Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Power of Focus- Guest blog by Sarah Van Brimmer, VBE Literacy Coach

I recently had the opportunity to participate in two incredible professional development sessions.  As a district literacy coach we participated in a six-day foundational literacy training presented by Voyager Sopris that centered on Scarborough’s Reading Rope.  Then, the amazing Leann Nickelsen visited our school for three days of professional development on formative assessment.  

As I was reflecting on the big ideas and how they relate to my current pedagogy I was struck by an amazing insight.  When we aren’t getting results we are generally focused on the “distractors” or blanket generalizations. Kids didn’t perform because  they didn’t stay focused, they had trouble reading the font {yes, someone really said that}, they don’t have enough vocabulary, etc.  

Instead, we need to feed our focus.  

Let’s reflect on our instruction and ask ourselves the following questions:  

• Are we focusing on the right things?  
• What gaps in foundational knowledge do students have?  
• How are students being asked to demonstrate mastery?  
• Does our practice mirror our assessment?  

This is especially important in foundational literacy.  In order to progress through the stages of word reading and language development there are very critical milestones and learning targets that must be met.  Before we can expect students to decode automatically and efficiently, they need to be able to associate letters with sounds, and eventually recognize patterns that make syllables and words . If we get stuck in any of the foundational phases, word decoding will falter and hamper the rest of the process. The same is true with mathematical processes – you cannot multiply before you learn to add efficiently.  

So in our fast-paced race to state testing season, I’m committing to slow down and narrow my focus.  What are the most essential skills my students need?  What gaps in foundational knowledge can I fill?  How is my practice mirroring how my students will be expected to demonstrate mastery?  

This isn’t always easy – but it reaps big benefits.  So tribe tell me -- What feeds your focus?  How do you tune out the distractions to focus on just the essentials?  

Guest Blog
Sarah Van Brimmer
Literacy Coach at Vero Beach Elementary 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

STREAM problem-based learning!

 Today I feel like I found my soul mates in education.

I would have never imagined a trip to Denver to work with the Learning Alliance and  Share Fair Nation would leave me so inspired and action-driven.

At Vero Beach Elementary, we believe in every child, every  day, no exceptions.

 It's a philosophy that I don't just state, but one that is the essence of every single decision I make as a Principal and Lead Learner at our school.  It's deeply embedded in all facets of my decision making. But, it's not enough to just utilize this as our mantra, it must become part of our belief system in our curriculum and delivery to our students.  With 90% of our students living in poverty, it's essential that we give them the framework to become happy, collaborative, creative, inspired, and independent members of our community.  

I want our kiddos to thrive!!    I can see how this is a necessary paradigm shift that is needed for our Little Indians at VBE. 

I've wanted to start a Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics program- and have been told, by some, that my dreams are too big or the vision just isn't possible.  Our Superintendent, Dr.Rendell, however has supported this lofty vision and has encouraged me to take creative steps to change our  environment at VBE. We integrated a " choice and voice" elective program into 5th grade and we have seen incredible gains in our kiddos emotional intelligence and math scores! By adding robotics and art, a full Band program, and a student run media production elective option- our students have learned to become independent decision makers and choose their pathway for learning.  It's time to take it a step further!

I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to work with Share Fair Nation, the Learning Alliance, and other passionate advocates this weekend that have come together with a common goal, pushing towards more student independence, creative processes, and personalized learning.  Yesterday, I visited two schools that set my heart on fire.  The students at these schools are loving the learning process and are passionately solving real world problems in a setting that also demands standards and accountability.

Our students at Vero Beach Elementary deserve this problem-based, real world learning approach and our teachers deserve an environment that will foster this creative process that allows them the safety to take risks.

I can't wait to see what our partnership with the Share Fair Nation brings to our students at Vero Beach Elementary School

Denver will hold a special place in my heart for bringing me together with so many passionate leaders striving for change in our system.  

You have no idea how incredible this will be for our Little Indians