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Chapter Two: Setting Description

School Setting: I teach at Audubon School, a K-8 public school in the San Diego Unified School District. Audubon is one of 229 schools in the district. Audubon K-8 School is located in the Lomita Village area near Spring Valley in southeast San Diego. Most of our students reside in the Lomita Village area. The neighborhood is composed of older, single-family houses. Audubon has been around for approximately 50 years. One parent in my classroom attended Audubon as a student, as did her father. She stated that Audubon had a history of being the center of community gatherings, but that has slowly decreased over time. Audubon was a K-5 elementary school until enrollment issues made it necessary to add a middle school. The principal at the time, parents and staff agreed that broadening the school from an elementary to a K-8 was something they were all willing to work for. The desire was for our elementary students to have the option to move to a middle school within a safe, academic site. They decided to extend a 6-8 middle school in 2007-08 with each consecutive year adding a 7th grade in 20092010. The school serves approximately 575 students on a year-round calendar. My students all lived within the local Lomita Village neighborhood. Lomita Village was constructed in the early 1960s, and at that time was comprised of mostly military families. Today, Lomita Village is a mix of long time residents, and primarily young, working Hispanic immigrant families. All students qualify for free breakfast and lunch. Audubon K-8 100% SDUSD 60% California 52%

Eligibility for Free/Reduced Lunch In 2011-2012 Ethnic Make-up in 2011-2012


African American





Other: Asian, Pacific Islander, White, Two or more races, and Native Americans 10.1%

The K-3 class size ratio was 20:1 and 25:1 in grades 4-8. The intended mission of Audubon was to work together to try to provide a child-centered, developmentally appropriate, safe, secure and supportive learning environment where the school-wide goals of respectability, responsibility, and readiness are fostered. According to the mission, all students are encouraged to become lifelong learners and are empowered to acquire strategies to become critical thinkers and problem solvers so that they may earn a four-year college degree in the future. Despite the staffs commitment and desire for the academic success of its students, Audubon is in its fourth year of Program Improvement. All Title 1 funded schools and local educational agencies (LEAs) that do not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) are identified for Program Improvement (PI) under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). A schools Academic Performance Index (API) is a scale that ranges from 200 to 1000 and is calculated from the schools performance in the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program. The state has set 800 as the API target for all schools to meet. Audubon Elementary School had an API growth score of 725 in 2010. Since Audubon had reached its fourth year of program improvement, the staff spent the 2011-2012 year creating a restructuring plan that would be implemented in the 2012-2013 school year. Audubon staff relies on district strategies to move it out of PI status. In the past, much of the strategies and professional development were centered around data from district standardized tests called benchmarks that mimic the California State Test format. These benchmarks are given in trimesters during an academic school year. The benchmarks are given as early as first grade and continue through 12 th grade in the San Diego Unified School District. Subject areas covered on the benchmarks are literacy, mathematics, and science (beginning in 3rd grade). Questions on the benchmarks are broken down into corresponding California State Standards. Test results are fed into a data analytical system called Data Director. Grade level teams are encouraged to analyze the data and plan curriculum accordingly to the academic needs of the students who have not yet made proficiency in particular grade level standards on the benchmarks. The district recently adopted an Envision math curriculum and created Units of Inquiry for every grade level to address the literacy needs of its students. Every grade level is expected to follow these district adopted curricula. The Envision math curriculum consists of scripted math lessons that cover all grade level math standards. Each lesson is made up of a mixture of exploration, independent work, and summarization of what was learned. Teachers were concerned over the use of worksheets during the lessons and were seeking methods that would increase exploration and collaboration among students through open-ended math problems. The Units of Inquiry are also scripted lessons in reading, writing, and word study for a common thematic study. The scripted questions were intended to spark thinking

and discussion among the students, but the teachers have noticed that the content does not engage the students in inquisitive thinking. Yet, teachers have felt a need to continue teaching according to the Units of Inquiry because the benchmarks use the units as test questions and results are used as evidence to evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher. Working within the confines of the common curriculum, teachers are trying to address the varying academic needs of their students. Another critical need that has arisen for the schools students is the desire to increase student motivation. My action research question examined what happens when student voice and student reflection guide my teaching and our learning. Much of addressing this question was done through project-based learning instead of relying solely on the current curriculum typically used at Audubon that was mentioned above. Classroom Setting: I am one of four first grade teachers at Audubon; one of the four is a Spanish biliteracy teacher. This year, I have 19 students, with the majority being Hispanic which is typical for every classroom at Audubon each year.

Hispanic Boys Girls 7 5

African American 2 1

White 1 0

Asian/Pacific Islander 2 1

My grade level team and I collaborate by teaching the same academic content skills at the same time during the school year. I sought to increase student empowerment, academic achievement, and collaboration through reflection and student voice within my school environment. As I worked towards project-based learning within my classroom, a small group of colleagues from various grade levels and I had formed a personal learning community. We supported one another in implementing projectbased learning. We read and discussed Ron Bergers book An Ethic of Excellence, visited High Tech Elementary and Middle in Chula Vista so that we could glean ideas on how project-based learning looked in action. We planned our first exhibitions and formed cross-grade level partnerships with our students. Through my visitation at High Tech High Media Arts staff meeting, I realized how empowering vulnerability and reliance among staff members helps a school community serve its students effectively. I decided to invite more of my colleagues on this journey with me. I shared how I applied what I learned within my classroom and asked them for critique. Our day begins with the K-5 students arriving to Audubon as early as 7:30 am (other than the students participating in the Prime Time program that provides before and after-school care for students as early as 6am until 6pm for free). The middle school students begin at 7:30 am. Students are encouraged to walk in an organized

circle during Walking Club until the bell rings at 7:45am. The Walking Club was initially an attempt to maintain calm student behavior and encourage healthy activity as they trickled in in the morning. Students then walk to their respective class lines. Teachers serve breakfast in the classroom to every student. Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) was implemented 2 years ago to help increase student punctuality and decrease the amount of students losing instructional time by attending the nurses office for stomach and headaches due to hunger. The rest of our day includes the following schedule:

After BIC, we have a morning gathering meeting comprised of students reading the calendar, counting number patterns in twos, fives, and tens for the number of days weve had in first grade and our meteorologist graphs the weather. We then read a morning message that states the days activities and asks a question that the students wrote in curiosity of one another. We then sit in a circle and each student is acknowledged by greeting their neighbor Good morning and answers the question on the message. The rest of the day continues with word study activities, guided reading and centers, writers workshop, read aloud, math, and science/social studies. We end the day with a class meeting where students sit in a circle and share an appreciation, highlight, and/or apology to another student in our class community. We also resolve problems that the students were not able to resolve on their own. Throughout the week, students receive an hour of math lab with another teacher who extends grade level math concepts. We also have 45 minutes in the library listening to a story from our librarian, checking out books, and working on literacy or math grade level concepts on a computer program called Learning Upgrade. The students also are given 30 additional minutes in the week to use the computer lab for research. Our resource and speech specialists provide pull out and push in support for our students based on their Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan. Our grade level also has a Reading Recovery teacher who pulls a student out to provide one-on-one literacy intervention for those performing significantly below grade level.

Teachers also provide an hour and a half each week of Systematic English Language Development lessons for our English Language Learners (ELL) where grade levels divide all the students into their corresponding language development level and each teacher gathers one group to teach specific language skills in listening, speaking, and writing for that level.

Students with an IEP in 2011 ELL Students

My Class 11% 55%

Audubon ~13.5% ~ 50.9%

SDUSD ~ 11% 27%

California ~11% 24.3%

My classroom environment contained vibrant colors of red, green, blue, and yellow adorning the walls leaving much room to showcase student work (projects, published writing, student art work, student thinking or curiosities) and supported our content areas (hundred chart, number line, the alphabet, word wall). We also had a wall to collect our curiosities throughout the year for us to investigate together. A majority of the students had been wondering about sea and land animals, dinosaurs, and spiders. We decided to do a spider project from that initial curiosity wall. We listed any and all questions that the students wanted to know about spiders. We used those questions to guide our research and checked them off as we helped one another find the answers to them.

Students then gather to meet on our rectangle rug of purple, blue, red, orange, and green squares. There are 5 table groups of 4 (one table group has 6) arranged to support small group and partner work/collaboration. The class library is organized into a green, red, and orange color coded system for fictional texts, informational texts and leveled books issued by our district to support students moving towards reading at grade level and beyond. Students are encouraged to recline on the couch and pillows in the library with their peers during independent reading or to do other independent work on the rug whenever a student needs the space. Six computers are also lined along the back wall in the room. Students primarily use the computers for a literacy program called Learning Upgrade at center time and will use the computers for research throughout the year.

There are a variety of math and literacy games/activities along 2 adjoining walls that students may work on alone or with a small group at center time while I pull small groups for reading, writing, or math support.

This is how I initially arranged the room. However, we can shift things around when students vocalize their needs. For example, my students and I are constantly negotiating how to make centers more meaningful for them. I began the year with a set of literacy centers designed by myself consisting of word family activity folders, creating sight words with magnetic letters, buddy reading in the library, big books and co-created charts, listening to audio books, playing on Learning Upgrade on the computers, and playing sight word Bingo. Initially I had table groups rotate through all the centers in a particular order in a set amount of time. But I noticed that the students were not staying in their centers or were doing the work with a look of boredom. I asked the students during one class meeting how they would like to make our literacy centers more fun while at the same time learning how to use our sight words and word families to help us improve our reading and writing. The students said that they liked all the activities, they just wanted to be able to choose which they wanted to work on and the length of time that they wanted to work on it. They also created an additional activity for center time. They wanted the choice to work on their interest journal where they drew, wrote, and collected any information that would help them learn more about the things that they were interested in. Since then, there has been a pleasant hum of students moving around to literacy centers they are interested in while also building their sight word, word family, and reading/writing skills. This process of negotiation and meeting with my students to understand how they experience their learning has been a source of awakening for me as a teacher.

Along the way I developed into a control freak, where I controlled the physical space of my students, what they learned and how they were to learn it. I learned how to build a culture of democracy with my students by giving them choice and voice into what they felt helped them be motivated to learn each day. The simple act of having my students question their learning experiences has led to our community developing a more equitable environment where we listened to, shared with, and understood one another. I continue our development as a culture of democracy through providing more choice for my students to raise their motivation to learn and create beautiful work of which they are proud.