By Nick Yates, ISB Communications
Lessons in an elementary school might look like a lot of fun, yet anyone with any knowledge of teaching will know that plenty of serious work and planning goes into the learning taking place. That's where people like Kendra Daly come in.
As ES Curriculum and Literacy Coordinator at the International School of Beijing (ISB), Ms. Daly is in charge of the sophisticated task of ensuring 3- to 10-year-olds learn reading and writing effectively. Hers is a new role at ISB, also involving coaching other teachers to make sure what ISB has identified as best practice is delivered consistently from PreK to grade 5.
As with all subjects, the teaching of literacy at ISB is based on the latest research, and the school offers modern and intentionally designed programs for everyone. Rather than turning to a single, traditional curriculum, ISB cherry-picks the best practices from around the world and applies them to work best for its student body. Learning tends to be interdisciplinary and student-driven.
The Elementary School, for example, has recently adopted a workshop approach to reading and writing. This means that students are asked to do the authentic work of readers and writers during class time. Lessons have a predictable structure where the teacher delivers a mini lesson – no longer than 10 minutes – followed by independent reading and writing time, where the students have the opportunity to apply the strategy to their own learning.
For Ms. Daly, this approach is good not only for students but for ambitious teachers dedicated to children's learning. "What people might not realize is that elementary school instruction is incredibly intellectually challenging; it's a lot of work," she says. "However, it's exciting and engaging for teachers. If you're a teacher who loves to learn, who's willing to delve in and puzzle and think, it's an amazing thing – it makes school a place of learning not just for students, but for adults. We're not just thinking, 'Turn the page, this is tomorrow's lesson,' we're thinking about each and every decision that's made about what we deliver."
This striving for the best in an international environment, and the non-traditional nature of an ISB education means communication is vital, so that everyone with an interest in literacy at the school is reading from the same page. "A lot of the work I do occurs around creating a shared vision on what we believe is best for children," Ms. Daly explains. "We're not doing the things we do for no reason; we're doing them because they're based on research. Forming a single, unique, and consistent delivery method at ISB takes a lot of dialogue."
Ms. Daly, whose work experience includes doing a very similar job in a previous school, is heavily involved in ISB's Parent Education talk series, which invites community members to learn more about the school's programs and the rationale behind them. The series last week featured a talk on how parents can encourage and engage their children in reading at home.
Ms. Daly sees these events as important in that "they help demystify what happens at school. If they don't know the 'Why?' behind what we do, parents could have big questions, because school now looks so different from when we adults were there."
As the Reader's and Writer's Workshop beds in at ISB, Ms. Daly says she would like to shift some of her focus away from curriculum coordination and towards more teacher coaching, as well as communicating to parents.
She is truly committed to education, for little kids and adults alike. "I really believe that a school needs to be a culture of learning for everyone," she says. "That's why we have the parent talks. ISB is a place of learning for children, a place of learning for teachers and administrators, and we want it to be a place of learning for parents alike."