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Winter 2016 Director Letter
Winter 2016 Director Letter

December 13, 2016

Hello Buc’s Family-

                As I sit at my desk, listening to holiday music and the laughter of the students playing outside my window during lunch time, my mind is pondering the past year and a half that I have had the opportunity to lead and serve as Director of University School. What a blessing it has been and continues to be. My heart swells with love and appreciation the more my mind ponders. Thank you all for your part in making this so. Then, with a deep satisfying breath, my mind begins to ponder what lies ahead for us as we finish this year and begin our plans for 2017-18 and beyond.

                With our students’ futures in mind, I have been and will continue expressing the need that our students have to think critically, communicating that thinking clearly while working collaboratively to solve problems or present an argument for their point of view. This is the goal for all students in all classes and in 2017 we will continue to work to meet this goal. We know this is new to our students but they are rising to the challenge. I walk in on wonderful demonstrations of this kind of learning in classes every day; AP high school classes as well as in our kindergarten. We know this is also new to our parents and can be a source of frustration because this is not how they learned. I understand that as parents you do not want to see your child struggle. However, this is a struggle in learning how to think and communicate their thinking clearly. It is a struggle that will strengthen them. Finally, it is new to our teachers as well. For years they have told information to their students and their students told it back to them on tests. Please know that our staff is also rising to the challenge and proving themselves to be life-long-learners. As a staff we continue to learn and implement proven effective instructional strategies that will have our students researching to find information, analyze and evaluate that information, and communicate their learning and how it applies to the topic they are studying. In doing so our students will be prepared for successfully completing college and competently and confidently beginning their journey in life on their own.

                As we prepare for the 2017-18 school year we are excited about being able to increase the number of students we serve by adding a second 6th grade class at University school. This addition means that for the 2017-18 school year we will be enrolling an additional 26 students in 6th and 7th grades. This also means that this will be the last year that we will be adding to our 7th grade numbers. Beginning in the 2018-19 school year, we will be opening up enrollment in the 6th and 9th grades instead of in 7th and 9th grades.

With plenty to be thankful for and even more to be looking forward to I hope you enjoy your time together with family and friends and I look forward to seeing you all on January 4th.

With much love for you all.

Dr. Knechtel


 

Troy KnechtelHello Buc's family!

Dear Parents/Guardians and Students,

Welcome to University School! We are excited to begin a new school year and are very pleased to have you as a part of the University School family. As you may know, we offer a unique setting for a public school in that we house grades K-12 at one site on the campus of a major university in northeast Tennessee. Our goal is to teach the students we serve with a dynamic curriculum that prepares them for entry into post-secondary education.  The University School faculty, in collaboration with the faculty of the Clemmer College of Education at ETSU, is constantly seeking effective new strategies and methods to accomplish this goal. We also pride ourselves on the strong support we receive from our parents/guardians and East Tennessee State University. Our doors are always open to further these relationships.

Again, welcome to our campus and feel free to contact me or any member of our faculty and staff if we can be of service.

Sincerely,

Dr. Knechtel, Director
University School

Metacognitive Skills - Parent Letter from Dr. Knechtel
Metacognitive Skills - Parent Letter from Dr. Knechtel

Hello Bucs Family-

               In 1956, Dr. Benjamin Bloom developed his Bloom’s Taxonomy to promote higher forms of thinking in education, such as analyzing and evaluating concepts, processes, procedures, and principles, rather than just remembering facts; rote memory (Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains, nwlink.com). Bloom’s levels of thinking are as follows (from least to highest): Recall, Comprehension, Application, Analyze, Evaluate, and Create. Unfortunately in the 1990’s, with the rise of high stakes international testing designed to compare and rank learning throughout the world, this drive for higher level thinking was replaced by multiple choice testing of students’ memory of facts. Fortunately, though, as we realized that in order for our students to be successful in the Information Age, our new standards are again focusing on higher order thinking skills and the demonstration of learning.

               For our students to be prepared to compete in the world they will be entering, memorized facts and manipulation of numbers void of meaning must be replaced by metacognition, that is, “thinking about your thinking.” Students need to develop their ability to know and be able to explain the thinking path that they took in solving a problem or making an argument: thinking at higher levels, creating viable arguments and critiquing the thinking of others, communicating and defending their thinking. These are the expectations we have for our students, which is much different than the education we received built on the memorization of facts. So what does this look like in the various subjects?

               In Math this means we do not simply teach the short cuts. “If it looks like this, just do this and you get the answer!” I witnessed firsthand when I entered the first of my 13 years teaching mathematics that the top students could crunch numbers quickly. But asking them what it means or why it works is met with silence. On the other hand, struggling students could not possibly memorize all the “If it looks like this…” facts and therefore they became mentally paralyzed when they attempted to solve problems. Though there were many ways to think through problems, teachers required students to do it their way, devaluing the students’ thinking process. Students were expected to put their thinking on hold and memorize how the teacher wanted them to do the work.

               Building students’ ability to think again and communicate what they are thinking means we ask them what they think and not simply tell them what to think. For example, the other day in a class, students were asked how many times six goes into forty-eight. Some simply wrote the algorithm where they put the 48 under the partial box and the six out in front. They then used their memorized math facts and easily recalled that 6x8=48. If they know how to use and can explain the age old algorithm, then that is fine. But there is more than one way to figure out math computations. What is important is that students can explain what happened “in their head.” For example, when a student was asked how they got eight as their answer, they explained their thinking this way. “Well, I knew that six times six was thirty-six. Since I had to add six two more times to get forty-eight then I knew that six goes into forty-eight eight times.” This is just one example of the metacognition (how they think through the problem) abilities we expect from our students. This thinking and communicating of their thinking begins in kindergarten!

               A useful benefit of expecting students to explain their thinking is that it allows us to verify that their reasoning was correct or it helps us (and the students) to pinpoint where their thinking went wrong. Either way, true understanding is solidified in the students’ minds. What about the other subjects?

               In Reading, we used to measure student comprehension by what facts they remembered. Our expectation now is that the students be able to understand and summarize the author’s intent, make inferences, form arguments, and compare and contrast multiple sources.  We will also be using more non-fiction books instead of fictional pieces.  In Writing we used to measure students’ ability to write a narrative or an opinion paper.  Expectations of student writing will require students to form an argument, defending it with citations from multiple sources. This will prepare them for the rigorous writing that will be required in college. In Social Studies, where we previously relied mainly on the memorization of facts and dates, we are now expecting students to understand why history happened the way it did. We want them to reflect on the information they find from various sources, analyzing what they find and evaluating its credibility (higher level Bloom’s thinking). We want them to entertain “What if…” questions, allowing them to demonstrate their understanding of history by explaining how history would be different if certain events had different outcomes. Making history come alive gives students the opportunity to interact with it in a personal way. In Science, though there is still a need to memorize many terms, labels, and facts, in class we want our students to engage in higher level thinking as well. Rather than simply tell them, we will ask them to apply, analyze, evaluate, and create things based on the facts they have learned.

To meet the demands our standards expect from our students, teachers must adjust their teaching by learning new strategies. Resisting the urge to tell and have students repeat back to them, teachers need to become experts at facilitating student thinking and discussions. They need to prompt the students to higher thinking. They need to plan for group work where students will become fluent in the use of the academic language of the subject. This is new for our teachers as well but we are getting better with a goal of being the best at it. With the teachers needing to use class time for these higher thinking activities, homework will look different as well. In the past, homework was simply practicing what they were instructed in class. It was the students’ opportunity to demonstrate they could give back to the teacher what had been presented to them. Now, however, since class time will need to be spent in pursuit of higher thinking, often times we will ask the students to read the material or try the problems first, challenging them to think through the material on their own first. Then, when they come to class the teacher can facilitate the discussions where students articulate what they had tried or thought and why.

               It is all about strengthening our students’ ability to think, communicate, and defend their thinking. Then they will truly be prepared for the demands of college and the career they choose. Thank you for your understanding and support. If you still have questions and concerns, let’s talk! Call and make an appointment and I will be glad to meet with you.

Dr. Knechtel

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