NAPA JUNCTION MAGNET
The staff of Napa Junction is a group that has learned to embrace the principles of growth mindset, to be reflective and to work collaboratively to improve our practices. With the use of a variety of rubrics, student data and teacher observations, we have been able to define our focus each year that we have been a New Tech Network school. The constant influx of information and analysis is used to define our next steps in order to improve student learning. Each year we remain focused on only two or three goals and all of our professional development and collaboration time is devoted to these topics. It is our strong belief that student culture will never surpass adult culture. We intentionally plan and prioritize agenda time to have adult community circles, to reflect on school climate and to celebrate. Relationships among staff matter so there are also numerous opportunities for us to build stronger personal connections with each other. We remain committed to pushing ourselves to be better at our practice, to be vulnerable and recognize areas we can grow, to be willing to try new strategies, to reflect on our effectiveness, and to always be willing to change our methods if it improves student learning.
This year a cohort of teachers are leading professional development sessions to teach all of us about the zones of regulation. We have learned that when students are in the Green Zone, they are ready to learn. The Blue Zone means they are moving slowly and need something more in order to fully engage. The Yellow Zone means a child is not fully in control of the emotions and probably feels frustrated, silly, wiggly, worried or excited. The Red Zone identifies an out of control feeling that involves anger, terror or over excitement. We are teaching our students this language. Classrooms are creating quiet spaces for students and students move freely into the spaces when they identify a need to or when a teacher provides it as an option for settling down. It is really something to watch our students take advantage of a space like this, to understand its purpose and to use the tools in the center to get back to their Green Zone. When teachers understand and implement practices that ensure every student is in an emotional space to learn, thatallows for greater learning, in turn, closing the opportunity gap a little more.
STRUCTURES FOR PROJECT BASED LEARNING
The whole reason for our school transformation, making PBL a primary driver for instruction, was to meet the needs of all our students. As a Title 1 school, about 60% of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch. 32% are English Learners. These are the students who were left behind before we began with our PBL implementation. Years prior to our work with NTN, we had classrooms with teachers dispensing knowledge and kids “sitting and getting” which worked for only a small percentage of students. It certainly did not work for our students of poverty or English Learners. No one could ever use the descriptors of engaged, connected or challenged students at that time. We tell a different story today. Our CAASPP data (California state test) documents the significant progress our students have made. We credit PBL with that success and feel our placement on the Spectrum of Elementary School Development rubric is under Improve.
Research has shown that English Learners and students of poverty need language rich environments to develop literacy skills. We believe that our PBL work has been a game changer for these kids. To say our classrooms are language rich is a bit of an understatement. Between the engaging magnet STEM theme and Project Based Learning, our students are using so much more language in their classrooms, with their peers and teachers. They are reading and responding to a good variety of informational text and their writing is reflective of their understanding of the Next Generation Science Standards as well as ELA Common Core. Our students would not have made the gains they have made if we had not transformed the way we teach and developed this engaging and challenging program
The teachers create learning targets for each math standard they teach. Unpacking the learning targets with students provides clarity for both teacher and student. Students with a clear understanding of what is expected are able to set goals and monitor their progress. This practice develops their agency. Our teachers have learned that when students work in small group settings, it allows them to have a better understanding of each child’s learning and what the barriers might be. Their instruction is more precise and effective. Small group rotations are the norm in every classroom during both math and ELA now. We continue to look for ways to better balance conceptual understanding and skill development through inquiry.
Our Learning Target work has improved how we assess our students. Of course there is all the district and state requirements of testing, but the day to day, lesson to lesson assessment is up to us. As mentioned before, when teachers sit down to plan a PBL unit, they always begin with the standards. The next step is to tease out the standards and to write learning targets for each piece. Once the learning targets are written, teachers decide what resources they will use to provide engaging instruction and how students are going to demonstrate their learning. Ultimately, each unit is filled with a variety of assessments that students use to show what they know and what they still need to know. We expect student outcomes for everything we do with our kids. Sometimes it is all about content standards but often it has more to do with emotional and social skill development. Assessment is a daily practice for both teachers and students.