WASHINGTON DISCOVERY ACADEMY
WDA began the 2017-2018 school year by focusing professional development around the social and emotional learning of students. This AIM was identified as the area of greatest need. Teaching staff and support teachers (we now call all adults in our school “teachers” in an attempt to establish unity) were educated around current best practices for building the social/emotional growth of children as well as building positive relationships between all building stakeholders. Staff members chose initial “PEBBLES” to address in their individual classrooms. The idea behind this term was to encourage all staff members to start somewhere small and begin implementing the new ideas. All stakeholders were given the freedom to investigate the professional development concept at their own comfort level and then reflection was used for staff growth.
Five years ago our school began implementing Positive Behaviors Interventions and Support (PBIS). Since then our school has developed several programs and procedures to deliberately support and promote a positive school culture. As a result our office referrals have significantly declined in the last three years.
Throughout our projects, you can see the learning path with our project roadmaps created by and with the students. Within our classrooms, it is evident that there is not separate time for our project. Our students are engaged in the project throughout the day; creating a fluid learning environment. One critical aspect of each project is incorporating and utilizing experts. These are people in our community that we invite to speak with our students to share their expertise, knowledge, and experiences in order to gain knowledge about the content, real life experience, and authenticity to the project.
Teachers are given the autonomy to utilize the given reading series text as an instructional tool, but also to supplement or even replace those texts with appropriate content text materials as long as the original skills objective is taught. In addition, intervention materials are added to projects during literacy blocks that provide additional scaffolding at individual learning levels, but still correlate with project content. Finding appropriate leveled materials is not always easy, but building background knowledge for our real world projects while simultaneously teaching the skills of main idea, cause and effect, theme, drawing conclusions, figurative language, character response, and the host of other necessities must be done to ensure that there is enough time to cover both projects and skills instruction with fidelity.
Within our PBL classrooms, we have the flexibility to allow for skill development. We follow our district curriculum, using the resources through the curriculum to teach the content. However, we supplement the content with our own lessons, and inquiry based learning where necessary. This gives the students a real world attachment to the content. We also include math based lessons within projects where it fits to connect other projects, although it may not be the main focus. There are times when a math centered project is implemented into the classroom.
In prior years we had more autonomy and found it easier to create a curriculum that not only supported PBL but promoted it. This year we have been faced with the challenge of following our district-wide Math and Reading curriculums. To maintain the integrity of PBL, each grade level has modified their lessons to embed benchmark assessments. Length and intensity of projects vary depending upon predetermined testing windows. Teachers have the autonomy to utilize the scope and sequence and have found creative ways to backwards plan benchmarks to assess both the targeted skills and strategies of the scope and sequence and current project outcomes. These benchmark assessments, performance tasks, project rubrics, and/or products allow for authentic assessment of student outcomes via the project and the scope and sequence targeted skills and strategies.