Interview with Paul Andrichuk, teaching and learning center director

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"Headlines" article – April 2012 All-School News

This year Paul Andrichuk became the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) director. We asked Paul about what’s happening in the TLC and his new postition.

How do you like your new job as the Teaching and Learning Center director?
I like it a lot. I’m working more with kids, which I really missed when I was head of the Middle School. I work mostly with Middle School students, Cindy Murray works with Upper Schoolers, and Sue Sacks and Lauren Burns work with Lower School students.

Has the TLC expanded services?
For the past two years we didn’t provide educational testing in the Middle School because it’s time consuming. But we were able to bring it back this year, because I am full time in the TLC dedicated to the Middle School. We do some of the analysis ourselves in the TLC. Sometimes we send kids out for more comprehensive testing than we can provide internally.

Would you ever consider testing all students?
It would be very difficult to pull off, even internally. And outside evaluations with psychologists run between $2,000 and $3,500 per student. The internal testing takes about four hours, and it’s valuable only for students who know what they want to get out of it. Testing for testing’s sake is not productive. The students have to be ready to fully participate in the process and advocate for themselves afterwards.

Now that it’s the Teaching and Learning Center and not just the Learning Center, how has that changed things?
We surveyed US teachers to find out what they want to explore. The faculty is especially interested in learning more about the autism spectrum, attentional issues, and motivation.

The parent evenings have been successful, especially the ADD/ ADHD presentation. We’ll continue offering those sessions and welcoming suggestions for topics. Research reveals new information all the time, so training teachers and working with parents is ongoing.

We’ve also been reaching out for some local partnerships. We’ve met with people associated with Pacific University’s testing and assessment services to talk about lower cost outside evaluation. They administer a $500 test, and they are willing to potentially partner with us.

How do you support students aside from testing?
I visit classes and talk with kids about planning for long-range assignments. I ask: do you understand the assignment, what is the sequence of things you need to do to complete the assignment, what is your afternoon and evening schedule?

Right now I’m working with 7th graders to look at reading in particular. We are examining what decoding looks like, what comprehension looks like, and what strategies they use for reading. We assessed every 7th graders’ comprehension and oral fluency to help prepare them for the active reading they’ll do in our high school. We’ll do this with 6th graders before the end of the year, too.

We’re also looking at advocacy and motivation. In partnership with a local psychologist, we created a 10-question survey about how empowered students are as learners. The survey examines what students think their own roles are in their own learning.

At what age do kids use our learning services?
Sue does early intervention as early as 1st grade.

Is the TLC just for students who struggle academically?
We are spending more time thinking about kids who stand out academically, whether as struggling students or as unusually quick students. What do we do with kids who need support? Do kids who fail to reach second language proficiency still graduate? What about kids whose math skills are beyond what’s happening at their grade level? We don’t move kids up or down to different grade levels very often. More often we work with them individually.

What are some of your plans for the TLC?
Tutors do a great job, but I would like to schedule more small-group instruction where kids work together. We formed a group for English as a second language students for the first time this year, and it’s been really successful. We’ve learned from the ESL group that peer mentoring is really important. We also have a learning disability club in the Upper School. I’m very interested in older kids shepherding younger students.

The lecture series is just a start for parent education. I’d like to set up cohort groups for parents of kids with similar issues such as ADD/ADHD. How can parents help each other?

How does the TLC fit in with progressive education?
Progressive education now has a scientific point of reference. Scientists have discovered through brain research that metacognition — knowing how you learn — makes students more successful. The 2nd grade brain study in which students identify their own learning strengths is great! Knowing yourself well and being honest and resilient are important building blocks for success in school.

The progressive notion that students make meaning by constructing knowledge instead of having it passively delivered is supported by cognitive research. It’s exciting to know that we’re doing it right. We have to stay current as new discoveries emerge.

What’s a new area of research that you’d like to pursue?
I’m very interested in the research about motivation and levels of effort. Are we born with a certain drive or can motivation be instilled? Thomas Edison was a terrible student and his teacher called him addled, but he was relentless in his pursuit of things that interested him. How do we create that kind of motivation?

Independent schools like Catlin Gabel are uniquely able to encourage motivation. In a small school, kids know each other well and identify each other’s talents. Our students are patient and cooperative with other because they learn at a young age that everyone has different strengths. Sometimes our graduates are disappointed in their college experience, especially when they attend universities with large classes and lectures or when competition trumps cooperation. But once they engage their classmates and professors in meaningful ways, which they learn early on at Catlin Gabel, they gain so much more from their college experience.

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