Teachers Implement Traits

The traits initiative has inspired our faculty to approach their work in innovative new ways.

Maria Kaufman, Middle School Science and Mathematics Teacher:

“In my life sciences class, with seventh graders, the traits of collaboration, risk taking, and persistence are key. Recently, we began an experiment with pill bugs. Students worked in small groups to design and implement a scientific experiment to study pill bug behavior. Students had to navigate through the lab development process as a group, and come to a consensus on a path forward. Students were encouraged to take a safe risk and share their ideas, and also do something that piqued their own interest. This was an arduous process and it required perseverance. Giving up and asking for help quickly was not an option. Through our continuous discussions about good science and accurate experimental methods, students were able to find individual success in their own planning.

“What excites me about our traits initiative is the focused attention on real life-long skills. We are going beyond memorization of content. We are moving toward the process of learning how to learn. We are focusing on individuals’ strengths through the learning process, not just determining how well a list was tracked or a formula was memorized. By focusing attention on persistence, risk taking, or creativity, we are giving teachers tools to coach students to push themselves further, and move to the next step in learning. Using the eight traits as a guide will put the learning into perspective and give it relevance. The complaint of ‘when will I use this in real life?’ will no longer have merit, because everything we do will be a practice run for real life.”

Mimi Garcia, Middle School English & History Teacher:

“I believe that our new traits initiative isn’t reinventing what good teaching is. Rather, it’s about giving teachers and students a common vocabulary. As teachers, we are always looking for creativity, critical thinking, perseverance, etc., in our classrooms. Now we are just more mindful about what language to use when talking about a student’s learning. For me, being transparently direct with students about how they are being assessed is important. So, I have done a more purposeful job of including all our D-E traits on project assignments and rubrics.

“For example, as an adviser to my HomeBase I can use the traits to have a more fluid, progressive, and fulfilling conversation about each advisee’s progress. I can say, ‘I notice you are consistently not turning in your homework assignments; this means you need to focus on your daily preparation trait.’ As a teacher sometimes it’s difficult to pinpoint how to help a student because often it is unclear where he or she is struggling. A simple letter grade doesn’t really speak to the specific strengths and weaknesses of an individual student. So our traits initiative forces both teacher and student to identify factors that contribute to an overall performance evaluation. Instead of just saying, ‘I need to do better than a C,’ students gain an enhanced understanding of what learning behaviors (or traits) lead to their more successful outcomes.”

Erik Swanson, Lower School Teacher [pictured above with fifth graders “nature journaling” on Mr. Rocky’s field, which is just one activity by which the trait of organization can be measured by our faculty]:

“In our Grade 5 classrooms, we started our Word Study unit this year by focusing our discussions around some of the eight traits, specifically: perseverance, engagement, organization, and collaboration. Word Study is a way for students to improve their usage of specific vocabulary terms through varied activities and discussions. By using the traits as our source of vocabulary terms for part of this unit, students were able to gain a more personal connection and understanding of what these traits are. We explained that these are traits we want our learners at D-E to exhibit and embrace; it’s important that they have a strong sense of what these traits really mean.

“Additionally, taking a strong cue from Dr. De Jarnett’s emphasis on how ‘happy students make better learners’ and being further motivated by our [“Road to Well-Being” speaker series], as a class, we also have been practicing mindfulness. This translates into several mindful activities in the morning and periodically throughout the day. Mindful breathing, listening, and walking are several of the practices we have focused on.

“Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, boost working memory, and increase self-reflection. At its core, mindfulness is not about clearing the mind but about being present. Practicing mindfulness and being in the moment strengthens concentration and attention and supports ‘readiness to learn.’ The advantage of mindfulness is that it can be practiced by anyone at any time and is a great aid to the educational process. In the end, by practicing mindfulness we are extending support of all eight of our D-E traits!”

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