Why #WeAchieveTogether is a weekly blog from our Achievement Schools. It highlights the outstanding work of our staff and the high quality programs that help our students succeed.
This school year, nine of our Achievement Schools are piloting new resources to increase student engagement and achievement in reading and writing.
This summer, the School Board approved the Expeditionary Learning (EL) program for our nine elementary schools that are also working with the University of Virginia Partnership for Leaders in Education: Cleveland, Dover, Folsom, Forest Hills, McDonald, Palm River, Potter, Robles and Shaw.
“We’re trying to find a way to better engage students, get more quality text into their hands, develop their love of reading even further, in addition to making sure we’re closing that achievement gap and hitting the skills they need,” said Forest Hills Elementary Principal Rachael O’Dea.
Principal O’Dea and teachers at Forest Hills researched the nationally acclaimed, comprehensive, standards-based core literacy program. The team collaborated with Achievement Schools leaders, who felt a need for high quality, viable curriculum is in the best interest of our students, and supported the adoption of the innovative resources at other schools.
“We came upon the Expeditionary Learning “EL” Program. Looking at something different for schools that maybe have the biggest gaps to fill is innovative and different. We haven’t done that before,” said Principal O’Dea. “We were able to expand upon that with our 9 UVA Schools, and now we’re moving forward and trying something that’s never been done.”
The literacy resource focuses on three key areas: mastery of knowledge and skills, character and high-quality student work. Forest Hills Elementary Instructional Reading Coach Carmen Mott-Singleton says the program engages teachers and students through compelling, real world content in science, social studies and literature and builds equitable and inclusive learning opportunities for all students.
“This is going to help boost our student achievement. For one, it’s going to create more of a joy for reading. When that happens, kids are a lot more invested in their learning,” said Mott-Singleton. “The kids are going to connect better with the text, so we can continue to do all of the great things we’ve been doing to boost the achievement at Forest Hills, but now the kids are going to enjoy it even more because they’re going to be looking forward to the topics and text they’ll be digging into this school year.”
The program is the highest-rated K-5 English Language Arts series ever reviewed by EdReports.org and has a high teacher usability rating: https://www.edreports.org/reports/overview/el-education-k-5-language-arts-2017.
Forest Hills 4th Grade Reading and Writing Teacher Julie Black appreciates that EL provides teachers with materials and daily instructional plans paired with embedded professional learning for teachers.
“When we heard about EL Education, we were so excited,” said Black. “Everything was there and everything was integrated already—the grammar, the vocabulary, the reading, the writing. It’s seamless, and it also has character education intertwined, which the students really need that also.”
Our pilot schools are making big changes to the way literacy instruction is structured.
“We’re changing our ELA (English Language Arts) block from 120 minutes to 150 minutes,” said Principal O’Dea. “We’re taking a text-first approach, which allows students to develop their purpose for learning, which in turn develops good comprehension—that’s going to allow children to learn at a faster rate.”
“We’re going to read the entire book and delve deeply into understanding what they’re reading—so reading comprehension at its deepest is exactly what they’re going to get from this resource,” said Black.
Our district is measuring the academic achievement of students who are using EL through mid- and end-of-unit assessments and i-Ready diagnostics to ensure the curriculum reflects the state standards and is meeting the needs of various learners.
Achievement Network (ANet), a nonprofit organization dedicated to educational equity, is supporting our nine UVA schools with on-the-ground support for school principals, reading coaches and teachers to support the implementation of EL and progress monitoring.
“What I love best about EL is it takes good, challenging and rigorous things that help push those shifts of common core standards or reading in general—and it brings kids along in a joyful way, so that we all get to where we’re supposed to be: better teachers, better learners and student achievement,” said Mott-Singleton. “We’re going to keep moving forward. I think that we’re all going to be happy with the results in the end.”
This is Why #WeAchieveTogether.
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