Starting a Fire!–Part 1
This is part 1 of a series of blogs that demonstrates our work with a school looking to improve the learning of their students.
We have just begun working with a PK-5 grade school that is on “Improvement” status with their state department, ranking 618th of the 898 public schools in the state. The school has hired a new principal for the 2014-2015 school year, who has experience in turning around schools. The staff had some significant turn over during the summer of 2014. This is a school with 19 staff and 350 students with demographics of 47% free and reduced lunch, 67% White, 20% Hispanic, 10% American Indian.
Don’t Ever Stop! shared their proficiency ladders with the principal and she felt these would help and support her staff in scaffolding each student from their current instructional level to grade level standards. She shared the tool with several staff members and generated excitement for implementation.
Proficiency ladders are tools for student and teacher use to create awareness regarding the standards and the path to proficiency for those grade level standards. These tools are also designed to support students charting their progress towards mastery of the standards. The ladders begin with academic vocabulary and then outline the four previous grade level standards that lead to mastery of the grade level. Students are pre-assessed to determine their entry point into the proficiency ladder, which aligns with their instructional level. This provides students with an opportunity to feel success and build towards the grade level standard if they are performing below standards.
We provided 4 hours of professional development to introduce the ladders, provide a simple example of how a proficiency ladder works and how to track it on a bar chart. The bar chart is a summary of all the grade level standards for learners to keep a record of how they are progressing.
After providing professional development with the staff, we met with teams individually to answer questions regarding their initial attempt at using proficiency ladders with their students. Issues ranged from time to meet with learners, teacher perfectionism and control issues, aligning activities to the proficiency ladder, and ensuring rigor in those activities.
We worked with the staff to prioritize the ELA Common Core Standards into a set of essential learnings that all students will be held to proficiency. The reason we felt this was important is that there are approximately 43 ELA standards per grade level to be accomplished in 175 school days. If students were held to proficiency on all the standards that means they would have to master a standard every 4 days.
Using the work of Larry Ainsworth and Doug Reeves, we had grade level teachers work together to ascertain the 1/3 to ½ of the Common Core standards that they felt were essential to their grade level based on being essential for life, the next grade level, and the test.
We then created an ELA learning progression by charting each grade levels’ essential learnings on a poster. We assisted the teachers in looking at the learning progression to ensure there was academic consistency from previous grade levels. We now have a set of approximately 15-20 standards that all learners will be held accountable to proficient or better performance. Because teachers have only seen superficially what may be included on the PARCC test, their essential learnings may change once they understand more about the content and format of the test.
The staff and principal are very excited about this work and have engaged us for more professional development for the Spring 2015.
Next blog: Creating rigorous choice boards to give learners voice and choice in their learning.