Little improvements add up

A series of small changes turned a low-scoring San Diego elementary with many English Learners into a solid performer, writes Emily Alpert at Voice of San Diego.

Pushed by state monitors, Euclid “set aside common, continuous blocks of time for English and math.”

Bounce from one fourth grade classroom to another at Euclid on the same day and you’ll see both sets of kids penning biographies of Marie Curie and Martin Luther King Jr.

“If one person is off in left field,” asked second grade teacher Starla Ortiz, “how can we discuss what was successful and what wasn’t?”

Conforming allowed teachers to work together: They could talk about their strategies on similar lessons instead of talking past each other. Teachers from each grade gather to look at regular, shared tests throughout the year, meeting for a whole day every six weeks and for shorter sessions more often. They analyze what kids understand and what they don’t. They learn from coworkers whose kids ace the tests.

And they decide together how to re-teach the things students missed, then give students a quick, common quiz to make sure it worked.

Teachers teach sophisticated vocabulary to students whose parents know little English.

“Teachers don’t want to let fellow teachers down,” Alpert writes

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  1. Funny how the fact that the school uses “ability grouping” is only mentioned in passing, way down in the article.

    That pressure is even more potent when they all have the same students, which now happens at Euclid. Teaching the same things at the same time also freed teachers to send children from class to class. Euclid teachers call it “deploying.” Teachers temporarily divide up the students in their grade based on their abilities. Each teacher coaches a group with similar skills, allowing them to focus on their needs.emphasis mine

  2. rory – also note that they do it temporarily.

    The title of the post uses the word little, but for many schools, getting to this kind of collaborative culture would be a big shift. It requires time (= money; for example, it sounds like they’re out of the classroom all day about 6 times a year, which means 6 days of sub pay per teacher). It requires sustained leadership and administrative support (with scheduling, example, along with additional resources), and it requires some continuity in staffing to shift and grow into this type of school culture. Definitely achievable – it’s not a miracle – and worth the effort, but I hope people appreciate the challenges involved.

  3. David,

    I actually found the article a little sad since many of the things that the school accomplished seemed to be from an outside persepective, common sense. You make good points about the hidden costs though, i.e. sub pay for 6 days.

    As for ability grouping, temporarily is a given.