A teacher at Browning for seven years, Kristen Sheppard has 22 years of experience as a reading/learning specialist in a host of school settings, both public and private, including progressive, International Baccalaureate programs, twice-exceptional and gifted populations.
Ms. Sheppard received an M.A. from New York University, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, becoming a reading specialist. She earned a B.S. from Cornell University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Plant Science/Plant Genetics. She is a former adjunct at New York University (Steinhardt, Applied Psychology Department) and was a speaker at the Council of Exceptional Children Conference in 2005. She is the 2018 recipient of The Class of 1979 Faculty Award in honor of Clair J. Smith, presented by The Browning School, and was honored that same year by the staff of the Lit, a student publication at Browning.
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free” – Frederick Douglass
The gift of reading unlocks the ability for every child or adult to become an independent learner, and it is that independence that translates into true empowerment. After receiving training in 1996 from Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA) and subsequently working with illiterate adults in Geneva, New York, I knew teaching was my calling. Working with this population of adults truly solidified for me the importance of education, particularly the importance of learning to read and write.
Since my work with LVA, I have gained teaching experience (K-12) with a variety of students across a multitude of settings. I currently manage the Learning Center at Browning for Grades Five - Form VI and teach a module of study skills lessons to sixth grade and Form I boys using my comprehensive knowledge of both the Middle and Upper School curriculum. Additionally, during my tenure at Browning, one of my goals has been to build and maintain strong, trusting relationships with students and their families. If a student is struggling, trusting a teacher enough to ask for assistance is vital to their success. This trust, in turn, fosters a love for learning and allows students to work to their greatest potential, develop a positive self-concept and meet with continual academic achievement.
Learning in the Middle School (Grades Five to Eight) is particularly important because it serves as the bedrock for developing executive functioning, study and social skills, all equally fundamental for success in the Upper School and beyond. Based on evidence-based best practices, my study skills lessons include activating prior knowledge, captivating students with novelty, and demonstrating relevance. I have been absorbed in pedagogy from the very beginning when I started training to be a reading/learning specialist, staying up to date on educational research. For the past 30 years, there has been an explosion of research in the fields of neuroscience and cognitive science that has provided teachers with a new understanding of how our brains effectively encode, manipulate and store information. Using carefully designed and motivating strategies, coupled with ways to actively engage and invigorate students, provides a recipe for success. Typically, my teaching involves modeling a strategy and providing both group and independent practice. Strategy-based instruction inculcates students how to learn best and use their metacognition to become their own independent learners. Students in my classroom have knowledge about themselves as learners, have the ability to monitor and self-regulate themselves, and know how to perform a set of core process strategies. I favor instruction that encourages students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.
Typically, my study skills curriculum in Middle School targets organization, note taking, reading comprehension and writing skills, along with ways to organize and prepare for tests in Browning classes so students can become independent learners. Sixth graders in study skills this year have also been reading a series of stories by award-winning authors from the anthology “Flying Lessons & Other Stories” compiled by Ellen Oh. Each captivating story is narrated by a child in an authentic voice and teaches a life lesson centered on a social justice issue. Work with these stories has allowed the students to employ active reading strategies, identify literary elements, create graphic organizers, and write several analytical paragraphs using special frameworks to organize their thoughts. One story in this collection about a young boy who learns valuable lessons both on and off the basketball court generated great discussions and writing responses, and I hope has encouraged boys to read more for pleasure.
A few highlights of the Form I boys’ study skills curriculum this year include creating two-column notes, strategies to help them anticipate in advance or predict potential test questions based on a test format, identifying the five primary text structures and designing graphic organizers outlining the content of these text structures, identifying cause and effect relationships when reading and paraphrasing, and the utilization of a variety of special mnemonic devices to help them organize their paragraphs when writing essays for both history and English classes.
In the Learning Center, all boys in Grade Five - Form VI are welcome to receive support across the content areas. Many boys begin their day with me at 7:30 a.m. and stay after school for organizational support and homework guidance, math, reading and vocabulary enrichment, and assistance with preparing for tests. Students come throughout the day to self-reflect on their learning and test-taking skills and to seek additional strategies for a particular area of concern. Additionally, throughout the day, I provide support to help boys self-regulate their attention/focus, improve their self-advocacy skills with their teachers, along with ongoing curriculum support. Peer tutors are often available to offer additional morale and academic assistance to younger students.
Whether it be through my work with students in the classroom or in the Learning Center, I hope students gain the necessary skills to “set themselves free” to learn anything they have a passion for to become their fullest selves.