Our teachers have a profound impact on our students
and therefore our school culture, the greater community-and
ultimately the nation. We depend on their expertise in choosing
curriculum and leading our students towards success. What inspires them?
Find out in our blog! Each week they share fantastic TED talks, books,
interviews, and articles of interest to serve as a resource for parents,
while demonstrating the philosophies and priorities of The Webb School.
Teaching Students how to learn
By Tabetha Sullens
Middle School Head
A student's success is often influenced by their effective use study skills and organizational techniques. These abilities must often be developed through direct instruction and opportunities to practice. As Middle School Head, I reflected on these observations in developing a unique program for Webb students.
The Webb School’s sixth grade students participate in a Focus class four days a week in which they utilize tools in a variety of disciplines including technology (specifically Google), writing skills, reading comprehension, library skills, and organizational study skills. The sole purpose of this course is to support and strengthen their use of these tools in all other disciplines across the curriculum.
The article below shares suggestions on how parents can support student success from home.
Lessons from China about the American College
By Chris Rodriguez
This article, from
's lifestyle magazine
, was recently shared with the faculty by Webb's Director of International Programs, Daiva Berzinskas, and though it focuses on the experience of Chinese students, I felt the lessons from it are still quite relevant to all of our families.
In this piece, we follow the college application journeys of several Chinese students from families that are either very wealthy, very well-connected politically, or both. These young men and women have decided (or their parents have decided for them) that they wish to attend American universities rather than remain in the Chinese higher education system that is so highly reliant on scores achieved on the notoriously difficult gaokao exam. Unsurprisingly, not just any American institution will do - they set their sights solely on those considered the "best."
We learn that although the vast majority of Chinese students attending American universities eventually settle on larger public institutions, many of which (such as the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and Michigan State University) are located in the Midwest, at the outset, the sole focus is on a small number of "elite" institutions. The author describes this obsession with status as being akin to a "cult-like allure." Does this sound familiar to anyone?
Unfortunately for these students, the obstacles in the form of numbers alone are beyond daunting: of the approximately 40,000 Chinese students applying to universities in the U.S. during the 2014-2015 admissions cycle, a mere *200* were accepted into the eight heralded Ivy League schools. Harvard University, long thought of as the pinnacle of American education, accepts, according to one international admissions expert, just "seven or eight Chinese students a year...and one of them is bound to be the offspring of a tycoon or a leader." Statistics for domestic students at these schools are not much more encouraging, especially when one considers the large number of legacy students, recruited athletes, and "development cases" (read: wealthy donor parents) who magically find acceptance letters in their email or mailboxes come spring.
Many Chinese students also hire and work extensively with admissions consultants, who charge exorbitant amounts of money (gladly paid by families) for helping students navigate the confusing American admissions process. These consultants plan community service trips to other countries for their clients, train them how to interview, teach tricks of the SAT (and in some cases even arrange for others to fraudulently take the test for them), and often write the essays and personal statements required on most applications. Because in many cases these consultants are paid more if they win students an acceptance to one of the supposedly "top" universities, they often push students to cast a wide net in their application process by applying to as many schools as possible.
Asian students are often unfairly typecast by admissions offices as only interested in STEM fields, but one of the reasons this happens is that these teenagers are frequently pushed by their parents into indicating an interest in majoring in areas such as Math or Engineering or Biology. The belief is that pursuing a career in medicine or engineering or research is the only way to guarantee a large income and a happy life.
I would urge all parents to read this article for what it can teach our community about what students of all nationalities face in the college admissions process. Though the focus here is on high-status Chinese families, it could just as easily have been written about families in Maine or California or Bell Buckle. College admissions in the U.S. has become an arms race, and no matter who wins, students are the ones who will lose. The focus on the verifiably-false notion that there are such things as "elite" and "non-elite" colleges is driving us all to madness. Rather than worry about where a student will be happy and what schools will leave families in the best position financially in the future, we are more concerned about what our neighbors will think of our college bumper stickers or how it will look to others if our students attend, gasp, community college. Similarly, our collective focus on the importance of STEM fields comes at the expense of the wonderful, rapidly-disappearing world of the humanities. We need words and ideas and emotions just as much as we need equations and projections and cures, if not more.
Monsters only grow larger if they're fed. The beast of competitive college admissions can be quite scary, yes. But by rushing around constantly worrying about maximizing test scores and adding one more extracurricular activity and pursuing only financially-lucrative majors (regardless of personal interest in them), we are giving up our souls and feeding them to the monster. Don't be afraid to walk right past the monster without giving him a second thought. He needs you and your anxiety far more than you need him.
develop growth mindset
By Kay Young
Dean of Faculty
The phrase “growth mindset” is heard a lot in education circles and
beyond. The math department decided in the fall to have our students do a
math mindset survey. For our January collaborative meeting, we shared our
results from our students’ surveys. While preparing for our meeting, I
came across an article on helping foster a growth mindset in students who
struggle. The article gives fives strategies to help these students
develop a growth mindset.
The Link Between Music Lessons and IQ in Children
By Janet Linton
Fine Arts Department chair
is an article written by Heather Nicole Winter in a recent "American Music
Teacher" journal. In recent years there has been a plethora of articles
and studies conducted on the efficacy of music lessons in children. Here is yet
another thoughtful piece on the subject. Ms. Winter writes and comments on
several studies involving music and the brain and how music clearly has a
"unique and exceptional impact on the brains of young children, leading to
improved IQ, improved academic performance, and improved executive
functioning." The article shows many other positive aspects of musical
study also. Apart from benefits to the brain, music is a wonderful way
for students to explore a creative way for expression and communication.
Learn more about Webb's Outdoor Program and W.I.L.D in Times-Gazette feature
Library Director on hand for Youth Media Award announcements
By Hannah Byrd Little
The 2017 Youth Media Award announcements will take place on January 23, 2017, at 8 a.m. (ET) from the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta.
I will be in Atlanta for the announcements! These awards include the Newbery and Caldecott medals. I attended the awards announcements six years ago and it was a unique experience and when I heard the event was so close I was excited to attend the event again. If you are curious about the "Newbery / Caldecott buzz" here are a couple of prediction articles.
School Library Journal - Newbery / Caldecott 2017: Fall Prediction Edition
Mia Wenjen - My 2017 Newbery Predictions - PragmaticMomBlog
My choice for Newbery would be "Pax" by Sara Pennypacker. I have always wanted a pet fox! If you are fast and can secure an online spot, you may be able to watch the
Otherwise, I will be tweeting live from the awards. My twitter name
Frequently Head of School Ray Broadhead addresses the Webb community with a personal letter sharing school news and suggested readings. Below are two he offered last week.
Lisa Damour, author of "Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood." (an excellent book!)
Click for article.
What Do Teenagers Want? Potted Plant Parents
Click for article.
important is teamwork?
By Scott Dorsett
Director of Athletics
Is teamwork important in the big scope of life? I have been pondering this
question for many years as one who worked in a corporate setting, as an athletic
coach, and as an athletic administrator. I truly believe that we were
meant to work together as human beings on this thing we call earth. So, I
have answered the basic question, we do need each other and we need to know how
to work together. The second part of this question is the most
intriguing. How do we effectively work as a team in all that we do? I
feel like this lends itself to being involved in a variety of areas that
require a team i.e., athletic teams, plays, academic teams, etc. The
skills learned within these teams are invaluable life skills that our students
carry with them. I think it is so important to encourage our students to
step outside of their comfort zone and get involved with teams that will give
them perspective on building teamwork skills. Below is an article
discussing the importance of teamwork skills in both work and school. As
parents, please encourage your children to get involved in an area where
teamwork is very important to the outcome of the team efforts.
Why Gizmos work
During the recent Science Collaborative Day, we examined the application of virtual labs in biology, physics, and chemistry. In particular, Pamela Seals demonstrated Gizmos, a virtual laboratory simulator created by ExploreLearning. Although these labs look excellent and are grounded in inquiry-based learning, they do not provide the experience of physical laboratory equipment. However, with learning the ultimate goal, the interactive content of Gizmos facilitate proven techniques for improving student outcomes in science. Check out the Research Brief Link composed by ExploreLearning on the effectiveness of Gizmos.
Although I am hesitant to diminish the role of physical laboratory equipment, there are trends in higher education to do just this. By utilizing virtual laboratories, departments can save money on equipment and supplies. Additionally, virtual laboratories can mimic “actual” scientific research that would otherwise be unachievable in a school laboratory setting. After utilizing Gizmos in middle school Life Science and upper school Biology, I am impressed with their professional design and inquiry-based activities, and anticipate incorporating them in the future.
Language Department busy as first semester winds down
By Moira Smith
Language Department chair
The Webb Language Department is buzzing with activity as we wind down the first semester.
The sixth grade Passport to Language program changes to Chinese and cultural activities in the second semester, and we look forward to enjoying our youngest students’ experiences in language.
Webb Spanish teacher Robyn Kerstiens and Latin teacher Kelly Northrup
were among those who moderated sessions at the recent Tennessee Association of Independent Schools Conference.
Read more about TAIS session, and winter
break and 2018 travel.
Does change focus on
By James Garcia
Director of Studies
We discussed the following article last week during our weekly academic council meeting. When discussing change within in a school, I feel it is important to focus on how this change focuses on the mission. I think the following article is a good reminder of the mindset we should have when dealing with change.
On Larry Silverberg’s True Acting Journal Entry
By Ruth Cordell
Speech and Theatre Teacher,
“The mark of all great artists is their ability to be simple. What exactly does this mean for the actor?” … or the speaker, or the designer, or the director, or the technician? Yes, w
From my earliest days in taking classes, teaching sessions, rehearsals on stage as an actor, a director, a dancer, or in the mime company, this concept, tutorial, …admonition has always been ubiquitously prevalent - front and center. The phrase “simplify, separate, amplify” continue to pulse in silent but insistent reverberation.
As a director, an actor, a teacher, I constantly ponder necessity or fun or emphasis, or diminution of the power of a moment. Notwithstanding the limitations of budget and time and availability of space, this order of simplicity can be challenging and welcoming, or not so welcoming, depending on the project.
One of the most wonderful treatments of this ability to be simple, with some very clearly thought out and clearly written guidelines is from Michael Shurtleff’s AUDITION, a book dating back to January 1980. His chapters on comedy and the interview situation are so simply and thoroughly spelled out, there is no mistaking just how important this work of constant refinement and repetitive out loud rehearsal is to the performer.
Quote form Larry SIlverberg: “ The difficulty is that for many actors, the habitual need to convince the audience that something is happening that is not actually happening is so deeply ingrained that they are truly not aware of their own false theatrical behavior.”
Replace this difficulty with staying focused in the moment, after having done the investigative homework and preparation in craft, and it’s been a good day.
By Dr. Molly Barger
Attached, please find the article provided for today's meeting as well as a lengthier summary and a blank storyboard template. Dr. Bruce was my advisor at UB, so I was excited to share some of his work.
David Bruce discusses the potential uses for storyboards in the classrooms as a prewriting activity. Storyboarding is a tool used by film makers to plan and organize a movie before the cameras are ever turned on. It helps plan visuals as well as the order of the scene. While using this technique in his classes for digital composition (movie) projects, Bruce recognized the potential for its use a a prewriting and planning activity, especially for students that may struggle with traditional printed text analysis and writing. It also provides a way to conquer the fear of "the blank page."
activity provides an alternative, particularly for those visual learners, to
show their understanding of a text in graphic rather than written form. I
have often found that even when not using a storyboarding activity for a
class text, students who have worked on storyboarding in the past will use
the languages (visual, cinematic, musical, and transactional) they have learned
from those activities. Most importantly, by providing a way for students to see
how others read and understand texts, storyboarding helps students learn
that interpretations are not fixed. Rather, they are subjective and
mutable, and readers can interact with texts in a number of ways. (Bruce,
Succeeding on standardized admission tests
Caroline Smith ’11
Admissions tests are notoriously difficult for students and confusing to parents, especially when otherwise high-performing students get “low” scores. While there are many possible reasons for a student to under-perform on a test, we’ll tackle some of the most common. Hopefully this will give you some insight into how to help your child succeed on a standardized admission tests.
The SSAT is required as part of The Webb School’s application process. The test is offered on our campus the following dates -11/12, 12/10, 1/7, 2/11, 3/4, 4/22 & 6/10. The registration deadline is generally 3 weeks prior to the test date. Visit
to learn more about test prep and registration.
Where are we headed with the sport of
football in America today?
By Scott Dorsett, CAA
Director of Athletics
This is a hot topic
in the athletic culture of today.
Football has come under attack from all sides, medical professionals,
politicians, and even former players.
There is a real concern about the health risks versus the positive
impact in players’ lives. I look back at
my own playing days and question how many times I might have had a concussion,
and I continued to play. I think of the
nagging injuries I would have all through the season and how it would take me
half of the basketball season to recover from those injuries. I love the game of football and would never
want to see the game go away, but I do believe it is time to make some
adjustments. I do feel like football has
taken the brunt of all the injury inquiries in sports today. When playing sports, there is a risk of
injury, and we understand this risk. From
an Athletic Directors standpoint it is good to see all the strides being made
in safety of all sports. Here at Webb,
it is a goal of the Athletics Department to make sure our athletes are using
equipment that exceeds safety standards that are put in place by the National
Federation of High Schools. In football
today, the major concern is understanding the dangers of concussions. To keep this game around, it is imperative
that we make every effort to minimize the unnecessary risk to our
athletes. In the program here at Webb,
we continue to make strides in this effort by doing base line testing on all of
our athletes. In football we have added
the helmet impact system by Riddell to monitor the hits to the head that our
athletes are taking. Mr. Arrowood, our
athletic trainer, stays on the cutting edge of research in concussions and all
injuries by attending conferences and staying up to date in journal
reading. We also have made a bigger
effort in training our coaches on the role of addressing concussions within
I feel like American football is not going away but is in need of coaches and administrators to be diligent in making sure the game stays as safe as possible. I know at Webb we will continue to educate our coaches, administrators, and our families in the health and safety of not only football, but all of our sporting activities. I just read a great article in the Aug/Sept 2016 edition of Athletic Management entitled, “Danger Ahead?” by Dennis Read. A link to this article is included. If you have a chance, please take a look at the insights he brings out in his article. I would like to hear feedback from you on this topic.
Scott Dorsett, CAA - Director of Athletics, The Webb School
learning in science
By Jeff Bonner
At the most recent science collaborative day, we discussed Eric Mazur’s peer instruction model, a student-centered learning pedagogy. I presented a summary of the peer reviewed article Peer Instruction: Ten Years of Experience and Result (Crouch and Mazur, 2001). This article was selected for the purpose of engaging science faculty in reflection of their own use of student-centered learning, and in particular, variants of the peer instruction model. This model is commonly utilized in post-secondary science courses to foster student-student discussion and problem solving relevant to course content. Here, students are challenged to construct correct responses through collaborative discourse while relying on existing knowledge and critical thinking skills. The instructor facilitates this discourse through appropriate questioning that prompts students to think, discuss, and respond rather than just passively taking notes.
At the post-secondary level, results show that students learn significantly more from peer instruction when compared to sole reliance on traditional, didactic lecture. Although research is lacking on the impact of peer instruction in secondary science education, the impact on college students should not be ignored in a college preparatory learning environment.
In summary, we found that our science faculty members were familiar with and using peer instruction regularly in the classroom. This type of teaching and learning alters traditional roles held in the classroom in that it places responsibility on the learner during class and challenges the teacher to cross the imaginary barrier between the lectern and students. Looking forward, we are planning to expand on this initial discussion with a classroom demonstration of peer instruction followed by expanding intentional implementation of the peer instruction model utilizing developed classroom curriculum designed for this.
of mathematics is being lost
By Karla Schaffer
The math department read
A Mathematician's Lament
by Paul Lockhart. The piece argues that the beauty of mathematics is being lost and that mathematics really is a form of art. Similar to a poem, a mathematical solution or proof needs to make sense, be a sound argument, be simple and elegant, and "dig deep into the heart of the matter" (Lockhart). Many of America's mathematics classrooms, the author argues, has taken away the inquiry, beauty, and creative parts of mathematics. We want our students to want to explore the questions and gain inspiration and experience solving problems. Lockhart says, "By concentrating on what, and leaving out why, mathematics is reduced to an empty shell." The author says that our society needs to get away from all repetition and more into discovering mathematics.
from this PLC meeting
The math department explored more capabilities that Desmos.com has made available for teachers. They now have a teacher website (teacher.desmos.com) and student website (student.desmos.com) where many activities have been made to enhance discussions around transformations of functions, shapes, and many other topics. One activity that we focused on was the marble drop where students sign into the classroom and must manipulate equations to pick up stars that are placed on the board. They launch their function to drop marbles in the hopes of collecting all the stars. The teacher can see all the students work and how far they are into the activity. The teacher can project certain students’ answers, keeping them anonymous or not, and even pause the activity if the class needs to come back together to discuss a topic. After every couple of problems, there are review questions to make sure that the concept is being understood. There are activities on this website for all levels of mathematics.
combine hard work with “true grit”
By Larry Nichols
Successful students not only work hard to achieve their goals, but they put their best effort into all they set out to do. It takes “True Grit” to be on top in today’s society. Many schools across our country are teaching our students to be
and to have “character”. Students who take risks and pursue their dreams will
be the leaders of tomorrow.
Students who are afraid they won't be perfect
The following is a summary of an article that the members of the Specials Department discussed at our first Professional Learning Community meeting on August 26. Our discussion centered on how we as educators encourage students to focus on the outcome of learning rather than a grade. Developing strategies for facing challenges and overcoming them have great rewards in the future.
In this Inside Higher Ed article, Joseph Holtgreive (Northwestern University) observes that many of his high-achieving students did well in high school with relatively little effort, but find things more difficult in college. Some of these students panic when they get a low grade on a midterm and want to drop the course.
The problem, says Holtgreive, is that they’re focusing on their GPA, the way they did in high school. “Yet while these students think they’re keeping their eyes on the ball,” he says, “they are actually just staring at the scoreboard. For students who found high school relatively easy, staring at the measurement of their performance is affirming. Even more affirming is the gap between their outcomes, in the form of grades, and their input, in the form of effort. The wider the gap, the smarter they feel…” But when they do less well on challenging courses in college and have to work harder, they feel dumb.
The solution to this bind, says Holtgreive, is for students to redirect their attention from the scoreboard to the game of learning: “Focusing on learning creates a direct relationship between input and outcome: the more effort they invest, the greater the opportunity to learn… When the goal is to be smart, the formula is reduced to maximizing grades while minimizing effort. When the goal is to learn, the formula becomes about maximizing learning while optimizing effort. The more effective their effort, the more they can learn.” Better grades are a natural byproduct, rather than the end goal.
Too much focus on grades reinforces what Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset. “If students believe that how they perform at one moment in time exposes the limits of their potential rather than serving merely as a snapshot of where they are in the process of growing their abilities,” says Holtgreive, “feelings of struggle and uncertainty become threatening rather than an opportunity to grow.” The anxiety can lead students to tighten up and self-sabotage.
Holtgreive describes how he counseled a young engineering student who loved her Russian literature class but wanted to drop it because of a bad midterm grade. A look of true excitement crossed her face “when it dawned on her that she got to decide how she would show up for her learning. There is no shame in going all in, and just maybe the rewards will outweigh the risks.”
“Too Smart to Fail?” by Joseph Holtgreive in Inside Higher Ed, August 16, 2016,
Teaching Writing Effectively
By Jacquelyn Boyanton
English Department Chair
"Writing is a major focus in the English classes at The Webb School. It is essential for students to leave Webb and take good writing habits with them to college and beyond; therefore, the Webb student practices writing skills as a sixth grader and continues to improve on those skills throughout their Webb career."
Importance of Teaching the Humanities
Recently in the Foreign Language Department PLC, we discussed this article about the importance of teaching the Humanities. The author Dr. McClay reminds us that education, in order to be “useful,” must prepare us to live as well as to work. He questions critics of the humanities, asking, “If you're so rich, why aren’t you wise, or happy?” Here at Webb we're proud that our educational goals include reading, writing, ’rithmatic, but also our Enduring Understandings, which can help students pursue a meaningful life as well as a meaningful career and success in college.