RL’s Penn Fellows Complete and Share Their Culminating Work

Since 2012, the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education has partnered with independent schools throughout the northeast to allow early career teachers to earn a master’s in education while simultaneously gaining classroom experience. In 2017, Roxbury Latin became one of ten schools in the program’s first day school cohort. Since that time, RL has welcomed two new Penn Fellows to the faculty each year. These Fellows spend their two years with our community filling many roles at school; they are gifted generalists, much like our boys. They are primarily graduate students—taking online courses, attending weekly classes led by on-site administrators, and traveling to four weekend or week-long sessions annually at Penn and other partner schools. But because the Penn program is grounded in both theory and practice, fellows are simultaneously coaching, advising, and, most importantly, teaching their own classes at RL.

This month, RL’s two second-year Fellows, Visaury Moreta and Chris Brown, concluded their degree program in a very unusual way. Like the rest of us, Visaury and Chris are finishing the school year virtually, presenting for their Penn program in recorded videos and teaching their RL courses—Spanish 1 and 2 for Visaury, and AP Economics and History 7 for Chris—via Zoom. Chris’s lacrosse season has been canceled, and Visaury’s debaters have missed their final competitions of the year. Despite these challenging circumstances, however, Visaury and Chris were able to complete the Penn program’s culminating experience—the in-depth capstone inquiry project—which they presented to both their Penn cohort and the RL faculty last week. 

Visaury’s inquiry project sought to answer the question: How can I build feedback and assessment practices that support students in understanding Spanish grammar? In her first years as a teacher, Visaury found that her go-to assessment practice—traditional “red marks” on assignments large and small—left students so overwhelmed with feedback that they actually missed her key points. Through observations, journaling, surveys, and compositions, Visaury established a better practice for her students using what education researchers call the “draft-plus” method, or the “Feedback Loop.” Visaury would not grade students on their first draft of work. Instead, she would use the opportunity for feedback and allow students to ask questions about that feedback in class before redoing the assignment. That final assignment received a grade. Visaury’s research saw incredible results, particularly in how her students felt about feedback. At the beginning of the year, the majority of her students associated the word “feedback” with negative emotions like nervousness or anxiety. By the end of the year, their attitudes had completely transformed; most students were using words like hopeful, determined, or relieved to describe how they felt about feedback. (View Visuary’s video presentation.)

In his own inquiry project, Chris explored how humor might be a powerful catalyst for an effective learning environment. In his Class I AP Economics course, Chris built humor into his daily lesson plans and assignments, made an effort to engage in unplanned humor, and deliberately encouraged student humor on a daily basis. Through journaling, focus groups, surveys, and student work, Chris found that humor made many concepts easier for his students to retain, and it relieved stress in a class that students found challenging. He also found that his humor made students feel as though they could relate to Chris on a personal level, allowing him to be more effective in his work with them. Chris concluded that while each class and teacher is different, there is no one in our community that cannot employ humor to help students achieve their goals. (View Chris’s video presentation.)

With their final projects behind them and the RL school year winding down, Visaury and Chris look forward to next year. Visaury is excited to be joining the Spanish faculty at St. Mark’s School in Southborough. At Roxbury Latin we are thrilled that Chris will be staying on with us next year, as AP Economics teacher, coach, and full-time member of the history department.