Mary Davis; Dawn Hendrick, assistant principal; and Brian Butler, principal •
Mount Eagle Elementary School • Alexandria, VA
Mount Eagle Elementary School
How Mount Eagle Elementary School Is Using the "Balanced Literacy Model" to Answer Professional Learning Community Guiding Questions
The staff at Mount Eagle decided to develop a schoolwide model for reading instruction. Through collaborative meetings and analyzing data, it was decided that "Balanced Literacy" would be the best path available to accomplish our mission statement. We are using five basic questions (DuFour, Eaker) to guide our conversations, meet the instructional needs of our students and plan support for our community. These five guiding questions that are serving as a productive model are: 1) What is it that we want our students to know? 2) How will we know when they know it? 3) What will we do when they don't learn? 4) What will we do when they already know it? 5) How do we engage in relevant pedagogy and professional development to ensure that we are collectively answering these questions?
During the fall the entire staff was involved in balanced literacy training, through the Language Arts Department and Title I out of the Lacey Center. The training provided a common language, common knowledge, common assessments and common expectations among the administration and staff. The staff also developed a deeper understanding of how to implement best practices during reading workshop. Our instructional journey in the classroom began with the use of the "First Twenty Days" to develop the routines and procedures necessary for a manageable reading workshop. The First Twenty Days for Kindergarten and First grade was developed over the summer. Grades two through sixth used the First Twenty Days developed by Fountas and Pinnell. Grades two through six implemented the use of reader's notebook; which has served as a resourceful tool in monitoring books read by students during their independent reading time. The reader's notebook also provides continuous dialogue between the student and the teacher which enables the teacher to determine the student's level of understanding about a text. Sets of books were purchased to support guiding reading during our uninterrupted reading workshop.
We have received donations of books for classroom libraries throughout the year. Teachers now have close to 15 books per student to support independent reading. Students are able to select from a broad variety of genres to read independently. Independent reading has become that special time of the day to enjoy the reading of books. Students across grade levels are able to sustain their reading time from twenty to forty -five minutes. Our master schedule provides team members a common time for planning during the school day. Allowances are also made for vertical articulation at designated times during the year. Vertical articulation has provided an opportunity for staff to align instruction that will meet the needs of our students. It also allows staff time to discuss strategies and techniques that have worked well for their students.
We continue to monitor the progress of our students using various ongoing assessments to set appropriate goals for our students and staff. At grade level meetings, teams always use our "Five Guiding Questions" as a framework for conversations. By having a structured format to guide our discussions, we have been able to more effectively meet the needs of all students (GT, special needs and average learners). We will continue to modify the delivery of instruction, instructional planning and the way we support the needs of our staff and our community in order to accomplish our mission statement.
Our balanced literacy program for reading has made such a positive impact on the way that we think, plan, and teach here at Mt. Eagle. It has really allowed teachers the flexibility to focus more on the learning of their students. Ongoing assessments are analyzed more frequently and used to guide the planning for instructional needs of our students and training for our staff. Our focus for the 2007-08 school year will be balanced literacy through writing. The upper grade staff will take the upper grade writing class as an academy course. Our primary grades have implemented the use of: Units of Study for Writing: A Yearlong Curriculum. The program is fulfilling the needs of our students and staff.