communicated, created, problem solved and most of all had fun.  I love when I can be the observer of problem solving and creating.  All students were engaged, happy and so very proud of what they created.  This was one of my favorite days last week.

1st Grade

During Global Maker Day our students had the challenge of creating a mini-marble run. We watched a few short video clips of pinball machines, shared a teacher created run, and they were off making. The children were incredibly invested in their own projects and in sharing them with their classmates. It was a joyful moment of careful creativity!

While working on ST Math this week, many students came across some challenging concepts. While there is teacher support at this time, there are at times more students in need of help than adults available to help! When RM became frustrated with a particular puzzle, EM exclaimed, “I can help with that!” It was a beautiful moment of empathy, of kindness, and most important of student as teacher and leader!

1/2 Multiage and Second Grade

In second grade our students have been putting the finishing touches on their YouVille products for the maker market on Monday night.  They also completed their final copies of their YouVille stories, which they will also be sharing with the community at the market. Each student has created their own business and a good or service to present at the market to earn money to go on a field trip later this winter.    

3rd grade

It has been an exciting couple of weeks in our 3rd grade community! We celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month, attended a classical concert, and participated in Global Maker Day. During Hispanic Heritage Month we used technology to travel to various Hispanic countries and learn about their food, sports, music, and art. The culminating activity was a fiesta with crafts, food, and a piƱata. We also attended classical music concert at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Performing Art Center where student listened to a pianist and violinist. Students had an opportunity to hear from performers about their instruments and their style of music. Finally, we participated in Global Maker Day. Students cooperated in teams to solve a marshmallow tower challenge and a mystery challenge. During our reflection time student engineers discussed what worked, challenges they faced, and how they would revise their designs. It has truly been an amazing couple of weeks with building community, stretching our minds, and working together in 3rdgrade!

4/5 Multiage

This week, 4/5 loved getting to face off in rap battles, Powhatan vs. Colonists. Students were assigned in groups to be rapping from either the colonist or Powhatan perspective. Students then collaborated to write and choreograph raps that emphasized the strengths of their assigned group, while shedding light on the weaknesses of the other. The activity helped us explore and experience the hot and cold relationship between these important groups of early Jamestown.

New Teacher Interview
Taryn Clark

Where were you born?  
I was born in Williamsburg, Virginia.

How long have you been teaching?
This is my 5th year teaching but the first year that I am privileged enough to teach Spanish. 

Why did you want to learn to speak Spanish?
When I first was introduced to Spanish in middle school I became fascinated with not only the language but also the Hispanic culture. It quickly became my favorite subject in high school and I knew I wanted to continue studying it in college. It was fun to switch from learning Spanish to learning in Spanish. Spanish has been a very useful language that I have been able to use in both travel and everyday life.

Have you ever traveled to a Hispanic country? 
I have been to three! I studied abroad in Spain, have been to Nicaragua three times, and traveled to Mexico. I am very eager to make it somewhere in South America next.

What is something about you that you want all your students to know? 
Language is a very powerful tool! Not only is learning another language important but it is also important to think about how you use words every day to communicate with others, share your learning and ideas, and express your feelings in a respectful way. Your language is a part of what makes you who you are.

Are there any other neat facts about yourself that you would like to share? 
Another thing I love about language is song lyrics! I have a strange ability to remember song lyrics, even ones from my childhood. So all those songs from boy bands in the 1990s...I still know them.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Lifelong Learning

School administrators have many hats to wear.  Each day brings new and exciting challenges that allow us to connect with students and staff on many different levels.  It is these connections that enable us to grow as educators and leaders.

This is especially true with the new instructional methods being established at Woodbrook along with the new construction.  Even though our days are filled with many different responsibilities, it is imperative that we, as school leaders, step back, stop, listen, and learn.

This last week, an instructional change happened within our 4/5 multiage classrooms.  After receiving feedback from students, teachers, staff, and the community, we decided to decrease class size by creating a new 4/5 multiage classroom.  This means that we currently have two open-space multiage 4/5 classrooms and two 4/5 classrooms in single classroom learning spaces.  Our goal is to serve every student.  Part of that service is giving them the best opportunity to learn in a classroom that best suits their needs.

Mr. Thornton has been spending mostly all day in the 4/5 multiage classrooms.  He is working directly with the teachers planning lessons and activities.  Mr. Thornton is also teaching lessons in each of the classes. He is working with the students teaching whole group and small group lessons.

We stress to the students and the staff that lifelong learning is an essential part of everyday life.  Understanding the value of lifelong learning should be modeled to our learners so that they begin to embrace learning as part of life not just part of "school".  This week was a perfect example of lifelong learning.

The changes we have made have helped develop a new start for the students and the teachers alike  Over the last week, students have been making, creating, and learning while using collaboration and critical thinking to share their work with the school community.  Below are a few examples of the work being done over the last week.

Photo Gallery: 4/5 Multiage
Students started to use Google Voice in the classroom.  This has increased engagement in writing.
Google Voice is offering an alternative which is helping them produce more. One student said, "Writing is a whole lot more fun when I don't have to use a pencil." #Winning 
Comfort matters.  When students feel comfortable in their learning environment, they will perform better overall.

Students are utilizing space to put themselves in the best place to learn.

Student rebuilt a ipod by soldering batteries to the ipod. He shared this with his classmates. 

It is also imperative that students have an opportunity to express themselves.  A passion for learning is helped by giving them an avenue to share their gifts. 
These students are learning about the importance of Jamestown by playing a game that lets them play John Smith.
Students are learning about 2 digit times 2 digit multiplication. These students are using arrays as a strategy to find a product.

Students are starting to learn about slavery at Jamestown.
In VA Studies, the students are reviewing the regions of Virginia.  This student is making a map of Virginia on a white board table. 
Students are using the ClearTouch boards to engage their learning and share their creativity.  
Students and teachers working together to learn how to use Audacity.
Students are moving more while also playing a game they love. 

Students are writing film scripts and making props before they film their video. 
Together as a school community, we will continue to learn.  We will continue to grow and develop new ideas that enhance student learning.  We will foster creativity and challenge students to be critical thinkers.  We will collaborate together so that all voices are heard and every student feels safe and comfortable in their learning community.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Responsive Classroom and The C.A.R.E.S. Traits

At Woodbrook Elementary School, we follow the core principles of Responsive Classroom.  
What is Responsive Classroom?  "Responsive Classroom is an evidence-based approach to elementary and middle school teaching that focuses on the strong link between academic success and social-emotional learning (SEL)."

The Responsive Classroom method was developed by classroom teachers.  At its core, it is a way of teaching that emphasizes social, emotional, and academic growth.  The skills that are directly and explicitly taught include cooperation, assertion, respect/responsibility, empathy, and self-control (CARES).  
The CARES traits are taught directly and indirectly through morning meetings as well as other times during the day.  This is one of the reasons it is very important students arrive to school on time, so they can be part of the instruction and practice.  

Over the past two weeks, the students have been focusing on ASSERTION.  This week, our Word of the Week is Respect.  We continuously ask our students to observe the world around them for examples of respect, and encourage you to do the same when they are at home. Respect is not something that we are born with, but is an explicitly taught trait. Young children use the words and actions of all those around them to help develop an understanding of what respect is and is not. We hope that you will take time to talk with your child about all the ways he/shows respect in and out of school, as well as the ways the others show respect to him/her. Just this one small action step of talking with your child about this trait shows that it is important!

1/2 Multiage Update by Mrs. Dion and Ms. Sullivan
Our first month in our multiage classroom has been such an amazing experience to witness. While at first, younger students were clearly hesitant to work with older, and visa versa, now, when you walk into our classroom, collaboration and cooperation between age levels is seen constantly. After such a strong start, we are so excited to see how our classroom family continues to develop throughout the year, and how we will continue to work together to support one another towards success.

Back to School Night
We want to thank all the parents who attended Back to School Night.  This annual event allows every classroom teacher the opportunity to explain the expectations for their class. It is also a time to give the State of the School Address.  If you missed Back to School Night, the State of the School address will be posted on the Woodbrook webpage.  Furthermore, if you missed the event, please connect with your child's teacher to get informed on what you missed.  Here are a few pictures from the annual event. 

New Teacher Interview: Adam Reinhard-Art Teacher

Where are you from? 
I was born in New Hampshire, but my family moved to Salem, VA when I was 9, so while I absolutely love New England, I consider myself to be southern at heart. I say ‘y’all’, I consider barbeque to be its own food group, and I am quickly losing the ability to weather a winter where the temperature dips below 32 degrees.
What was your favorite cartoon growing up? 
I was of the Rugrats and Doug generation.  I loved Scooby Do too, but in all honesty I am a big scaredy-cat, and sometimes the villains would scare me.  That is embarrassing to admit.  To this day, I still won’t watch horror movies.
When did you realize that you loved art?
My mother is a commercial artist, so growing up she was always working on artwork for clients.  In pre-Photoshop days, if she made a mistake on a project there was no ‘undo’ button, so she had to start over, which meant that I got to finish a lot of these really awesome partially-finished works of art.  I was frustrated that the part that I had drawn did not look as good as the part that my mother had drawn, and I resolved to get better at art.
How many years have you been teaching? 
This will be my sixth year of teaching.  I taught for three years in high school in Washington, DC and then for two years at an International Baccalaureate middle school.  This is my first year teaching elementary school!
What made you consider teaching art as a profession? 
I have been fortunate to have some really talented art teachers and professors in middle school, high school, college and graduate school.  I enjoyed school very much, but especially my art classes, so when I finished graduate school it seemed a natural progression for me to get my teaching license and see if I could be that teacher for a future generation of art students.
Who is your favorite artist?  Why? 
It is easier to pick a favorite artist before you study art, because you just go based on what you see in front of you; after studying artists and their narratives it is easy to find a way to like almost any work of art. But I think for purely aesthetic reasons, a long-standing favorite of mine is Andy Warhol.  When I discovered his art in high school I felt like my whole opinion of art changed.  Here was an artist who did very little drawing in the traditional sense, and yet he made world-famous artwork that is worth millions of dollars.  In fact, his appropriation of news-paper images, and use of photographic images in his work made me realize that anyone can make good art if you have an idea to explore.  Besides, his artwork is just fun to look at.   
If you could pick one famous piece of art to have in your home, what would it be? Why? 
Well, now that I just talked about Andy Warhol, I definitely have to pick one of his artworks, don’t I?  Andy Warhol did this thing where he took items and celebrities from pop culture and turned their likenesses into works of art.  My favorite are his Campbell’s Soup Can series.  He did 20 of them in 1965 which explored different exciting color combinations.  I love the idea that a wall of Campbell’s soup in the grocery store might not be art, but by appropriating the image and putting it on a canvas magically turns it into art – this was one of the first demonstrations for me that art is simply an idea…

The Woodbrook students continue to be amazed and curious about the construction happening on campus.  Everyday, students are asking Why, What and How questions about the work being done.  We are working with the construction crew to find those answers.  

The Importance of Reading

As educators, one of the core beliefs we have is that ALL students can learn.  Beyond just learning, it is imperative that all students lear...