In Rapid City Area Schools (RCAS), we are in our second year of implementation of Professional Learning Communities (PLC). Dr. Rick DuFour defines a professional learning community (PLC) as “a group of people working interdependently toward the same goal.” Dr. DuFour states that interdependence is an essential element because it:
• Provides equal access (equity, or universal access) to quality teaching by strengthening each teacher’s practice through collaboration, coaching, and shared planning.
• Ends teacher isolation (thus reducing burnout).
• Helps teachers work smarter by sharing the tasks of analyzing data, creating common assessment tools, and devising other strategies for both students who struggle and those who need more challenge.
• Enables teachers on grade-level (interdisciplinary) teams to devise lessons that teach reading and writing across the curriculum.
• Provides teacher professional growth and job satisfaction through intellectual renewal, new learning, and cultivating leadership.
PLC work has encouraged and allowed us to work together as a team to improve student achievement.
In our PLC work, our team (two 4th grade classroom teachers, a student intern, a special education teacher, a special education paraprofessional, and an intervention strategist) has focused on assessing the students’ knowledge about multiplication combinations and how to increase that knowledge. We have created multiplication combination assessments, given those assessments to students, evaluated the assessments, discussed the results and were able to look at the needs of each individual student in 4th grade. These created assessments are called common formative assessments (CFA) because we designed them as a team and those same assessments are given to all fourth graders in our school. After knowing exactly where each child is working, we determined next steps and how we could follow through with the next steps. One avenue that we chose to meet the needs of each student according to our assessment results was to use a one-half hour block of time outside of our inquiry based math instruction block to provide instruction, games, and activities that are directly working on the math skill that is weak. Students are consistently working independently, in pairs, small groups, or with a teacher. They may work in a few of the different groupings throughout the half-hour. After ten working sessions, we re-assess to see the students’ progress and to develop our next steps for instruction.
Through this PLC process, we have seen most of our fourth grade students master multiplication combinations. This concept is a very large and important part of being a successful fourth grade math student. I feel fortunate that RCAS has given us (educators) the opportunity to work through the PLC process. It is having a positive impact on our student achievement.
Alayna Siemonsma, NBCT, SD ‘12 MEA
As we continue to study, learn, and implement the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS), one thing has become very clear to educators, students’ levels of writing need to be raised if they are going to be ready for college level writing in time. According to the CCSS, “To build a foundation for college and career readiness, students need to learn to use writing as a way of offering and supporting opinions, demonstrating understanding of the subjects they are studying, and conveying real and imagined experiences and events. To meet these goals, students must devote significant time and effort to writing, producing numerous pieces over short and extended time frames throughout the year.” With this in mind, the Rapid City Area School District has asked its educators to focus on curriculum that will help students meet these standards. At South Park Elementary School, we felt that it would also be important to educate our students’ parents on the more rigorous writing standards.
This January we planned a Math & Literacy Night with the literacy focus on exactly that. We wanted our students’ parent to be aware of the more rigorous writing standards. Students and parents were invited into the school to participate in a Writing Scavenger Hunt. Parents were asked to work with their students to read over proficient grade level writing samples, while hunting for specific items from a checklist. The checklist came from our adopted writing curriculum and was developed based on the new CCSS. Our students are familiar with the checklists, as they have been asked to use them all year during writing time. Students received a ticket for each item they found on the checklist. Later in the evening, the tickets could be entered into drawings for many prizes such as book series, tablets, art sets, bikes, games, and even a flat screen television.
The event was a success! We had over 200 people in attendance. Parents appreciated the opportunity to learn about the new CCSS in writing and also liked seeing examples of proficient writing for their child’s grade level. Students enjoyed the chance to showcase their knowledge and ability as writers, and of course…the prizes! We will continue to look for ways to educate our students’ parents on the new CCSS in the future.
Acacia Trevillyan – Rapid City