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Learning and Living with the Dispositions of Practice

Posted by Giselle Martin-Kniep
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How do schools promote a culture that is infused by the Dispositions of Practice? How are these upheld? By whom?

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to attend the Second Annual Showcase Celebration of Learning at the Little Flower School District located in Wading River, New York. This is the only residential Special Act public school district on Long Island serving approximately 100 students who are referred from districts throughout the state. The students reside in cottages on the campus in living groups based on their age, sex, developmental needs and individualized treatment goals. Counseling and psychotherapy are provided to every student.

Lisa Boerum, a founding member of the Center for the Study of Expertise in Teaching and Learning, now known as Communities for Learning, has been the Assistant Superintendent of the district for 5 years now. During her tenure, she has explicitly embedded the Dispositions of Practice into policies, programs, and practices. Teachers use them to set professional goals, plan and assess their curriculum, and evaluate their own and their students’ progress. Students use them as a compass for learning and working in the classroom, and as a lens to assess their progress and achievement.

During the showcase, parents, community members and visitors walked from classroom to classroom and had a chance to meet with staff members and students. The classrooms were decorated with students’ work from the entire year and students were prepared to share their work and talk about it, and did so with great ease. Posters with the Dispositions of Practice and other Habits of Mind were also displayed. I watched 4th grade students in Brenda McMillan’s class read their Five Senses Books and was briefed by 8th grade students in Marie Caporusso’s class on fire safety.

I was quizzed by students from grades 4-6 in Mrs.Dougal’s class on key facts about the Iroquois using a clicker program called Turning Point which is linked to a Power Point Presentation, and got to read and listen to high school students discuss and debate their ideas about Twilight and related books.

My most memorable experience occurred while I chatted with a high school student in Mrs. Cittadino’s class. As he showed me his work, he told me he wanted to be a card dealer at a casino, and then proceeded to show me his career portfolio and reflections. He had various research notes on community colleges and had clearly done much thinking about how he would pursue his career goals.

Included in his portfolio were several of the rubrics that Communities for Learning has designed to help students assess themselves on the Dispositions of Practice. All of his ratings indicated that he saw himself operating at the “Beginning” level. He had no trouble accurately assessing his communication, behavior and work, and seemed to have a solid understanding of what he needed to do to move along the continuum.

I clearly realized then that one of our most important gifts to students is to enable them to understand themselves deeply as human beings and as learners; to appreciate their unique strengths and potential, and to broaden their thinking about how to pursue their dreams and passions. I am thrilled that the articulation and use of the Dispositions of Practice can support such important gift.

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