According to the National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning, responsive learning environments are welcoming and engaging, and seek to maximize understanding of individual strengths, interests, and needs of all students.
This is exactly what St. Thomas School, a recognized leader in developing the whole student, had in mind when designing the all-new Center for Responsive Learning. Housed within our completely renovated gymnasium, and scheduled to open its doors in December 2021, the space will feature:
- an open-territory learning support zone for appointed before-school and drop-in after-school study in a quiet, cozy atmosphere;
- a data curiosity zone for organized faculty study of student learning;
- shared offices for school counselors;
- dedicated workspaces for learning support associates;
- a landing zone for experienced academic interventionists;
- a common workspace for students; and
- an office for Director of Responsive Learning and Chief Learning Specialist Nick Anton.
In addition, the winter 2021 issue of The Builder, the magazine for alumni, parents, and friends of St. Thomas School, highlights the fact that the Center for Responsive Learning, formerly known as the Center for Personalized Learning, will offer:
- flexible spaces for large groups, small groups, and individual work;
- options for privacy, tutoring, specialized assessment, and quiet areas for teachers and students; and
- much-needed permanent spaces for St. Thomas School's growing faculty and staff.
Representing Phase III of the Completing Our Campus Capital Campaign, the vision of the Center for Responsive Learning is to understand and respond to the unique learning profiles of St. Thomas School students.
Healthy school environments are made up of diverse learning profiles, and cognitive diversity—defined by Harvard Business Review as differences in perspective or information processing—offers tangible benefits for all learners.
At St. Thomas School, each student's unique learning profile comprises an interconnected set of dynamic factors:
- community values,
- family values,
- social-emotional development,
- executive functioning,
- academic mindset,
- tolerance for edgework,
- personal interests,
- academic exposure,
- academic achievement,
- verbal comprehension,
- perceptual reasoning,
- visual-spatial reasoning,
- symbolic processing, and
- working memory.
"The interwoven fabric that embodies student learning is as vast, exciting, and challenging a topic to master as anything out there," Anton says. "We strive to understand the complexity of all of our students' learning profiles so that we can respond accordingly in our classrooms."
With each student's unique learning profile in mind, the Center for Responsive Learning possesses three primary functions: (1) facilitate shared assessment, (2) organize shared study, and (3) support students. At the helm is Anton, a learning specialist with 15 years of experience providing direct support and strategic consultation to students, teachers, parents, and administrators.
Anton, who holds a master's degree in special education from New York University and previously worked at The Gateway School, The Dalton School, and San Francisco Day School, explains his role in fulfilling each function, respectively, as follows:
(1) "My first goal is to build and support systems of long-term assessment that can help teachers efficiently respond to the long arcs of learning progress that can only be made visible with more shared systems of data capture. I will achieve this by continuing to have our learning support associates gather, grade, and store common assessment information and by continually training faculty, so we can further grow and capitalize on our common assessment models."
(2) "With the vastly increasing amount of information we are gathering, we must also build more effective systems for organizing the data, so shared study is possible in both digital and physical spaces, where curiosity and team thinking can inform and guide responsive learning outcomes, which then take form in the classrooms."
(3) "I want to build a space where all students can come for support and some can come for a lifeline. The space is designed purposefully, with these very ends in mind. In the plaza, we will assist any student who wishes to come by for appointed or drop-in assistance. As students, teachers, and parents enter further into the space, there are opportunities for private conversations with School Counselors. Even further in, students can access the specialized instruction they need to make more sense of the symbols and sounds our culture has landed upon. They will find the accommodation and support to show all that they know about the world."
Types of Assessments
At St. Thomas School, in order to understand and respond to the unique learning profiles of our students, three types of assessments are conducted: (1) relational, (2) formative, and (3) summative.
In their classrooms, teachers get to know their students through relational assessments, ultimately forming relationships focused on each child's capacity for growth, helping them to reach their highest potential.
Formative assessments, which monitor student learning, are conducted by teaching faculty, whether one on one, in the classroom, or through computer software. Thanks to several unique tools and seasonal routines, teachers gain long-term insights into student learning and build their capacity for responsive learning outcomes.
Each fall, winter, and spring, all first, second, and third graders complete individual oral reading assessments using materials provided by Teachers College, Columbia University, and full-classroom spelling assessments using Words Their Way, a developmental spelling, phonics, and vocabulary program.
This past fall, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, all fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders completed full-classroom mathematics assessments, and some completed reading comprehension assessments, too, using NWEA's MAP Growth adaptive software platform. "We are transitioning to a much wider net of delivery, setting a bold goal for in-person administration to all students in Kindergarten through seventh grade this spring. This assessment, too, is available for delivery in fall, winter, and spring," Anton says.
Summative assessments, which evaluate student learning, will continue to be organized, scheduled, and facilitated by the Center for Responsive Learning. This includes Educational Records Bureau's Comprehensive Testing Program, a rigorous assessment for students in grades three through seven that covers vocabulary, verbal reasoning, reading comprehension, writing, quantitative reasoning, and mathematics.
"Last year, we successfully moved this summative assessment from spring to fall," Anton shares. "This move is significant, because it allows us the opportunity to study and respond to students within the school year. We will continue to deliver this test in the fall for this reason. It will give the school greater insight when assessing curricular programs in an annual spring review cycle."
Once it opens its doors, the Center for Responsive Learning, staffed by Anton and his team, will serve all St. Thomas School community members, each with his or her own wants, interests, and needs.
Teaching faculty and division directors—Director of Early Learning and Extended Day Nancy Myles, Director of the Elementary Center Rachel Donnelley Smith, and Director of the Middle School Alex Colledge—may drop in to engage in routine small-group data study, while full divisions of faculty conduct broader divisional studies.
Parents may wish to take advantage of counseling support or academic guidance in the form of private discussions with school counselors, classroom teachers, and learning support associates.
Whether seeking academic or social-emotional assistance, students may benefit from routine small-group work, academic tutoring, individual or group counseling, teacher and parent coaching, specialized assessment, and curated connection to outside resources.
"Approximately 13 percent of our current student population qualifies for accommodation. The Center for Responsive Learning will be a place where we, as a school, can more readily meet these needs," Anton says. "Students, parents, and faculty will see and have access to more supportive adults—all trained to know how to assess student needs and respond—than ever before."