Elvehjem student writes and illustrates a poem
Each quarter teacher teams get together with the school’s instructional coach and look for supplemental text to integrate into their shared reading time
A group of students select books
A group of students select books
Elvehjem is one of a handful of schools that adopted a new math curriculum this year called Bridges.
A student works in his math book
Checking back after 2 years: Gains continue at Elvehjem Elementary School
Meet MAP growth targets in math and English? Check and check. Elvehjem Principal Sarah Larson can’t remember a time when she’s seen percentages so high for students meeting their growth targets, especially in math.
Students know they have something to be proud of. Like Kindergartener Alannah, who says that “getting good at math” is her proudest accomplishment this year. Specifically, “subtractions and equals.”
Classmate Nona agrees. “I like how we get to do some math equations. It’s funner because they make it into a little story.”
What’s behind these budding mathematicians’ success? Larson explains that the school adopted a new math curriculum this year called Bridges, which teachers embraced and ran with.
Something to write home about
Elvehjem also reached their growth targets in reading, something you might guess hearing second grade student Timiyah discuss her favorite book, “Magic Tree House: Twister on Tuesday. The two kids in the book are master librarians. They have to go back in time to get books before they were destroyed.”
Principal Larson is all smiles discussing the data, especially the reading growth for African-American students, a focus group of Elvehjem’s School Improvement Plan (SIP). In reading, African-American students exceeded the school’s goals.
Staff point to some strategies they see helping – like including emerging readers in small-group instruction. This strategy helps focus on the oral language activities and strategies while supporting students in their written responses.
Supporting, then setting students free to soar
Staff at Elvehjem use something called gradual release, a model for instruction in which teachers give support during the learning process that is tailored to students’ needs with the goal of creating independence. Second grade teacher Stephanie Bernard said the philosophy behind gradual release is that you scaffold the child for as long as they need it, then you set them free to soar.
“We collect writing samples at the end of the week as a way to respond to the text so maybe at the beginning of doing that, you would help the children write their responses and you do it as a class together as they get stronger with that, then you might help them get started but then send them off with a partner to continue the work after having discussions about it. So that gives them some scaffolding too. We also might use thinking stems that will help them organize their thinking to get them started and then let them go from there. Then eventually you get to the point where they’re doing it independently,” says Ms. Bernard.
Bernard said this process helps build confidence and self-reliance in students. 5th grade teacher Ms. Slotten often uses modeling in her gradual release instruction.
“While I’m teaching them the poems, they help me write my poetry anthology so I’m working on the exact same assignment that they are and they’re seeing me do the planning, they’re seeing me do the drafting, they’re seeing my final product and how I’m organizing the anthology. So I’m just walking them through the steps so they can see that it’s not so overwhelming for them,” says Ms. Slotten.
Slotten said her hope is that when students go to middle and high school and they’re writing more complex essays and stories, they’ll remember what they’ve been taught about breaking up tasks so they’re not so difficult.
Deep, culturally relevant storylines
One of the many strategies Elvehjem teachers use to engage students, specifically African-American students, is great text. Each quarter teacher teams get together with the school’s instructional coach and look for supplemental text to integrate into their whole group, shared reading time.
The selections are culturally relevant and have deep storylines so teachers can create discussions around them. Bernard said for African-American students, choosing text where they can see themselves is important.
"Being able to see themselves in the text and have something they can revere and relate to makes a big difference. Also during discussions, allowing for personal connection to make its way into the conversation, makes it more appealing throughout. Once they’re doing something they enjoy, then they can soar from that,” says Ms. Bernard.
Relationships are key to student success
Ms. Bernard is in her fifth year teaching at Elvehjem (she previously taught 27 years at Midvale), says she works to build relationships with her students and their families. She makes positive phone calls to families and chats with students about their interests, what they think they need to be successful and what kind of teacher they need her to be. “I’m trying to always do my best and let my relationship with each child guide my instruction,” she said.
Principal Larson said they have have been focusing on the culture and climate among staff this year. It’s something they’ve done over time since being featured in our 2014-15 annual report. They’ve incorporated circle processes to get to know each other and build trusting relationships. This will set staff up for next year as they focus more on building relationships with students and give them the strategies they need to problem solve.