Singapore American School - Elementary Division

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Supporting a “Revolution for Excellence” in Elementary Learning Through PLCs

Beginning in 2006 the Singapore American School Elementary Division began exploring and experimenting with the concept of professional learning communities and the important impact this strategy could have on learning for students within a school community.  Through readings, group discussions, and continual learning with other professionals, we clearly could see that this concept of teachers meeting together on a regular basis to identify essential and valued student learning outcomes, and then to continually reflect on student learning in order to adjust how we were working with students, would have dramatic effects on students’ achievement.  We also believed it could support and improve the professional morale of the entire organization.  It was with this in mind that we began our collaborative process of forming highly effective professional learning communities (PLCs) throughout our elementary program.    

The Singapore American School Elementary program is one of the largest elementary schools in the world with a Preschool through Grade 5 population of almost 1,800 students.  Given our large elementary student populations we have some large teams of grade level teachers.   This posed significant challenges for us in many ways.  We needed time for teachers to effectively come together and have the important conversations that would drive the instruction and learning that would improve achievement for all students.  We also needed to decide on how to effectively group all teachers in a manner that called on everyone’s expertise in working with a student, to come together in these learning conversations.  

To initially make this happen, each teacher made a professional and intentional commitment, that because the time to meet as a professional learning community was limited within the actual teaching day, that they would come together at least one day a week after school in a professional learning community (PLC) style setting.  We also quickly realized that this one meeting was only one piece of a truly effective PLC, and that the true meaning of a PLC was groups of teachers intentionally coming together on a regular (formal and informal) basis, and throughout the entire school day, to discuss the ongoing progress and assessment of their students.  PLC’s were not a one off thing you did.  They were everything you did!  

Next we decided who needed to be in each PLC group.  This seemed quite simple since you would include everyone who had an interest in the children’s learning.  Being large though created challenges for us because, when we created our initial PLC groups, it meant teams of up to 25 teachers meeting together to discuss, for example, the needs of all grade 2 students. While there were downsides to this, with large groups, we also quickly saw advantages where there was an abundance of professional knowledge and expertise sitting around the table to lend excellent thinking to any concern that presented itself.  We also had an abundance of data for this group of students, which made it easy to look at trends and areas of need within our large groups. This provided some great opportunities for dialogue, discussion and change.  

We realized that a clearly important component for PLCs to work required a definition for how the individuals on that team behaved together.  The teams met to establish norms of behavior and how they would act as a PLC group.  This called on clear and honest discussions and the underlying feature to all of this was TRUST among team members.  It was clear that this one step of establishing the norms was key to the successful implementation and work that these teams of educators would be accomplishing.  We continue to revisit these norms at every meeting to ensure ourselves that the understandings and protocols for effective and successful collaboration are in place.

As the PLC groups continued to refine their practices and discussions over the years, the effectiveness of their efforts to improve student learning and their own practices was enhanced.  They continually revisited their norms to strengthen the manner by which they collaborated to discuss student learning.  They began to use data in a more informed manner to differentiate the learning for each of their students.  They made commitments for using instructional practices that they knew produced the best results for their students.  They began to review their standards more closely to ensure they clearly reflected what they wanted students to know. Finally they critically reviewed the assessments to ensure that they were accurately assessing what was being taught.  

As our school worked through this process of establishing the PLC model as a key component of our system, we began to use that thinking within our hiring processes as well.  Teachers were and are screened for their potential candidacy to be strong PLC team members.  Questions are posed to potential teaching candidates to determine their ability to act as collaborative members of a team.  Equally important is their ability to explain how they use assessment to differentiate learning for all students.  It is no longer enough to demonstrate why you are a good teacher, you now need to ensure you can sell yourself as an excellent teacher and collaborator, as well as possess expert knowledge of curriculum and pedagogy.  

The revolution continues, and we will never reach an end to this challenge of stretching our thinking, wondering, and practices, through this collaborative PLC process for improving student learning.  The Singapore American School is on a learning journey, but we have made a commitment that the PLC model is one that is necessary and valuable to ensuring high levels of student learning and achievement.  

 

1. Monitoring student learning on a timely basis.

The Elementary Division of the Singapore American School (SAS) has fully embraced all aspects of operating in Professional Learning Communities. It is the basis for all discussions related to student learning. We are fortunate to have an Academic Data Coordinator, a Director of our Office of Learning (OOL) as well as technology, literacy and math coaches who all work closely with PLC coordinators and teams. Together they guide teachers in the process of using data to inform instruction in order to achieve our goal of ensuring every student learns at the highest levels possible. Extensive work has been done over the past four years to develop common assessments in English Language Arts and Math. The practice of using formative and summative assessments as the centerpieces for purposeful PLC conversations is firmly in place. Units of study have been built and scrutinized to ensure the common core and Desired Student Learning Outcomes are addressed by the instruction and activities within those units. Students can demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways through the use of “I can” statements, peer to peer coaching, videos, learning portfolios, blogs and projects and there is a division-wide adherence to using an instructional approach that prioritizes children being able to state what they are learning and why. Beyond what has already been mentioned the entire faculty has received training with Austin Buffum to refine their understanding of PLC’s, assessment and response to intervention. The four PLC questions (What do we expect our students to learn?How will we know they are learning?How will we respond when they don’t learn? and How will we respond if they already know it?) have become a mantra for teachers and the understanding that those questions must be asked and answered constantly is what now defines the culture of the Elementary division at SAS.

 

2. Creating systems of intervention to provide students with additional time and support for learning.

The Support Services team, together with grade level leaders and the elementary leadership team collaborate to ensure targeted interventions are in place to meet students’ learning needs.  Beginning of the year assessments including MAP testing and running records are used to identify students  in grade 3 - 5 who need reading intervention. During the Accelerated Block of 30 minutes Learning Support teachers provided targeted interventions for students. Additional differentiated support is also provided for students within the classroom through a team teaching model.  Students with specific math needs are supported through daily math intervention; additionally, students who need additional challenge in both literacy and math are supported with Accelerated Blocks two or three times per week for 60 minutes.

Students in K - 2 are supported within the classroom through differentiated, small group reading instruction. Students who are identified as needing additional interventions through beginning of the year screeners, work with learning support teachers 3 to 5 times per week to target specific literacy skills. Students who need targeted math support are identified through classroom screeners and pre-assessments. Groups of 4 or 5 teachers use pre-assessments to identify students who need targeted support and group students by according to individual standards.

 

3. Building teacher capacity to work as members of high performing collaborative teams that focus efforts on improved learning for all students.

Singapore American School committed both resources and time to the development of our PLCs.

The elementary school aligned their schedule so that all teachers would have a common planning time every day of the week.  Each teacher has been trained through Solution Tree and protocols and expectations have been set.  All teachers in the Elementary School are part of either a grade level PLC or subject area PLC.  Teams’ size varies greatly and can consist of two members, to teams of thirteen.  Grade level teams meet twice a week with the first meeting of the week usually being used for answering questions number one and two and the second meeting of the week for answering the questions 3 and 4.  

In grade level PLCs, subject area coordinators take on leadership roles for the PLCs.  They work closely with their coordinator to develop collaborative and meaningful meetings where curriculum, assessments and student work can be utilized to improve student learning. Administrators participate in the weekly PLCs giving support whenever needed.

To build high performing collaborative PLCs, teams needed to first create norms.  Each PLC took the first two meeting to establish proper norms that the teams could follow and hold each other accountable.  Curriculum was aligned and common assessments both formative and summative were created.  Essential learning targets are still in the process of being refined and further work is still ahead.  Student data is shared and discussed regularly and smart goals have been established.  Discussions as to how students needs can best be met are continuing to occur and many different structures are being trialed.  Data is being collected along the way to make sure that strategies are making a difference in the learning.

An acceleration block has been agreed upon which will allow time outside of the curriculum for remediation and acceleration to occur.  This acceleration block over time ,should give us the leverage to make significant changes as to how we support our students.  

The use of Teachboost-Teacher Dashboard allows the administration to track progress of the established smart goals created by the teachers.  Teachers share evidence and insights as to what is working along with their progress.  

MAP: 2015-16 Averages (Spring)

 

Grade

Reading

Language Usage

Math

 

 

SAS

EARCOS

NWEA/US

SAS

EARCOS

NWEA/US

SAS

EARCOS

NWEA/US

 

3

209

204

119

210

206

200

217

211

203

 

4

217

212

206

217

213

207

225

222

214

 

5

225

219

212

224

219

212

240

234

221

 

 

 
 

 

MAP: 2014-15 Averages (Spring)

 

Grade

Reading

Language Usage

Math

 

 

SAS

EARCOS

NWEA/US

SAS

EARCOS

NWEA/US

SAS

EARCOS

NWEA/US

 

3

209

201

199

210

204

200

216

208

203

 

4

219

208

206

217

210

207

232

220

214

 

5

224

2015

212

222

216

212

239

230

221

 

 

 
 

 

MAP: 2013-14 Averages (Spring)

 

Grade

Reading

Language Usage

Math

 

 

SAS

EARCOS

NWEA/US

SAS

EARCOS

NWEA/US

SAS

EARCOS

NWEA/US

 

3

212

200

199

212

204

200

220

208

203

 

4

217

208

207

217

210

207

226

220

213

 

5

225

215

212

224

216

213

241

230

221

 

 

 

 

MAP: 2012-13 Averages (Spring)

 

Grade

Reading

Language Usage

Math

 

 

SAS

EARCOS

NWEA/US

SAS

EARCOS

NWEA/US

SAS

EARCOS

NWEA/US

 

3

208

201

200

210

205

190

216

209

203

 

4

217

209

207

217

211

200

231

219

212

 

5

225

215

213

223

217

207

239

229

221

 

 

 

 

MAP: 2011-12 Averages (Spring)

 

Grade

Reading

Language Usage

Math

 

 

SAS

EARCOS

NWEA/US

SAS

EARCOS

NWEA/US

SAS

EARCOS

NWEA/US

 

3

211

204

200

211

207

190

220

212

203

 

4

218

212

207

218

215

200

230

223

212

 

5

225

218

213

224

219

207

241

233

221

 

 

% of Students at or Above Benchmark

 

 

CTC Reading
 

 Grade

2015-16

2014-15

2013-14

K

82%

86%

81%

1

85%

87%

95%

2

88%

88%

91%

3

85%

87%

-

4

86%

79%

-

5

89%

90%

-

 

DRA Reading

Grade

2013-14

2012-13

2011-12

K

70%

72%

72%

1

94%

89%

100%

2

90%

90%

82%

 

 

Math

 Grade

2015-16

2014-15

K

95%

97%

1

91%

94%

2

98%

93%

3

61%

78%

4

72%

85%

5

60%

79%

 

National Distiguished Principal Award was presented to David Hoss, (SAS) Singapore American School Elementary Principal, from the National Association of Elementary School Principals in 2010.  He was also awarded a certificate of commendation for outstanding contributions to American children overseas, and accepted the award on behalf of his entire staff, from the United States Department of State  - Office of Overseas Schools.  

The Singapore American School Elementary School received the Seng Kang Partners Award for Excellence for their service learning initiatives.

Top 10% Elementary School in MATH OLYMPIAD Competition for the past 7 Years.

Global Youth Debate Champions - 2012-13, 2013-14

Global Youth Debate Runner Up - 2010-11, 2011-12

 

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