Dear Laurel School Community,
Thank you once again for sharing your time to benefit our fabulous school community.
I am writing this letter to update you about where we are and where we are going at Laurel School this year, particularly in relation to our Writing Workshop and Math curriculum initiatives.
For the past two years, Laurel teachers and students have been exploring the Lucy Calkins writing curriculum from the Teachers College of Columbia University, and implementing its “Writing Workshop” to varying degrees in the classroom. (For more detail on the workshop, see below.) Students have written pieces aligned to grade level genres such as personal narratives, reports, and procedural writing (a ‘how to’ piece of work, such as an exposition on how chocolate milk is made).
Laurel began this work in 2010, and we were thrilled (and well-primed) when the District adopted the Teachers College Writing Workshop model for all schools this year. This year, we are in full-school implementation of Writing Workshop, which means that all Laurel students are spending four days each week engaged in workshop.
Program Goals: Our three goals related to Writing Workshop are
* to teach a focused teaching point, or mini-lesson, each session
* to increase the volume of writing that our students are producing by building their writing stamina, and
* to have teachers work in teams to analyze data and improve writing outcomes for all students.
I am proud to say that our committed and engaged grade level teams are achieving all three of our goals. What’s more, our students are taking great pride in their authorship!
Professional Development: Teachers need support to successfully implement new curriculum, and I am pleased that we have been able to offer our team significant professional development opportunities.
* Teachers Sandra Horwitz and Ruth Peterson traveled to Teachers College in the summer to spend a week at its esteemed Summer Writing Institute. They brought back a wealth of information and shared it with all our teachers.
* Before school began, we convened as a school team to discuss best practices of writing instruction.
* The District also provided a day of Professional Development focused on the Writing Workshop model.
* Every six weeks, teachers are released to work in grade-level teams to create rubrics, score student writing, analyze achievement data and develop a common plans for the next six-week block.
* Some teachers have had observation sessions at other schools (including Woodside and Encinal), and are also observing their colleagues here at Laurel.
* All teachers have had opportunities to view teaching demonstration videos about delivering effective writing lessons for their students.
Structure of Writing Workshop: The Writing Workshop session begins each day with a teacher led mini-lesson. Mini-lessons often help students improve their writing by incorporating a particular strategy, such as “writers use temporal words to describe the order of events,” or “writers use adjectives to make their writing come alive for the reader.”
Once a week, teachers also incorporate grammar and writing conventions into their mini-lessons to ensure students are learning proper writing conventions.
After the mini-lesson, students have time for sustained writing (up to 45 minutes in third grade), during which teachers conference with selected students about their writing. At the conclusion of the Writing Workshop session, the teacher selects a few student pieces to share that exemplify the mini-lesson she taught.
As the entire writing unit comes to a close, students edit one piece and rewrite it to showcase at a Writing Celebration. Just recently, I attended the debut of writing celebrations and was inspired by students’ pride and enjoyment in their best pieces.
Monitoring Progress: We measure writing progress by administering on-demand writing prompts each trimester. These pieces are scored and tracked by the teachers. Teachers also score writing pieces each time the grade level teams meet during a release day, and monitor student progress and instructional needs during their collaborative work sessions.
Ultimately, our goal is to substantially increase student performance on our annual ERB WrAP District writing assessment (Click here for more information), which is administered at the end of third grade and each year thereafter. It has been exciting to see improved scores in student writing already, after just eight weeks of school!
Mathematical Problem Solving
Each year, Laurel’s second graders take the MARS exam, an assessment created by the Silicon Valley Math Initiative (SVMI), an educational math collaborative of which our District is a member. (Click here for more information on the MARS test and to view a sample task.)
We garnered high results last year, due to the focused efforts of teachers to engage students in mathematical problem solving - 95% of our second graders scored proficient or better on the MARS exam (43% were advanced). Second grade teachers worked collaboratively and regularly to plan for and monitor student progress related to the MARS exam. It is rewarding to see this hard work pay off!
This year, to keep our proficiency scores just as high, Laurel Students will be working in their classrooms to completing challenging mathematical problem solving tasks called “Problem of the Month” (POM) in their classrooms. The POMs are generated by the SVMI, with the intent to expand rigorous mathematical critical thinking in all students.
POM gives students an opportunity to practice how to solve authentic math problems and also to be stretched to solve a series of increasingly more complex tasks. During the second trimester, the whole school will complete the same POM, but each student will be challenged to attempt the level of highest difficulty for them. We will hold a “gallery walk” in March, so students can observe how other students may have solved or presented the same problem and parents will become better informed of the rigorous mathematical problem solving tasks with which their children are challenged.
Teachers are also using a variety of other tasks and strategies to increase mathematical problem solving capabilities in our students. These range from open response math tasks embedded in our Everyday Math Curriculum, released MARS tasks, or other word problems teachers obtain on the web or in curriculum workbooks. Last year, Laurel first grade teachers developed a problem solving curriculum and instructional map, which provided key preteaching to support student skills to tackle rigorous math assessments. Currently, second grade teachers are working through an inquiry cycle focused on students' abilities to confidently approach and complete MARS-like tasks. Each week in January and February, second grade teachers instructionally guide and support students to complete complex word problems. Teachers anyalyze data reflecting each student's growth via informal assessments and team collaboration. This approach garnered great success last year, with over 95% of our second graders scoring proficient and advanced on the MARS exam. We expect similar high results this year due to the second grade teachers collaborating around predictive data to subsequently make instructional plans to increase student achievement.
I am continually grateful to be working in a school where the community values and funds necessary and enriching curriculum for their children. Together, we are working to provide an optimal educational experience for all students. Thank you for your continued support.
Laurel School Principal
“Where Students Shine!”