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Checking In A Quarterly Communication

Spring 2014



Interacting Across Traditional Age Lines by MART Y GRAVETT, DIRECTOR OF EARLY CHILDHOOD & OUTREACH

Do you remember when you were little and you followed an older sibling around or when your favorite thing was to play with an older kid in your neighborhood? My brother and I were of the generation whose fathers fought in World War II. Four years older, my brother played war constantly with his buds with foxholes and bunkers, rifles and grenades. I can remember occasionally being accepted into this play by my brother’s age-mate, Annie; I hid with Annie behind dirt hills, waiting for the “enemy” and making plans to “charge.” Close to Annie, I felt mentored and competent — included and a part of something I couldn’t create on my own. While the experience was rich in learning for me, I feel sure Annie, too, benefited from having her competence and leadership accepted. History Inspired This Approach The inherent possibilities in mixing age groups — both relational and cognitive — explain Sabot’s long history of encouraging cross-age interaction. Forty years ago, Sabot’s open plan allowed for children, aged three to five, to be together all morning. When the school doubled in size, safety and accountability demanded new systems. Teachers, however, kept the desire for cross-age interaction at the heart of program planning. The Note System Sabot’s early system of allowing children to move freely evolved into our now well-ensconced note system. When children want to visit outside their classrooms, teachers scaffold* them in writing notes. Primed to find ways to help children cross age lines, teachers look for chances to propose children visit another classroom or the Studio, where they will find children older or younger than themselves. Do they need a book the classroom doesn’t have? Have they built with the last hollow block they are using to construct a house and would another classroom have some similar blocks to loan? Sometimes children are willing to make this foray on their own; sometimes they need a teacher or a Star Parent to accompany them. But in every case, the journey starts with the belief that reaching out to others of different ages, to others we don’t know so well, is worth the effort. And in every case it is facilitated by the dictation of a note. The Studio With the adoption of the Reggio Emilia approach, the Studio became a daily province for cross-age interaction. Children from the 5-year-old classroom found themselves in the studio alongside 2-1/2-year-olds. Friendships were made, project ideas became contagious, and

offers of help were extended. It turns out the development of competence is contagious, too. This interaction continues unabated to this day and now preschoolers, lower school students, and middle school students find themselves working side by side. One Campus With the preschool, lower school, and middle school together on one campus, the possibilities for involving older and younger children in the lives of one another are exponential. Curious middle schoolers now stop to talk to preschoolers as they pass through the garden. These natural interactions inspired teachers to plan more sustained interactions. The Martin Luther King Day of Service became a catalyst for this sort of effort. The Studio teacher offers projects deliberately intended to lead children to connect with one another. In 2013, it was a large fabric weaving and in 2014, a peace pole. Because reading inspires us all, we have also celebrated Martin Luther King Day by giving the lower and middle school children time to look at books on peace, friendship, and the life of Dr. King and then to bring those books to read to the preschool children. In the second year of this effort, the fifth graders decided they wanted to continue this experience and became reading buddies with the preschoolers. Once a week, they would arrive and, two or three to a classroom, they would read. This year, the third grade has made the same commitment to the Rainbow Room. Clearly, this is the sort of experience that not only enhances the school’s culture of literacy but also contributes substance to the literary life of both age groups.

*Scaffolding is a concept teachers use in social-constructivist education to describe the small amount of help offered to children in order to help them accomplish something nearly within their range of competency or ability.


Preschoolers invite lower school students to join their imaginative chase game Fans and Guns. Writing later, a fourth grader reflected, “It’s playing a game that everyone likes but no dying, so everyone can always play.”

How Sabot Pursues this Approach Today At the heart of this approach is the belief that humans of every age have much to offer each other. In the wider culture, we see evidence of this in the younger generation showing the older how to use and manage technology.

a human figure. In addition, even with teacher inquiries, Charlie insisted the figure did not need a distinct and identifiable head. Several months later Charlie took on a teacher-provoked challenge of trying to make paper stand up; first she created a table which morphed (from her perspective) into a chair. The teacher reminded her that she had the paper Renae who could sit in the chair. Unexpectedly, Charlie was motivated to add a head and a number of separate, albeit wild strands of hair, and to affix the figure to the chair. Looking at the completed construction, she told her teacher, “This is Renae with static hair in her relaxing chair.” A Preschool Game The five year olds, in their annual struggle to recognize and understand gender, developed a game of Fans and Guns, in which the boys’ weapons were no more powerful than the large paper fans the girls created. The class invited their fifth grade reading buddies to play one day and then Julia (5) decided she wanted to play the game with her cousin, an eighth grader. An invitation to the eighth grade eventually

Honoring the value of service, a lower school student reads to preschoolers on Martin Luther King Day. A third grader joins preschoolers in the Rainbow Room fireplace for a cozy read.

From our perspective, differences in age do not confirm automatic rights or respect; instead, there is an implicit understanding that all humans deserve respect and that what they offer one another is not always age-dependent. A Four-Year-Old is Inspired to Represent We know passion drives representation, and we see how passion for a friendship with an older child can be vital in a child’s developing her abilities to represent and articulate. Interested in an older child, Charlie (4) sought out Renae (5) by writing notes — with the teachers’ help — to go to Renae’s classroom to play. One day, in her own classroom, Charlie decided to use paper to represent Renae. Her class was exploring paper; the teachers encouraged children to use a variety of shapes and qualities of paper to develop facility with the medium with the goal of helping them acquire paper as a language of representation. Interestingly though, no other child in the classroom had yet attempted

led to an invitation to each of the lower and middle school classes. While the game seemed to have no discernible object and no rules, the sixth graders got it right off — you chase and are chased. They joined in with abandon, eager to reclaim their inner child and their generous playful selves. And so the evolution of cross-age interactions at Sabot tells a compelling story — children can scaffold one another and that support travels both ways. When older and younger children spend time together, they strengthen each other’s spoken language, written language, and the hundred other languages of expression. They expand one another’s understandings, they broaden each other’s social skills, and they encourage new and challenging perspectives. And while they are unselfconsciously forging personal connections and refining cognition across age groups, Sabot students demonstrate that human strengths are realized in many ways at many ages.


The Fourth Grade Creates a Mural by SUSAN BARSTOW, DIRECTOR OF STUDIES

For the past several years, our fourth graders have initiated big, long-term projects; with support from their teacher, Melanie Nan, and a great deal of collaborative effort and strife, they have planned, organized, built, adapted, and completed these ambitious projects over the course of several months. One year, their study of water and weather coincided with the terrible Japanese tsunami; the students shifted their curricular focus to learning about hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, and plate tectonics. Another year, the fourth graders found their trailer classroom too confining, so they planned and built — from natural materials they found in the forest — a large outdoor classroom, which they used almost daily for the rest of the year. None of this has been easy. Nine- and ten-year-olds are in the throes of selfdevelopment, right smack-dab in the middle of the journey from the total dependency of infancy to the selfdetermination of late adolescence and adulthood. Paradoxically, child development experts characterize nineand ten-year-olds as both increasingly self-centered and increasingly connected to one another. The bridge between these two conflicting modes seems to be what Daniel Goleman calls “intentionality” — the wish and capacity to have an impact. Each year, we have witnessed that the fourth graders’ desire to come together and create something bigger than themselves is powerful enough to carry them through the innumerable conflicts and obstacles to collaboration and on to completion.

number of engineering and science problems. Because the trailer itself cannot be painted, they figured out how to hang five large pieces of thin plywood (“luan”) adjacent to one another to create a huge canvas that covers most of the front of the trailer; they made scale models of the trailer and its doors, windows, and roof; they learned, through trial and error, why some conditions of temperature and humidity work for painting outdoors and why some don’t; and they worked to engineer a complex rigging system so that the plywood would stay firmly in place.


“Abstract art is sort of a mystery; you have to think it in your mind to see what it means.”

This year’s fourth graders began with a desire to make the exterior of their gray trailer classroom more beautiful. They settled on painting a mural on the outside of the trailer, and the project was launched. Melanie was able to incorporate many of Sabot’s curricular goals for fourth grade into a project that was both meaningful and authentic. As part of their math study, students learned to take accurate metric measurements of the trailer, compute perimeter and area, create scale drawings, and then transfer those drawings — through a grid process — to canvas. They also worked to understand and solve a

Discussions of what to paint on the mural took the children’s learning in new directions. After a visit to the GRTC Street Art Festival site in the city, the children began to investigate the idea of abstract art. Metaphorical thinking is, of course, not confined to art, but is also at work in literature, science and psychology, economics and politics. As critic James Geary notes, “Metaphorical thinking — our instinct not just for describing but for comprehending one thing in terms of another […] shapes our view of the world and is essential to how we communicate, learn, discover, and invent.” While even very young children can think metaphorically, developmental psychologists have pinpointed the years between eight and eleven as a period during which abstract thinking in general, and metaphorical understanding in particular, becomes increasingly powerful.

The fourth graders decided that they wanted the mural to represent — in an abstract way — their experience at school. Their brainstorm included the following: think, collaborate, create, take our time, use strategies, celebrate uniqueness, accept one another, respect nature, be open-minded, no idea is a bad idea, we are all different. They then experimented with representing these ideas in increasingly abstract ways: a rainbow of colors to represent their myriad ideas, trees to represent individuality, etc. These design plans, to which individual children had become attached, then needed to be combined. This was probably the most challenging aspect of the project. The

children noted the importance of listening to one another, having a coherent plan, and being open to new ideas. “Collaboration,” said Rose, “was the keystone to our project.” Finally, before they put paint to canvas, the fourth graders had to petition the administration for approval to make changes to the exterior of their trailer. They recognized that convincing the administration was critical, and set to work on speeches and presentations, making the fervent case that their work was not only beautiful and meaningful, but also academically worthwhile. Melanie later noted, “If you want to teach persuasive writing, give the students something they are passionate about.” Melanie explained, “As the project has unfolded I have realized that not only is the art piece a reflection of what we do in the classroom at Sabot but a direct representation of the children’s journey of the piece’s creation.” The painting is finished and mounted on the trailer. It is aptly named — by the students — “Collaboration.”

“Through our art, we wanted people to understand how our school works.”


Unlocking Our Wordhoards by MYLES CURTIS, LANGUAGE ARTS

I like to begin Language Arts by asking swirling around in students’ minds: words my students to “unlock their wordhoard” from Science (coagulate, chromosome, — the phrase used in Beowulf for wielding gelatinous), History (shrapnel, catastrophe, the power of one’s vocabulary. The assignmagnanimous), Math (quadratic, tesseract, ment is simple: collect words. Sources can exponential), Spanish (gazpacho, armadillo, be friends, siblings, parents, teachers — or vista), or word-words from Language Arts books, the Internet, movies, music, or video (synonym, superlative, onomatopoeia). games. There are no rules for why a word I can’t help but go off on tangents. To can be chosen; “I just like it” is always reason enough. As class starts, each student explain ennui, I act out a miserable French writes down his or her favorite word for the poet sitting in a café and contemplating the humdrum world; the word Lysol sparks a day on a Post-it note and passes the pad along. Smacking the assembled notes on the discussion of what makes a good product name and why we might have Googled or board — our communal “wordhoard” — I read each word aloud, write it on the board, Wikipedia’d something but definitely didn’t Bing or Yahoo it. My and work with the students school me on class to color it in with words like aglet — the Everyone loves definitions, examples, plastic tip on the end and commentary. a good weird word, of shoelaces — or such as akimbo The resulting “wordderp, Internet slang for hoards” offer a anything amusingly (having one’s hands on one’s hips) panoramic view into stupid. When one the minds and student presented the interests of middle schoolers. Words that class with phubbing — to snub someone by are fun to say are always popular: tizzy, staring at your smart phone — I was so sizzle, sassafras, shenanigans, scrumptious, incredulous that I immediately phubbed the flabbergasted, jeepers, and jejune. So, too, are class to check up on the word’s legitimacy. gross-out words like puke, greasy, plunge, Origin quests spring up out of nowhere and gurgle, moist, chunk, splutter, and muck. Some suddenly obsess us: is lupin, the adjective students form a clear affinity for certain for ‘wolf-like’, related to lupine, the purple kinds of words: the Warriors brandish flower? Does the fact that shampoo comes violent verbs like slash, blister, and fume; the from Hindu mean that the English learned Painters dab into image-adjectives like better hair hygiene from India? What is the dusky, turquoise, and speckled, and while the longest word? the oldest? the most common? Musicians are sounding out reverberate, the rarest? buzz, and hum, the Philosophers are pondering dilemma, conundrum, and abstract. Logophilia — the love of words — is Everyone loves a good weird word, such as abundant and infectious during these sessions. And unlike traditional word study, akimbo (having one’s hands on one’s hips), susurrus (the sound of whispering, murmur- it celebrates the democracy of language — the everyday beauty of the oldest and ing, or rustling), or defenestrate (to throw most common English words like egg, something out a window). These sessions are also a symphony of the different subjects spring, and laugh get to share the classroom

stage with the twenty-cent words of GrecoRoman-Franco academics and the newly minted bitcoins of the 21st century. As a warm-up for writing workshop, it challenges student writers to tackle the work of finding the right word for their thoughts — the difference, Mark Twain once wrote, “between the lightning-bug and the lightning.” And it grows students’ vocabulary with the same set of tools that they used to first acquire language — hearing, seeing, and thinking about a word and then trying it out for themselves, discovering how to name things they didn’t yet know they could name.

I was so incredulous that I immediately phubbed the class to check up on the word’s legitimacy. Among the revisions that the College Board has recently made to the SAT, there is a change of focus on words that are “relevant” and “contextualized,” a partial admission that learning words for the sake of being tested has not been an adequate measure of a young person’s linguistic dexterity. But what’s really missing in most vocabulary study is the wonder, the excitement, the hilarity, and the connections that students find and express in these sessions. Rather than memorizing passwords for entrance into “sophisticated language usage,” students explore hidden pathways, exotic specimens, and simple pleasures while wandering in the garden of words.

You can follow the ever-growing wordhoards of the middle school at users/myleslauercurtis/lists or check out other student work from Language Arts at This article was revised with feedback from the seventh graders, who recommended, among other things, that I use simpler words.

Did You Know?

Save The Date



Time to Flourish, our 2014 auction, was an unprecedented success. Thank you to all of the volunteers and donors who made it possible! PARTNERS IN THE ARTS ENGAGING CREATIVE THINKERS AWARD

Sabot will receive a grant of funds and in-kind resources to implement a project entitled, “Our Richmond.” We look forward to sharing details in the fall.

8th Grade Graduation and Closing Ceremonies JUNE 26

The Songs of Gilbert & Sullivan. Call 804-272-1341 to register.


Fifteen of our 7th and 8th grade students were invited to present their papers at the annual VJAS symposium, held at VCU. Eight were awarded prizes for their presentations: four 1st place, two 3rd place, and two honorable mention awards! EARTH DAY 2014

Sustainability is a priority at Sabot! We are grateful to our Parents Association, Whole Foods, and Worth Promoting for helping us commemorate this day with our own reusable snack bags. THE 2014 MARTIN INSTITUTE CONFERENCE, MEMPHIS, TN


Last day to donate to the 2013/14 Annual Fund. We need your support! JUNE 16 – AUGUST 1

A Sabot Summer and Home Away From Home. Check our website for details.

Dr. Irene Carney will present “Independent Thinking for an Interdependent World: The Teacher as Facilitator in Collaborative Inquiry.”

Support Sabot at Stony Point We are grateful for the generous support of our extended community. Here are ways you can continue to make a difference. • Volunteer Support • Annual Fund Gifts

• Gifts of Stocks/Securities • Program-Specific Grants

• In-Kind Donations • Planned Giving

• Endowed Gifts

For information about how you can make a lasting impact for Sabot at Stony Point, please email Erin O’Regan, Director of Development and Alumni Relations, at or call 804-272-1341.

Spring 2014 Newsletter  
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