April 7th, 2012

Not quite Downton Abbey but take a look at this wonderful old photo of what looks like the like the servants in front of what was then known as Cliffdale - the home of the Kenyon family - in Poughkeepsie, New York.

April 7th, 2012


Middle School Learning Community

As most people around PDS now know we are about to take a strip of rather gloomy but good-sized classrooms, capture  a sun-filled corridor and extend the space into the outdoors as part of a redesigned learning community for grades 6 through 8.

Prakash Nair is a founder of Fielding Nair International, an award winning school design company.  Last year FNI consultants worked with trustees„ faculty and administration to help design this new space. You can see some of the preliminary drawings and ideas here.

Whenever I begin describing this people usually get both excited and concerned. Excited because the project sounds wonderfully freeing, shiny and new. Worried because invariably someone has a personal memory of a failed open classroom experiment from an earlier decade.

While this project is about breaking down walls it is primarily about  creating spaces that enable and enhance rather than control and inhibit options for learning.

I’ve started a collection of photographs on Pinterest about how and where and with whom and what children at PDS learn. Yes they learn sitting at a desk in a classroom listening to a teacher but that “information delivery system” is just a small part of the picture.

This design expands the amount of available learning space by incorporating the “dead” space of the sunny corridor through creating rooms that can be opened up and from where children can spill as the learning needs dictate. (Rather in the way the Chapman Room is often used now by classes and groups.)

Our design for learning has always been a constructivist. Children start from what they know and through action, interaction and engagement  with ideas and objects they build new understandings and skills.

We need  space that allows for the kinds of work our teachers and learners already do. In the middle school children learn in large groups,

Algebra Study Group

small groups and by themselves. They learn in places that are full of buzz and humming with activity and they learn where quiet allows for contemplation and reflection. They learn at desks, on the floor, curled up, stretched out, on the move and sitting down. They learn from books, at screens,  from teachers and with each other. They use text books, modelling clay, laptops, pencils, interactive white boards, paper, paint and potting soil. They learn by listening, talking, trying, playing, moving,  tinkering, debating, struggling, performing, failing, memorizing, watching, writing, creating, rehearsing and becoming themselves

They learn science, history, language, poetry, geography, art, music, robotics, design, self expression, appreciation, ethics, empathy and all the infinite variety that goes into what it means to be human and to learn, to laugh, to live and to care. They learn to belong and to be part of a community at school and the world.

If that is what middle schoolers do, then we need the best possible spaces where it can happen. We need form to follow function and to do so in ways that stimulate the imagination, stir curiosity and allow for children to do the work they need to do.

Prakash Nair thinks effective learning environments should support an education that is:

(1) personalized;

(2) safe and secure;

(3) inquiry-based;

(4) student-directed;

(5) collaborative;

(6) interdisciplinary;

(7) rigorous and hands-on;

(8) embodying a culture of excellence and high expectations;

(9) environmentally conscious;

(10) offering strong connections to the local community and business;

(11) globally networked;

and (12) setting the stage for lifelong learning.

What do you think?

From the very start back in 1934 PDS has defined the purpose of education as more than standardized test scores. It saw then, and we see now, the need to provide a quality of learning life that will enable children to grow as educated citizens with the aptitudes, attitudes and skills to navigate a fast-changing world. Such an education is possible inside traditional classrooms. But how wonderful to imagine spaces where what we do and want to accomplish are supported rather than confined by design.

(via Blog | The Compass Point)

Reblogged from The Learning Life
February 19th, 2012

What if…? (Part Two)

This is second half of the #Educon inspired What if? conversations recording the jotted notes of faculty and staff sharing and learning from last Friday. The first question and our responses are here. The second question was:

2). What if students were able to choose what demonstrations of learning they shared with the public and/or their parents? And the responses:

  • Own choice leads to confidence
  • Greater ownership
  • Different perspectives
  • Better ability to reflect on their own work and what they value
  • Ability to articulate about themselves as learners
  • Teaching design, digital creativity
  • Building an understanding of balance
  • Building a skill for giving feedback —>need feedback from teachers, parents, peers…
  • Inspiration to create/share based on peers’ sharing
  • Parents would understand our program in more detail
  • They would be practicing metacognitive discernment
  • Create more reflective students
  • Become famous as a school
  • Students would be able to revisit & continue to work from from year to year
  • Teachers would be familiar with their students before meeting them
  • Students would make evolving cognitive connections
  • “Whole-child”
  • Teachers can see student progress throughout the year
  • Video/Talk/CD
  • Show progress
    • Visual
    • Monitoring
    • Reporting
  • Own their own learning
  • Might be more self-reflective
  • Might be more “accountable” to others - (is this a good thing?)
  • Not all learning can be captured as a tangible thing and “demonstrated as a product
  • Might help to show a process/progress

That’s a pretty exciting, extensive and very thought-provoking list. It’s thrilling to be in the company of educators so willing and able to take on the task of speculation and forward imagining.

Amazing how even such a short exercise can provoke such sharing and depth. Great stuff and an exercise that - speaking for myself - I would have been happy to continue for the rest of the day and beyond.

I’m intrigued by the comment “Become famous as a school”. Fact is that while all this sounds easy to do and very much the right thing it is not so easy in practice. Being famous is not much of an end in itself but schools that hew to a mission grounded in doing the now and next right things deserve to be known and celebrated.

It would mean some radical changes in how we collectively think about assessment and what matters. It would mean trusting the learner in a time of heightened anxiety about accountability, core curriculum, testing and standards.

It would mean embarking on a deliberate pathway and process to arrive at that destination involving not just faculty and parents but colleges and colleagues. It would mean staring down a pride of naysayers.

And most of all it would take conversation and effort and research and experimentation and exploration.

It would, in fact, mean being bold.

Will Richardson has been on a search for “bold schools” and exploring the idea of what bold schools should be and could be.

But that is fodder for another post. Anon.    

December 23rd, 2011

Congratulations to Elizabeth Moulic ‘08

Awarded The Rousseau Prize at Smith College. This prize is awarded annually to a member of the junior or senior class studying with the Smith College program in Geneva. The prize was established by members of the French department and other friends in honor of Denise Rochat upon her retirement from Smith College in December 2006.

This photograph was taken at the Poughkeepsie Day School 75th Anniversary Gala at Locust Grove in June 2009.

December 21st, 2011


As if you needed another reason for attending college, photos of some of the most beautiful libraries.  As someone who grew up in Portugal I am thrilled to see that the “most” beautiful library is at the University of Coimbra in central Portugal. Having done research there while in graduate school I can confirm that indeed it is a source of inspiration.  I’m also very happy to see that our neighbor Vassar College comes in at number nine. Many of the libraries noted in this article are at colleges and universities where PDS alums are currently studying or have studied, and where current PDS seniors will be studying next year.

Reblogged from PDS College Counseling
December 16th, 2011

Cookie cutter kids: “Send us your winners…

…and we’ll make winners out of them”

There’s a good article in the latest edition of Independent School magazine that challenges some cherished notions of excellence and the hypocrisy of so many claims about diversity, equity and justice.

It is starts with a question and a well-aimed slice at the euphemisms of so many school mission statements.

What does it mean when a school, having rejected a child who applied for admission, explains that he or she just “isn’t a good fit” (or “match”) with the school? In some cases, sure, the phrase would seem appropriate — for example, if there’s a marked discrepancy between the school’s and the family’s religious orientations, or if the school is committed to progressive education while the parents demand grades, quizzes, worksheets, and traditional discipline.

More commonly, though, it’s not clear at all how the decision to prevent a child from enrolling is best described as a lack of fit, particularly if the school’s goals and priorities (a) correspond to what most parents (including these) are looking for, and (b) can’t easily be distinguished from those of other schools. Try to imagine an admission director saying something like this to an applicant:

Well, you know, here at Tweedle-Dee School, we believe in “guiding our students to reach their optimum potential intellectually, physically, and socially” — so I’m afraid this really isn’t the right place for you. Perhaps you’d be happier at Tweedle-Dum Academy across town, which, in contrast to us, offers a “rigorous college-preparatory education in a caring and attentive school community.”1

Kohn follows this up with  the school admissions testing practices and an irrefutable truth about standardized tests:

It’s particularly painful when schools that think of themselves as progressive, child-centered, alternative, or otherwise enlightened continue to require prospective students to take one of these tests when they apply. Their rhetoric says, “We look at children as individuals and are committed to 21st-century education.” Their use of these tests says, “We still haven’t let go of standardized assessment that represents a throwback to early 20th-century beliefs about intelligence and sorting.”

Here’s what we know about standardized tests in general:1

• Their results are highly correlated with socioeconomic status, to the point that they tell us less about the potential of the child than they do about the size of the house in which that child lives.

Selective school admissions means that schools end up with the children who need them the least and often with a very narrow band of intellectual abilities. So much for mission statements about equity and justice and diversity.

Consider a conversation that the education theorist Martin Haberman reported having with his grandson’s kindergarten teacher at a selective school. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to admit the children who don’t know their shapes and colors, and teach them these things?” he asked. The teacher looked at him as if he were “leftover mashed potatoes,” but he persisted:

Next year, my grandson, who is already testing in your top half, will have had the added benefit of being in your class for a whole year. Won’t he learn a lot more and be even further ahead of the four-year-olds who failed your admission exam and who have to spend this year at home, or in day care, without the benefit of your kindergarten? Will the four-year-old rejects ever catch up?

This question did even less to endear him to the teacher, but Haberman by now had realized what was going on more generally, and he summarized his epiphany as follows: “The children we teach best are those who need us least.”4

Kohn concludes with this challenge to schools and educators and their faux claims to be schools of excellence:

Take a look at your school’s admissions practices. Then look at your school’s core values and the reason you personally became an educator. How’s the fit?

And if you think this is over the top then read:

Getting into the “right fit” private school Experts explain how to navigate admissions process for area’s most elite schools.

It’s a news story that makes Kohn’s case.

This is the educational consultant:

"Schools are looking for consistency in grades, attitude, testing and recommendations,"

And the test-prep tutor on the topic:

"Just like you preheat your oven, you’ve got to get your child ready for the test. Just knowing the format of the test can really help," said Anderson.

So you can get out the cookie cutter and shape your child into the prescribed and acceptable shape to be well-baked in the oven or you can come to Poughkeepsie Day School where we actually respect cognitive diversity and seek to add value to all children on their individual journeys.

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An independent pre-k - 12th school serving students in the mid-Hudson Valley