Berryville elementary focuses on priority standards

Friday, January 4, 2019

By Kelby Newcomb

School staff is already back in session after the holidays, and Berryville Elementary School focused on priority standards Wednesday during professional development.

Elementary principal Kelly Swofford told the staff he had recently completed a book study with Superintendent Owen Powell about focusing on essential standards for classroom instruction. He said the elementary’s goal is fluency.

“When students leave this building,” Swofford said, “they should be fluent readers, writers and math problem solvers. We build their foundation of reading and match. What are those things in each grade level that you know and feel strongly that those kids should have solid?”

He said automaticity is key.

“Kids should have these skills mastered to an automatic level,” he said, “less than two seconds.”

Swofford continued, “Are you still responsible for all standards? Yes, but what are our focus standards? What are the standards you are guaranteeing that all students will know and be able to do by the end of the year?”

He said the staff should spent time assessing and understanding what their students know and don’t know in order to be diagnostic and prescriptive.

“Why are we teaching that? How are we assessing that?” Swofford asked. “What does our response to intervention (RTI) process look like?”

In order to determine priority standards for each grade level, he said the staff would be unpacking the concepts and skills embedded in each standard to foster a deep understanding before determining if a standard is essential.

“This is an outstanding group of people,” he said. “The blame game doesn’t happen in this building. When I’m sitting in professional learning communities (PLC) with second grade and first grade, there are things they’re frustrated about that the kids don’t know or understand, but they’re not blaming kindergarten teachers.”

Instead, Swofford said, the teachers are curious what is going on and ask what they can do to address it.

“If we prioritize what we’re doing, we can have a more clearly defined understanding of where we’re going,” he said.

Swofford said the “Big Five” topics for literacy covered in the Reading Initiative for Student Excellence (RISE) are phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension and fluency.

“We can’t forget writing,” he said. “When I look at antecedents to some behaviors, one of the biggest antecedents I see is writing.”

K-5 literacy instructional facilitator Heather Ogden said there are three things that should be happening daily in every classroom: reading, writing and talking.

“I know we have to be aware of when the talking is getting out of hand,” she said, “but I think sometimes we limit their time to talk. They need it because they learn so much from each other.”

Swofford said the elementary school is seeing more instances of students coming to kindergarten with limited vocabularies. He asked the teachers what could be causing this, and they suggested technology and lack of interaction.

“Every behavior is a form of communication,” he said. “I don’t know why a student comes to my office and throws chairs on the ground, but he’s trying to tell me something.”

Swofford said early education has to be about listening, conversation, reading and writing.

“What has the biggest effect on students’ achievement?” he asked. “Relationships with teachers. I’m blessed to be in this building because you all are truly passionate about your students, and you want to make a difference for your kids. I know that and see that every day. I’m the luckiest principal in the world.”

Ogden told the staff she had typed out each standard for each grade level.

“What I want you to do is think about the concept of the standard, the facts, the knowledge,” she said. “That is ‘The what?’ What exactly do they have to know?”

Afterward, she said she wanted the staff to consider how the students will apply the concept.

“The skill is how students will apply the concepts,” she said. “For example, with author’s purpose the concept is to understand how the author’s purpose is conveyed, but students have to determine and explain it. So the skills are to determine and explain.”

Swofford said the staff would break into groups to go over the literacy standards, then they would do the same with math standards.

Also at the professional development, Swofford, math facilitator Jill Jones and Alternative Learning Environment (ALE) instructor Traci Morrell discussed a new approach to identifying and addressing disruptive behaviors in the classroom.

Morrell said it is important for teachers to define the behavior.

“When you say they’re not following directions, that’s not a defined behavior,” she said. “What does not following directions look like?”

“How can you measure it?” Jones asked. “It needs to be very specific.”

Morrell agreed, saying the behavior needs to be observable and measurable.

“If you have a student who’s hitting, was it with an open hand or closed fist?” she said. “If a student is kicking, are they kicking objects or people? Are we counting attempts?”

“If a child is screaming so loud that people can hear it outside the classroom,” Swofford said, “that’s very measurable.”

He said he believes the new approach will change a lot of behaviors.

“My goal is to be very diagnostic so that you can be very prescriptive,” he said. “That way if a behavior is occurring, then we can try these strategies. Think of all the instructional time you lose because of behaviors. If those were extinguished, you could have more time to teach these kids.”

Swofford said social, behavioral and emotional problems are becoming more common.

“We’ve got to support you,” he said. “At the beginning of next school year, let’s identify those behaviors. This is our number one priority.”

Jones said sometimes the consequences for one behavior are enough to trigger another behavior.

“We need to think about what is causing that behavior,” she said. “What is happening right before?”

Swofford encouraged staff to come to them when students are having behavior issues this school year so that they can gather data and come up with ideas on how to address the behavior.

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