Columbus’s Christmas Idol

I am interning at a middle school over break. The school’s choir is currently in a contest. The video below is their submission:

If you are impressed, vote for KIPP Journey Academy, here . There are a bunch of really awesome students who would appreciate it.

5:1 Says that KIPP Journey has Relationships Figured Out

Two days ago, I wrote a post about visiting KIPP Journey in Columbus. In that time, it has become the most popular post on this site. Which is pretty cool. And it’s doubly cool because I didn’t even include everything that blew me away about the school.

In every classroom, there was a blue poster on the wall. All it said was “5:1.” As the day progressed, my peers and I routinely whispered about it. What did it mean? Why should a simple ratio have such a prominent place in the classroom?

We got our answer when we had the opportunity to sit down with Dustin Wood, the School Director and OU alum (Go Bobcats!).  He said 5:1 is a ratio that comes from psychologist, John Gottman’s study of marriages. Gottman found he could predict the success of marriages with 90% accuracy based on the ratio of the number of positive remarks said on a daily basis to the number of negative remarks said on a daily basis. If a relationship stayed around 5:1, it was probably going to succeed.

Wood and the teachers at KIPP Journey have started using the ratio as a way of ensuring the success of their students. When Wood does teacher evaluations, he records how many positive and negative remarks a teacher makes. The goal is to keep everyone above 5:1.

Observe any class at KIPP Journey, and it becomes exceedingly obvious that all of the teachers are constantly thinking about this ratio. They are like parents. They constantly hand out “I love you”s and terms of endearment and encouragement to their students. Even failures are repackaged as successes.

In one class, student had bell work. The teacher used two different students’ work as examples. One of them didn’t get full credit on the problem, though. But he had done something really great to deserve the first point, and so he was applauded for what he had done correctly instead of chastised for what he had done wrong.

I am convinced that interactions like these make all the difference.

I made a comment the other day that I wish the whole world was run like a KIPP school. The more I learn about the program, the more I am convinced that a wish like that could change everything. What if we made a conscious effort to follow the 5:1 ratio in everything we did? What would that look like?

Lessons from Eighth Graders

I’m in this really awesome national organization called Students for Education Reform. I started a chapter at my university. Our mission is to educate the next generation of leaders about the achievement gap so that we can close it. Because it needs to be closed.

This is our first quarter at OU, and it’s not been terribly easy. A lot of our plans have fallen through, but throughout the quarter, there have been some really great things that have kept me excited. Today, I had an experience that will keep me excited about ed reform for the rest of the year. I got the chance, with a couple of other students, to visit KIPP Journey in Columbus. The school was, simply put, kick ass.

KIPP Journey is a charter school for fifth through eighth graders. Most students enter KIPP well below grade level in both reading and math. By the time they leave, though, they are not only testing better than most of their peers in Columbus but also than most KIPP schools around the nation. That’s incredible!

One of the most notable things about the school was that in most of the classrooms we observed, the teachers had visible and public graphs, tracking each student’s test scores. I have heard stories about teachers doing this, and I’ve always been skeptical. I know in my own public schools, public information like that would have been toxic. Those at the top would have been ridiculed for being nerds and those at the bottom would have been ridiculed for being stupid. At least I thought so until today.

We got a chance to talk to a couple of outstanding eighth graders. I asked them about the charts. They smiled at me, knowingly. The following is a paraphrase of their answer:

Of course we like knowing where we are. It’s important to know where we have come and where we are going. And plus, we can see where other kids are. So we can help the ones who are beneath us. And we can ask for help from the ones who are above us. It’s not really about being smart or dumb. Sometimes certain subjects are just easier for some people. I may be better at math. But she might be better at science. It doesn’t really matter. In fact, it’s better that way. It makes it easier to help each other. We have a goal here of everyone scoring Proficient on the OAA. That’s a tough goal, but we are helping each other get there.

I still don’t know if the chart thing would be successful in my junior high, but I do know that the culture at my school was completely different than that. At my school, being an A student was important in and of itself. I didn’t really care about learning as long as I was getting A’s. A lot of this was my fault, but a lot of it was also that I didn’t know what else to base my academic goals on. If someone had told me, “Hey, you are reading at a tenth grade reading level. That’s great, but here’s what you could do to be reading at a college level,” I would have loved it.

And that’s exactly what’s happening in KIPP Journey. The culture isn’t about valuing the grade. It’s about valuing knowledge and learning. If a student masters a skill, s/he doesn’t say, “This is good enough.” Instead, s/he asks, “What else can I master?” And they realize there is always someone who is above them. That’s so so healthy. KIPP Journey isn’t about being the best. It’s about being the best you can be. And somehow, as the test results show, when kids/people concentrate on that, they become the best.