Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"FUNbruary" highlights

February FUNbruary is one of our favorite months here at BVP. Instead of focusing on the cold and the snow, our scholars, families and teachers celebrate the joy of learning-- what we call the "joy factor."

All four of our schools celebrate in unique ways, but one thing remains the same no matter the school, regardless of the day: do something fun and do something different each day of the month throughout the entire month of February.

Here are just a few of the fun topics our schools picked:

  • Accessorize your uniform
  • "Crazy hair" day
  • Bring your favorite book
  • Sunglasses day
  • Notes of need- Receive a note of need from a teacher. Write them one, too!
  • Silly Socks Day
  • Bring jeans, wear jeans- Donate a pair to the Teens for Jeans Drive and wear a pair.
  • Dress to impress/ Dress for success
  • Career Day- Dress in attire that matches your ideal profession
  • "Dress like a character" day
  • "Dress like a BVP teacher" day

You can check out some pictures from the month below. Next week, read more about how we're keeping the fun going by celebrating 100 days of school!

Follow the fun on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, February 6, 2015

On Assessment

As educators, there’s one question we ask ourselves over and over: have our scholars mastered the material?

Assessment is one of the most powerful components of our academic programming in that we, as educators, are able to evaluate the effectiveness of our methods.  Determining scholar mastery is our opportunity to measure the depth and strength of learning, as well as the gaps. In a sense, it’s our way of seeing how much sand the toothpick bridge will hold.

We feel strongly at BVP, however, that assessment is not only for us as educators.  Assessment is also for scholars and their families to understand what they need to work on in order to be on a path to success in college.  Together, scholars, teachers, and families form a triumvirate that when working together sets everyone up for success.

At BVP, we believe in being selective about our assessment tools, and striking a balance between gathering frequent, high-value assessment data and immersing scholars in meaningful teaching and learning.  

On a daily basis, teachers use a number of formative assessments in their classroom to monitor learning – some as simple as a thumbs up or down for basic understanding.  In addition, teachers use exit tickets at the conclusion of most lessons in order to measure individual and whole class mastery of the daily objective. Unit performance tasks and trimester exams are used as summative measures of scholar mastery of specific content knowledge and skill application.
As a network of schools, we utilize selected assessments in order to both measure individual scholar progress as well as to determine our effectiveness in teaching the required standards. For instance, we benchmark scholar growth using the nationally normed STAR assessment from Renaissance Learning in grades K-8, and measure literacy development in grades K-4 using STEP and Fountas and Pinnell. At the high school level, we utilize the MAP assessment--also a nationally normed tool--from NWEA. These data points are complemented by internally-developed trimester assessments.

by Kate Crowe and Drew Madden


Thank you for reading our blog series all about academics and for engaging with us on Twitter and in the comments. If you think you missed a post, you can find the full series linked below:

Thursday, February 5, 2015


Today is day four of our blog series all about academics, and we're covering "time" at BVP.


Time is not a commodity at BVP; time is golden. We have a longer day, a longer year (when the weather gods don’t have other plans, that is), a robust homework structure, and we tap into Saturdays and school breaks for even more time. 

There’s no time to waste, and that is perhaps one of our most deeply held beliefs. 

So where does all this time go?

At the elementary level:
  • 100 minutes of mathematics, focused on fluency, problem solving, and content
  • 150 minutes of English Language Arts, grounded in textual analysis, author’s craft writing, and word study
  • 40 minutes of science and technology, with the balance of time devoted to inquiry -- in other words, being a scientist and doing science
  • 25-30 minutes of history, rooted in the exploration of primary source documents as well as informational and literary texts to construct meaning about the past
  • 2 enrichment blocks daily, rotating between art, music, and physical education and health
  • Lunch, breaks, town hall, and morning meetings

At the middle school level:
  • 100 minutes of mathematics
  • 100 minutes of English Language Arts
  • 50 minutes of science
  • 50 minutes of history
  • At least 50 minutes of enrichment daily, inclusive of art, music, physical education and health, world language (8th grade only)
  • Lunch, recess, daily advisories, town hall, and morning meetings

At the high school level:
  • 90 minutes of mathematics
  • 90 minutes of English Language Arts
  • 45 minutes of science
  • 45 minutes of history
  • At least 45 minutes of enrichment daily, inclusive of art, physical education and health, world language
  • Daily Extended Learning Opportunities (ELOs) in the topic of the scholar’s choosing
  • Lunch, office hours, All School Meetings

Somehow, it isn’t enough. Even with all of this time, we continue to see scholars who need more support. We also see scholars who can be pushed to truly phenomenal heights, and we want that time with them, too. 

We want to spend more time analyzing text at deeper levels, supporting writers to better articulate their ideas, offering opportunities to invent new pathways to solving mathematical problems, exploring our scientific experiments further. 

We think our scholars are brilliant, and we crave the time to help them actualize that brilliance. 

We believe in capitalizing on every single moment with scholars and extending the learning when scholars are not with us. That’s where homework comes in. We have big goals for our scholars, and the bar is high in order for our scholars to compete in today’s global economy. Knowing that, we can’t stop the learning when the school bell rings. This is a topic we’ve blogged about before (you can read our post here).

Total HW Time
Per Night
Nightly Reading (Total: Assigned or Independent)
Math Fluency (flashcards, mad minute, online practice, etc.)
60 mins
30 minutes
10 minutes
20 minutes
1 hr, 10 mins
30 minutes
10 minutes
30 minutes
1 hr, 30 mins
30 minutes
10 minutes
50 minutes
1 hr, 45 mins
30 minutes
10 minutes
65 minutes (spread across content area)
2 hrs
30 minutes
10 minutes
80 minutes (spread across contents, including world language)
2 hrs
30 minutes
10 minutes
80 minutes (spread across contents, including world language)
There’s no hiding that BVP scholars do a lot of work, and we always aim for it to be meaningful work. We’re confident saying this is our best bet to opening as many doors for our scholars as possible.

The next segment of this series focuses on assessment at BVP. We hope you will continue following! Engage with us through comments, questions, and shares, and please take this opportunity to shout out topics you’d like to see highlighted in future blog series.

By Kate Crowe and Drew Madden

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

English Language Arts at BVP

Today is day three of our blog series all about academics, and we're covering English Language Arts.


Colleges and universities have long bemoaned the amount of remediation required by students. They frequently point to the struggles in the range and volume of reading inherent in collegiate coursework, and the apparent inability of students to write unless it's reflecting on their personal opinions or experiences.

College and career readiness demands that scholars read more, read many different types of text (multiple literary genres, informational texts from multiple domains, film, speeches, etc), write about those texts, defend positions using textual evidence, and speak fluently about their reading and writing.  

We at BVP have recognized, and are embracing, several critical shifts in the national approach to reading instruction:

  • Rich, rigorous text is the centerpiece[1]. Our scholars can and should be presented with meaningful texts, and we must build our instructional time around scholars engaging with those texts in sophisticated, analytical manners. We spend the majority of the time modeling advanced analysis and allowing scholars to interact with text. To this end, the emphasis is around depth of text rather than breadth. It is not uncommon for scholars to read the same text (or passage from a text) multiple times and for varied purposes. 
  • Instructional texts must be highly demanding. Research does not support the widely-held belief that scholars can only achieve when presented with texts at their levels; in fact, the research suggests quite the opposite. This focuses us to break away from our long-standing desires to match scholars with texts perfectly aligned to their instructional and independent levels, as well as reimagining the texts we select at each grade.
  • Questioning is critical. Rather than asking scholars general questions to gauge comprehension, our questions focus on analysis. At every grade level, our thinking shifts to important text-dependent and evidence-based questions that drive at the central messages, evaluate key ideas and details, examine the craft and structure, and integrate knowledge and meaning. In essence, these are questions worth asking, not simply those that provide basic evidence of comprehension.
  • Language analysis and instruction is embedded. Outstanding pieces of literary and informational texts shine because authors manipulate language in creative ways, and pushing scholars to explore those manipulations is key to analyzing text. In keeping the text the centerpiece, we must allow scholars to uncover meaning and defend that analysis through close reading rather than teacher-directed definition. Explicit instruction around Greek and Latin roots and affixes, and other meaningful academic vocabulary, still has a home in English Language Arts instruction, although it is separate from the text-specific analyses of language.

We believe that all scholars must be equipped with world-class composition skills in order to graduate from BVP. To that end, writing instruction at BVP centers on several principles:

  • Rich, rigorous texts as guides. As scholars deeply engage with texts, they are doing so for multiple purposes. First, scholars are analyzing and grappling with text-dependent and evidence-based questions to glean meaning, and writing from those sources. Second, they are evaluating the author’s craft and assessing the methodologies the author uses. Through our writing instruction, scholars will utilize these rich, rigorous texts to guide their craft. This shift does not encourage replication; in fact, scholars are pushed to develop their own writing style based on their thorough consideration of author’s craft.
  • Prompts must be highly demanding. In many grades, scholars are no longer writing solely from the perspective of “I,” where they are repeatedly asked to recount their experiences, preferences, or imaginative stories. Through intensive encounters with text and topics, writing is increasingly sophisticated and wholly evidence-based. Free-writing and journaling still have a home in English Language Arts instruction, although it is not the core and should be used sparingly.
  • The writer’s craft is a muscle that requires regular exercise. Writing is not a mechanical process existing of an equation of thesis statements, supporting statements, and conclusion statements. Writing requires protected time where scholars develop comfort with struggling to find the right words and ideas. Certain writing applications will require extensive drafting and revision, although many require on-demand generation.
  • The writer’s craft is the sum of its parts, though some parts are more important than others. The heart of effective writing is getting smart ideas on paper in a compelling way, and that is the heart of BVP’s approach to writing. This does not exclude effective use of conventions--spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.--but it does elevate the ideas, organization, and development. Through this lens, writing instruction prioritizes the practice of writing over explicit grammar rules, instead opting to foster those skills through targeted mini-lessons and small group conferences during the editing and revision processes.

The next segment of this series focuses on time at BVP. We hope you will continue following! Engage with us through comments, questions, and shares, and please take this opportunity to shout out topics you’d like to see highlighted in future blog series.

[1]Letting the Text Take Center Stage” by Timothy Shanahan. American Educator, Fall 2013.

By Kate Crowe and Drew Madden

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Mathematics at BVP

Today is day two of our blog series all about academics

Mathematics is at the heart of a spirited national conversation of late. Anyone who engages in the topic of parenting, kids, and schools on social media has undoubtedly seen otherwise simple arithmetic problems morph into political debates about the content and methods scholars should learn. 

The discourse is lively, and there’s one sentiment that tends to surface with frequency: I didn’t learn it this way, and I turned out fine. 

For some, that is accurate. However, there is a tremendous amount of work to be done when it comes to closing the scientific and high-tech job gap. The education many of us received in the 70s, 80s, and 90s is not the education that will drive our scholars and national economy in years to come.

We at BVP believe that, in order to be competitive in a growing and increasingly inter-connected world, all scholars must possess a strong understanding of mathematics, including the ability to reason logically, attack problems from multiple directions, and solve problems out of context.
Nationally, we are not currently meeting this goal.  According to Achieve, Inc., an American 8th grader who successfully meets expectations will end the year two years behind his or her peers in other countries[1].  One reason underlying our country’s low results is the lack of coherence in our math curricula.  Instead of focusing on a core set of ideas, American schools have historically created endless lists of skills and topics we want scholars to master.  This approach can be referred to as going, “a mile wide, an inch deep.”[2]
We are preparing all scholars for at least one Advanced Placement (AP) mathematics class--calculus or statistics--by the point of graduation from Blackstone Valley Prep. We firmly believe that a strong mathematical foundation serves all scholars on their path to college regardless of their career aspirations.
At Blackstone Valley Prep, the following pillars drive our mathematics classrooms:
1.       Speed
It is no longer good enough to only solve problems.  The length of time a scholar takes to solve a problem is equally important.  This is especially true of simple mathematical operations that scholars are expected to complete from memory.  We set goals around speed at each grade level, and lessons continuously reinforce the importance of completing work with urgency.  All scholars are expected to spend 2,000 minutes annually practicing basic facts outside of the mathematics classroom. (Note: we’ll talk more about how time--what we do with all that extra time, and how it still isn’t enough--in an upcoming entry. Follow the blog to get it first!)
2.      Balance
Accuracy and process matter; it isn’t enough to have the right answer. Scholars have to be able to defend their pathway to that answer.  
3.      Multiple Paths
We are always pushing our scholars to be critical thinkers.  As a result, scholars are regularly expected to solve problems more than one way as part of their mathematical development. Scholars compare different methods and determine which one is the best way to solve a problem, focusing on efficiency and reliability of the method.
4.      Intentional Struggle
Scholars are too often given all of the tools to solve problems up front, being told by the teacher how to solve a problem and what strategy to use.  We intentionally allow our scholars to struggle with problems (the good kind of struggle, not the overwhelming kind).  This allows our scholars to develop all of the skills necessary to solve unfamiliar problems and tackle higher-level mathematics, and it reinforces our value of perseverance.
5.      Real World Application
We all remember the word problems that focused on the shadow cast by a tree, or trains leaving stations, or someone buying 489 apples. As much as they aspired to real world application, they fell a bit short. We aim to improve upon that.

All skills must be connected to tasks or scenarios in the world. Skills are combined together to solve single, multi-step problems that involve drawing on knowledge from other contents in addition to mathematics.  Scholars are expected to be able to identify the skills needed to solve a problem on their own and then employ the skills in coming to an answer.

The next segment of this series focuses on English Language Arts (ELA) instruction at BVP. We hope you will continue following! Engage with us through comments, questions, and shares, and please take this opportunity to shout out topics you’d like to see highlighted in future blog series.

[1] Math Works: Achieve, Inc., 2013

[2] William Schmidt, 2002

By Kate Crowe and Drew Madden

Monday, February 2, 2015

Academics at BVP: The Introduction to a BVP Blog Series

There are many features that make BVP unique—more time, intentional diversity, robust school culture— and at the heart of it all is our approach to academics. Through this blog series, the curriculum, instruction and assessment team aims to introduce you to BVP’s model for curriculum, instruction, and assessment and outline our vision for getting scholars ready for college success. This work is far from its beginning stages— in fact, the articulation of this vision has been in progress since BVP opened— but the work has morphed (and will continue to morph) over time to remain responsive to the needs of our scholars and also best practices.

It should come as no surprise that we believe all scholars are on the path to college. That college-going ethos lives in everything we do, and while it is most visible in our homeroom names, pennants, and t-shirts, it is most salient in our high expectations for teaching and learning. We start with the end in mind—college-readiness—and backwards plan so that scholars are steeped in the coursework, intellectual stimulation, and habits of mind necessary for getting to and through college.

BVP believes fundamentally in rigorous mathematics, reading, writing, and science instruction for all scholars, regardless of their background. With that vision, we’ve established core pillars of our academic programming, and we’re constantly improving our practices and materials toward these goals.

Preparing scholars for college and career requires:

  • Rigorous mathematics instruction culminating with Advanced Placement Calculus and/or Statistics
  • Intensive, explicit, and embedded composition instruction resulting in fluent, compelling writers
  • Broad canon of texts, composed of multicultural literature, informational text, and primary source documents
  • Inquiry-driven scientific exploration
  • Social studies instruction rooted in the principles of world and American history
  • Smart use of technology within and outside of classroom walls
  • Engagement in a joyful and classical study of the liberal arts

For this reason, we support the higher-level thinking skills emphasized by the Common Core State Standards in concert with Next Generation Science Standards, Rhode Island’s Grade Span Expectations for Social Studies, and standards promulgated by the national associations for technology, physical education, the arts, and foreign language.

The next segment of this series focuses on mathematics instruction at BVP. We hope you will continue following! Engage with us through comments, questions, and shares, and please take this opportunity to shout out topics you’d like to see highlighted in future blogs.


About BVP's Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Team

Kate Crowe, Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
Ms. Crowe is originally from New England, a graduate of Suffolk University with a degree in English and Economics, as well as Master of Business Administration studies from Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business. Ms. Crowe served as Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at Schwartz Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona. There, she implemented research-based, assessment-driven school-wide academic standards, assessment, and curriculum, and mentored and assisted teachers to ensure student success. As a member of the Teacher Preparation, Support, and Development Institute team at Teach For America, Ms. Crowe managed the summer training and development of new corps members as School Director of Agua Fria High School. Launching The New Teacher Project's Arizona Teaching Fellows initiative, Ms. Crowe executed large, long-term strategic projects including new teacher training, school hiring initiatives, state policy lobbying, and district and school public relations. As a Teach For America corps member in Phoenix, Arizona, Ms. Crowe taught middle and high school English Language Arts and led her students toward dramatic levels of student achievement.

Drew Madden, Associate Director of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics
Mr. Madden was a charter member of Teach for America – Rhode Island and taught math at BVP Middle School before joining the Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment team. He was raised in Holliston, Massachusetts and graduated from Brown University with an A.B. in Political Science and a focus in American Politics. While he was at Brown, he was on the executive board of the student government and was heavily involved in the theater community, working in various technical positions.