A school identifies with thinking plan Concept: Six years ago, the new principal at Friendship Valley Elementary found the focus he wanted for his school: Intelligent Behaviors, now a core component of the curriculum.

June 07, 1998|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

When Curtis Schnorr became the first principal of Friendship Valley Elementary six years ago, he wanted the school to have an identity, something that would set it apart from other county elementaries.

Schnorr found what he was looking for at an educational conference at the Johns Hopkins University: Intelligent Behaviors.

The program, developed by a Hawaii-based education consultant, stresses that children can be taught to be more effective thinkers, just as they can be taught to read and write and do math.

The 12 Intelligent Behaviors have become a part of Friendship Valley. They're displayed in the cafeteria, the gym and the media center. The school bumper sticker reads: "My Child Used Their Intelligent Behaviors at Friendship Valley."

Teachers at all grade levels incorporate the behaviors into their lessons. Over and over, students are encouraged to be persistent and creative, to check for accuracy, to draw on previous knowledge and use flexible thinking. The school defines itself as "A Home for the Mind."

Schnorr said the Intelligent Behaviors program has been a factor in the school's improved scores on the Maryland Schools Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) tests -- for example, the composite score has gone from 49.5 percent of children performing satisfactorily in 1995 to 59 percent this year.

The principal said he expects the school to meet the state's target of 70 percent by 2000.

"If you're strictly just teaching [curriculum] content, and not the thinking process, kids will be able to regenerate and recall the information, but they won't be able to problem-solve and get a grasp on things and really think creatively and critically," he said.

As Friendship Valley fifth-graders move on to middle school, Schnorr hopes they will be more confident in tackling difficult questions and unfamiliar situations.

"We want them to be prepared for whatever unknown is out there in middle school and high school," he said. "We see them internalizing these behaviors, and their thinking becomes more complex."

Mary Mahaney, 11, a student at Friendship Valley since it opened, said she thinks Intelligent Behaviors will give her an advantage for the next school year at Westminster East Middle School.

"They help me because they set a guideline, and if you have a guideline set, then you know what is expected of you and you can reach that and go higher," Mary said. "It can help with better grades too. You know how to be patient and listen and be persistent."

Some parents of Friendship Valley students acknowledge that the idea of teaching intelligent behaviors sounded odd when they first heard of it. They couldn't imagine a kindergartner understanding a teacher's request to "manage your impulsivity" -- or don't act on your first thought.

"I think they get a lot out of it," said Ginnie Zawacki, a parent of three Friendship Valley students. "I'll say to my daughter, 'Did you brush your teeth?' and she'll say, 'No, Mom, you didn't tell me to, you have to use clear and precise language.' "

"It tells me that they do understand what they're learning," Zawacki said. "And it carries over to other areas of their lives in a positive way."

Lavonne Sennett said her 6-year-old son frequently uses the language of the Intelligent Behaviors at home.

"If he gets mad, he'll say, 'I've got to decrease my impulsivity, Mom,' " Sennett said.

Arthur L. Costa, who developed Intelligent Behaviors, said Friendship Valley is one of about 25 schools nationwide that have made the program a core component of the curriculum.

Costa, a former education professor in the University of California system, said he developed the program in 1991 based on research that identified common behaviors and thinking patterns shared by "effective problem solvers."

"I took those attributes and habits and pulled them together into a list to work with schools to help them teach these intelligent behaviors," he said. "The underlying philosophy is that we can teach children and adults a set of behaviors that guide them in knowing how to confront problems, the solutions to which are not immediately obvious."

First-grade teacher Lynne Klingelhofer stressed the intelligent behaviors, listening and persistence, in a reading lesson last week. The students' assignment was to find six adjectives in a book they were reading.

"If your head is down and you're working and flipping through the book, then I'm going to say to myself, there's persistence," Klingelhofer said. "And please check for accuracy before you write your adjectives. You're checking for periods, capitals and spelling."

Throughout the class, Klingelhofer repeats the desired Intelligent Behaviors and praises the children who display them.

"At the first-grade level, it's catching that behavior and pointing it out," she said.

For example, when a student makes a mistake and then immediately corrects it, Klingelhofer says, "I like the way you were flexible in your thinking."

Shane Ryberg, 7, defined Intelligent Behaviors this way: "When you have your head down and you're working, you're using persistence. And when you're still and you're looking at the teacher, then you'll get a dolphin for listening."

He was referring to dolphin paper cutouts given to students who demonstrate the behaviors.

Schnorr said teachers have become "missionaries" for the Intelligent Behaviors concept. Although some elementary schools in the county have chosen to highlight certain behaviors, only Friendship Valley has made it a primary focus.

"It has not become stale, it has not become complacent," Schnorr said. "Everyone realizes that year after year, as we refine our craft in teaching, we become more accomplished in what we can do with Intelligent Behaviors. It relates to MSPAP, to the county curriculum, to whatever direction we can take it in."

Pub Date: 6/07/98

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