Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Decade of Making Dreams Come True

Happy Birthday Chets Creek!

Last week’s action packed events celebrating our 10th year of learning together reconfirmed the community of learners and leaders culture that is so deeply entrenched in the work we do together. The community culture at Chets Creek is second to none. Founding Principal Dr. Terri Stahlman with a team of dedicated teachers set forth to establish the vision, mission, and learner expectations of our school based on Roland Barth’s work in Improving Schools From Within. This week’s events revisited this process, offered great reflection, and allowed for celebration of our great successes. Sure, we could have just sang Happy Birthday, or handed out cupcakes, but instead in true Chets Creek fashion---we celebrated with a week’s worth of over-the-top events, and created a lasting memory for our faculty and our students.

Participating in the events of the week, I marveled at the culture, how a small team of dedicated party planners came together to create this wonderful walk down memory lane, and how all stakeholders embraced the special memories.

Students revisited through DVD the “Magic School Bus Ride” that delivered the inaugural classes to their new school. They browsed through the Chets Creek Museum of artifacts that we dug up from the time capsule laid in place in 1998 under the primary playground. They dressed up in remembrance of old themes to hoot and holler at a Birthday Party complete with cake, music and lots of fun. They listed to guest alumni teacher and student readers after a faculty alumni breakfast. The 1,200 Chets Creek students gathered around the flag pole on Friday to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem, and hear their head learning leader, Principal Phillips speak about this very special community we all share. Each child then formed a part of the letters—C C E and took part in marking their place in history as a aerial photo was taken. The time capsule full of new 2008 student artifacts was then settled comfortably back in its place beneath the primary playground to be reopened in 2018 upon our twentieth birthday celebration.

As we usher in the next decade of learning and growing, I wonder what the future holds...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Standard Snapshot

Like other schools, we communicate with parents in typical ways through parent/teacher conferences, PTA nights, phone calls, e-mails etc... In addition, we communicate with parents via a weekly newsletter, The Connection, sent home from the Principal each Friday, a classroom newsletter sent home from each classroom teacher on Mondays, and through classroom blogs. We also use a unique tool we created about six years ago, The Standard Snapshot.

The Standard Snapshot is a Standards-based Bulletin Board in a parent package, and is sent home monthly beginning in December when grade level work begins to meet the standard. The snapshot is color-coded by grade level so it is easily identifiable to parents. The top of the snapshot reads... "This is a "snapshot" of a second grade lesson. We are sharing this with you so you may gain a better understanding of the work that your child is expected to do to meet the grade level standard. Attached to this standard piece of work is a sample of your child's work."

The front page of the Standard Snapshot includes:

What is the standard?

Why teach this lesson?

Tell me about this lesson.

Why does this student work meet the standard?

The back of the Standard Snapshot is one student's sample piece of work selected from the grade level. This piece of student work meets the standard. (We do not use work that exceeds the standard.) Then, their child's piece of work from the same assignment is stapled to the Standard Snapshot. The idea is for the parent to be able to compare their child's work to a standard piece of work.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Live From The Creek

Every year about this time, a few of us from The Creek, set out on an educational journey to the annual America's Choice National Conference to share ideas and network with other educators from across our nation. The conference location alternates from West Coast to East Coast and this year the destination is Hollywood, California from Jan 30-Feb 2. (Are you jealous yet?)

In the past, we've done several break-out sessions, presented a Virtual Tour of our school, and attended a Demonstration Model School mini-conference. We return to The Creek to share the news of what we've learned. One year all the rage was their Using Rubrics to Improve Student Writing after we participated in a session by Sally Hampton. We now have copies for every teacher in the building. We use it to analyze student work against a rubric, compare our student work to the sample pieces, and to write organized teacher commentary for Standards-based Bulletin Boards. One year we discovered a math intervention program, Math Navigator, after attending a session by Phil Daro, that we swiftly put in place to further increase our math scores. Now, our special education students and our regular education students with gaps in math skills and concepts or misconceptions built in earlier grades get a much needed and focused safety net. This module delivered safety net is a must have in every building with struggling math students and compliments a core math curriculum.

This year, we are taking a larger group, about ten teachers, and instead of waiting for us to come back and share, we are going to blog and twitter live from the conference. By logging onto our Live from the Creek blog, teachers will be able to get live access to our session topics, summaries, and thoughts. We are hoping to also UStream or Skype our own presentations so our teachers can log on and watch live or go back to the recorded session from home in the evening. Cross your fingers that we have a good internet connection!

In addition to our Virtual Tour which has turned high tech thanks to our techie models, Melanie Holtsman and Eric Blair, CCE teachers will be delivering sessions on technology integration in science, vocabulary developed units within a PLC, standards-based bulletin boards, Math Navigator, and our own dayle timmons, special education teacher and primary literacy coach, will be delivering the closing keynote. Our principal, Susan Phillips, will also be sitting in on a panel discussion. We can't wait to interact with our America's Choice peers.

We are hoping that although we cannot take all of our K-5 teachers (we have so many!) , they will be a virtual part of our journey this year. We can't wait to get started!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

It Is Not Safe To Do Nothing

There is a term you will commonly hear in reference to Chets Creek. It is one that always makes me cringe when spoken and withdrawl from conversation. I don't know why I let it bother me so much, but I do.

Maverick. "One that refuses to abide by the dictates of or resists adherence to a group; a dissenter." Or,"Being independent in thought and action or exhibiting such independence." In light of a more positive term, I'd rather think of us as pioneers. "A person who goes before, preparing the way for others." And, although, I don't like the derogatory tone of the word maverick, I do understand why some use the term to describe us.

At Chets Creek, we live by three R's. Relationships, Risks, and Results. To live by the second term--Risks--we must be curious; we must push the envelope; we must be independent in thought; we must not be fearful and stuck. We are not willing to be mediocre.

I agree with Seth Godin when he states, "The riskiest thing you can do is play it safe." Playing it safe can only lead to more of the status quo. Just as Seth explains... there was a lot of effort by a lot of people to make him less curious, but he resisted. His resistance has lead to his success. I'm sure there are people whose jobs would be easier if we were less curious at Chets, but I also believe that pioneers make everyone's work better. I hope we hold tight to the risk taking and continue to push the envelope. Our children deserve it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Safety Nets--Catch Them Before They Fall

Offering differentiated instruction is a way of life at Chets. Meeting the needs of all learners is one key to our success.

We differentiate for Level 1 and 2 learners during our workshop model through our work period. In work period teachers facilitate small groups, confer with individuals, and circulate the room doing "drive-bys." This differentiation meets the needs of Level 1 and 2 learners who need the core curriculum and a teacher's ear.

Differentiation for Level 3 learners takes place at Chets mostly in Grades 3-5 and consists of the teacher holding homework help sessions before school. Typically, this occurs in mathematics because we have a very systematic homework sheet covering a range of skills and concepts, and some students struggling to be independent mathematicians may need additional teacher assistance.

We offer the majority of our intervention programs for the Level 4 learners, because typically Level 5 learners emerge in the middle school grades.

For Level 4 learners in Reading we offer:

  • Reading Mastery to kindegarten and first grade students who struggle with phonics. This systematic direct instruction does not replace their Readers' Workshop but is given in addition to. We've run this safety net in a variety of ways but find it most successful when a certified teacher acting as a safety net teacher at the grade level pulls small groups of students for approxiamently forty minutes every day. This safety net occurs during school. To read more about this visit dayle timmons' blog on Safety Nets.

  • Great Leaps to students who struggle with fluency in grades two and three. (In the past, we've also offered it to specific studnets in fourth and fifth Grade, too.) This program covers some phonics but really works on improving student's reading rate. We use paraprofessionals to deliver this safety net, because this is a very scripted program easily taught by a non-certified teacher. The paraprofessional has a set schedule and pulls students one at a time for approxiamently five minutes each. The good news is that a student only needs the five additional minutes to move their fluency forward, but the bad news is that it has to be conducted one- to- one.

  • Before School Tutoring to third, fourth, and fifth grade students needing more support. Teachers use a wide variety of resources for this extra forty minute intervention. Generally, the teacher gives up their planning time from 8:20-9:00 two to three days a week to give students this extra safety net.

In Math we offer:

  • Math Navigator to regular education and special education students in third, fourth, and fifth grade who are struggling to be successful in the core math curriculum because of gaps in their skill or conceptual knowledge, or previously learned misconceptions are impeding their progress. Math Navigator is organized in 20-day modules that supplement the core curriculum. Therefore, we offer this program during the day to special education studnets who receive a double block of math, and in before and after school programs for our regular education students. A variety of teachers have taught these small groups including our intermediate special education teachers, our math coaches, our Art teacher, and a few extended day employees. To learn more about this tiered intervention listen to Phil Daro explain why students need this safety net.

  • Before School Tutoring is offered by the classroom teacher typically before school from 8:20-9:00 several days a week in third, fourth, and fifth grade. Teachers use a variety of resources to reteach concepts and skills studnets need more time to master.

In Addition, we are piloting:

  • Literacy Navigator for our fifth grade students who are generally considered at grade level readers so they further develop content area reading skills that will be used as they advance into middle and high school. Two groups are currently in session, one is being taught before school from 8:00-8:45 and the other after school from 3:15-4:05. We will be tracking student progress on our state assessment to see if this safety net further accelerated student performance.

Finding the time and the people to deliver safety net instruction is no easy feat, but it is one that we feel is significantly important. Catching students before they fall behind is easier and more cost efficient than trying to remediate them afterward. Therefore, running our Readers', Writers' and Mathematics Workshops like a fine tuned machine is one of our key focuses. Even so, we have students who need extra support and have to offer them safety nets to meet their needs.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Catch Them Before They Fall

Most educators you talk to, regardless of whether they are a Kindergarten teacher or a Grade 12 teacher would agree that all learners progress at their own rate. Some students get it before the words are even spoken, some get it after you've said it once or shown them once how to do something, and some need repeated exposure and on-going practice before they grapple with and grasp a skill or concept. Your room at any given time is filled with a heterogeneous blend of all types of learners.

And, though, we would agree that all learners progress at different rates, it is all too common that we offer students all the same instruction and miraculously expect everyone to master grade level standards. When in reality each student sitting in our presence may need something different to get there.
Because learners progress at different rates, some need interventions or safety nets to be successful. An intervention is defined as "the act of intervening, especially a deliberate entry into a situation or dispute in order to influence events or prevent undesirable consequences" and a safety net is "something that provides security against misfortune or difficulty."

One of my jobs as a data coach and curriculum/instructional specialist is to assist teachers in the identification of students needing safety nets. At Chets, this is most commonly done by the gathering and analysis of data including DIBELS assessment, our Chets Creek diagnostic assessement, and on-going common formative assessment. Then, as a resource provider and school leader I need to assist the prinicipal in making sure that research based safety nets are available and we have teachers running intervention programs before, during, and after school to make sure students' needs are being met. This is a time consuming endevour but one size does not fit all, therefore it is a critical part of our instructional work.

Because there are so many types of learners, educators need to understand the different levels of learners to most effectively provide the differentiated instruction.
  • Level 1 and 2 learners need the regular core curriculum. The Level 2 learner may need the teacher's support through asking a question or getting a clarification, but overall these students progress at grade level standard without any additional assistance.
  • Level 3 learners need the regular core curriculum and additional assistance in the form of homework help. They are almost grasping the skills and concepts in class but not quite enough to become independent learners without assistance on their homework. In general, they need about 5 to 10 minutes of out of class time before grasping the skill and concept.
  • Level 4 learners need the regular core curriculum and an intervention program. The safety net program must be focused and address the student's areas of need to produce successful results.
  • Level 5 learners are significantly behind, sometimes by two or more years, and the regular core curriculum is not addressing their needs. An intervention program that can accelerate them back into the regular grade level standards is what is needed so they don't slip further behind.

Every school likely has Level 1,2,3,4, and 5 learners in their midst. They need to address the needs of each of these learners because every year a child's needs are not met, they slip down into another level. If a Level 3 learner in the fourth grade does not get homework help outside of class time, then upon entering grade five, they will have developed into a Level 4 learner needing more support. As the levels fall, intervention becomes more expensive and time consuming.

As an educator, I'd take a few minutes to ask questions like:
What safety net programs are offered at my school?
What do the programs target? (math concepts, reading fluency, reading comprehension?)
What data needs gathered to place students in appropriate interventions?
When will the student attend the intervention?
Who will teach the intervention?
When will I know that a student no longer needs the intervention?

To get an idea of the types of safety nets we offer at Chets, stay tuned for the next post. I'll be sharing our intervention programs and when we offer them. Until next time...

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Common Diagnostic Assessment and Analysis

Three times a year, we give a diagnostic assessment in reading, writing, and mathematics to each student at CCE. The reading and math assessment written by a team of dedicated coaches and teachers is directly aligned with our state standards and includes at least one question pertaining to each standard. The assessment is meant to be a cumulative assessment of all content to be learned by a student in their specific grade level.

The assessment is given at the beginning, middle, and end of the year and tracks student progress over the course of the year. We report individual student data to parents. In addition, we compile the data by classroom and grade level to assess how equitable teaching is across a grade level and subject area. If one teacher shows tremendous growth in a specific area, we tap on their knowledge to share best practices in that area across the grade level. The teacher may present at a Teacher Meeting or invite colleagues into their classroom to observe instruction. Teachers use the diagnostic data to prescribe whole group, small group, and individual instruction, as well as make intervention decisions and professional development plans by subject area and teacher.

After teachers grade the assessments, they transfer the information onto individual student profiles and put the information into an EXCEL Spreadsheet. This allows them the capability to sort and report the data in order to quickly identify instructional concepts and skills students need within small group settings. They electronically pass the EXCEL Spreadsheet to their coach and the coach compiles the data into an Overall Grade Level Spreadsheet. The coach sorts and reports the data to get a grade level average, identify the lowest 25% of students, and sort averages for special education, regular education and gifted education students. Analyzing subgroups also assists the teachers in coaches in making data driven decisions including which safety net intervention programs we need to offer along with our regular core curriculum.

Diagnostic data is the cornerstone of our work here at The Creek along with on-going formative common assessments.