Guiding Students on the Path to Success: Shipley’s Sixth Grade SEED

Holly Caldwell
A pack of sixth graders weaves through the bustling maze of the corridor before bounding into Ms. Annie Griffin’s SEED (Shipley’s social emotional learning program) class. Within seconds, the classroom fills with the cacophonous rhythms typical of middle school environments—perky voices swapping stories accompanied by shrills of laughter. As class begins, students steal final glimpses of their screens and scramble to wrap up conversations with their neighbors. It’s no wonder why these sixth graders are jockeying until the last second to connect with their classmates; it is during the middle school years when social circles become central to forming students’ own identities, and their academic identities begin to take shape as they make the transition to more challenging academics. As students learn more about themselves as individuals, helping them identify their strengths and weaknesses—both academic and interpersonal—is an essential goal for any educator guiding them on the path to success.
One of the ways that Middle School Dean and Academic Support Coordinator Ms. Griffin prepares sixth graders for the rigor of middle school is by taking the VARK assessment, which stands for each of the learning modalities it measures: Visual, Aural, Read/write, and Kinesthetic. Students squirm in their seats and patiently wait to share their results, which evaluate the degree to which they use different sensory modalities to process and learn information—their wriggling hands revealing how many in this age group fall within the Kinesthetic category. While some find that their brains favor one mode, many discover that they are “multimodal,” meaning they grasp concepts through a variety of media, stimuli, and delivery.
To maintain their attention and interest in the classroom, Ms. Griffin has students engage in a variety of learning activities and hands-on learning experiences that suit their individual needs. In keeping with Shipley’s model of encouraging personal discovery while providing rigorous academics, she challenges academically strong students by “teaching them how to use their strength to study.” Noting how the visual student might find it helpful to transform difficult vocabulary words into pictures, Ms. Griffin recently coached a sixth grader who was trying to learn the term “emaciated.” He understood the definition to mean “sickly and thin,” so she encouraged him to draw what he pictured in his mind. The result? A sketch of a “skinny, fragile twig” with “emaciated” written on the twig in silver sharpie, which crystallized his comprehension of the word.
One cornerstone of the sixth grade SEED curriculum is having students explore their own learning styles and apply this knowledge to forming relationships. After analyzing their own VARK scores, students are tasked with creating scenarios in which classmates with various strengths could all play an integral role. As part of this simulation, students  are asked to identify potential conflicts that might arise and how to resolve them. Such skills are essential for navigating the complicated emotions and social aspects of adolescence. Ms. Griffin notes: “I want students to view situations from multiple perspectives and understand, for example, why their friends might not want to do an activity without having that difference lead to conflict.” By encouraging students to take pride and ownership in their strengths, the SEED program equips them to embrace their individuality, and in so doing, contribute to the collective well-being of the Shipley community and beyond.
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.