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Quality Teacher & Education Act Impact & Innovation Awards 2013

Our school wide strategy of enhanced differentiation through Balanced Literacy has enabled Sherman to work towards the district goal of “Access and Equity,” particularly for our Latino students. Our students have shown dramatic improvement in English Language Arts, which has positively impacted student success in all content areas. One of the most important actions taken as a part of Balanced Literacy was a shift to rigorous, data-driven small group instruction. In Reading and Writing Workshops, after a ten-minute mini-lesson, students meet with teachers in flexible small groups. In these groups, students receive direct instruction targeted to their individual needs, as determined by ongoing teacher assessment. As soon as a student masters a given skill, they are regrouped. This structure allows teachers to differentiate effectively for all students. This practice has extended to other content areas as well; students meet in small groups to practice skills in math, spelling and phonics, science, and social studies. Sherman students now read books at their own individual level, in contrast to all students with one text. Reading "Just Right" books allows students even the most competent and the most emerging readers to truly master reading strategies taught across the day. In writing, students work on projects using leveled paper that supports their own individual growth. To support differentiation, we employed advanced assessment procedures. Teachers constantly assess students formally and informally in all content areas to monitor progress, build small groups, and inform instruction. As a result of our Balanced Literacy program, proficiency on the CST in ELA for our Latino students jumped from 61% in 2012 to 76% proficient or above in 2013. Proficiency in Math for Latino students jumped from 52% in 2012 to 75% in 2013. All of our students demonstrated improved critical thinking, self-confidence, and enthusiasm for learning.

To further support our focus on ensuring that every student has access to quality teaching and learning regardless of background, neighborhood, or income level, is our laser-like focus on professional development. Teachers attend summer reading institutes, collaborate with on site literacy coaches, and work with staff developers from the Columbia Teachers College Reading and Writing Project in lab sites and literacy focal areas. Teachers share and learn across grade levels at monthly staff meetings and learn with grade level teams twice weekly in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). PLCs may be the most important component for ensuring excellent teaching that reaches students from all backgrounds. Teachers meet in grade level teams twice weekly, supported by the principal and Literacy Specialist in honing best instructional practices, to discuss problems, and to brainstorm solutions. The principal and literacy coach attend every PLC meeting to facilitate focused and data-driven conversations, clarify questions, and encourage each grade level to develop systematic, high leverage instructional practices. Teachers bring student work and data, conference and small group instructional notes, formal and informal reading assessments, and checklists of student behaviors to the meetings. They use student data to guide their reflection, analysis, and learning around the reading and writing units of study and to support them in developing a continuously reflexive method of instruction that supports every student to achieve excellence.

Quality Teacher & Education Act Impact & Innovation Awards 2013

As a result of these collaborative professional development experiences, Sherman teachers are focused on closing the educational gap for our students, and have the tools and resources to accomplish this. Teachers are continually growing and sharing knowledge as educators, which means that the quality of teaching is being raised daily. Data, stated above, show that this practice is effective in ensuring student achievement and in closing the achievement gap at Sherman.