As the school year draws to a close, so too last week did visits to Jefferson City Public Schools' lab classrooms. But the visits will begin again in the fall with more opportunities in more grade levels for teachers to experience what JCPS is promoting as the model of literacy teaching.
The district's long-term goal is to have all students reading at or above their grade level or otherwise attaining individual educational goals if on a specialized plan.
The two lab classrooms at Cedar Hill Elementary School are places where teachers and staff from across the district can go to observe and engage with the kind of literacy teaching approaches the district wants to expand to all of its classrooms.
"This is different than just observation," Leigh Ann Doyle, an instructional coach at North Elementary School, said of how visiting Jennifer McBaine's kindergarten or Amber Craghead's third-grade lab classrooms are different than the in-classroom observational hours that are standard parts of teachers' college educations.
East Elementary School instructional coach Melissa Vernon explained teachers can email either teacher and ask them questions about what they saw in their classrooms — and what they saw is consistent with the specific approaches of JCPS. "This is really kind of a fine-tuning piece," Vernon said.
JCPS Director of Elementary Education Lorie Rost — who started her position for the 2017-18 school year after being Cedar Hill's principal — previously has told the Board of Education new teachers who visit the lab classrooms with their mentors are asked to come with a goal in mind, an idea of how their classroom and teaching style can benefit from what they see.
Instructional coaches and principals then work with teachers at their home buildings to help develop and hold them accountable to following through on those goals.
Doyle said she's brought teachers from every grade level at North to Cedar Hill this year, and she plans to bring her teachers back next year for a more focused session.
Cedar Hill literacy coach Jessica Smith said each teacher in the district can take three professional development days — days the district will pay for a substitute teacher to supervise their classrooms while they can visit the lab classrooms.
Smith said teachers who opt to use one or more of their professional development days to visit Cedar Hill observe in the morning and work with an instructional coach in the afternoon.
What visiting teachers see as model literacy teaching in the classrooms is a lot of emphasis on students being encouraged to read aloud and independently analyze reading assignments or other activities — with guidance from their teacher and collaboration with their peers.
McBaine's kindergartners recited a poem with her Wednesday morning then were asked to match and drag into place its lines on the classroom's smartboard.
Then McBaine had her students fill out Venn diagrams highlighting the differences and similarities between the plots of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" and Mo Willems' "Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs." Students also conversed with one another about the things that happened in the stories.
After that, McBaine directed her students to their assigned centers — numbered tables where students worked on paper packets of sentence writing and coloring or on Google Chromebooks.
Craghead's third-graders had clipboarded sheets with questions to write answers to as they analyzed the Walt Disney Co.'s Pixar short film "Presto."
While most of her students then went on to do independent work, Craghead had a check-in for about 15-20 minutes with five students in particular to see how far they had gotten into books they had selected of the appropriate reading level, and to have the students share their responses to an article-reading assignment.
There was a focus for the five students on practicing vocabulary words from the article — in this case "norm" and "foresee" from a news story about Amazon looking into building a home service robot akin to "Rosie" from "The Jetsons."
Activities such as these are meant to encourage interaction between students and with the material, the establishment of routines for students, cultivating a love of reading, opportunities for students to develop background knowledge, "a model of of fluent and expressive reading (aloud)," and applying of information, according to a lab classroom observation guide for visiting teachers.
The expansion of the lab classrooms is on a slower schedule than previously suggested. Rost told the Board of Education in March that the district was looking into "creating this across the district, one lab classroom in ELA in every grade level next year" — but it's anticipated the next step of having lab classrooms in first and fifth grades won't be in place until later in the fall and not at each elementary building.
Instead, Rost said, there will be a first-grade lab classroom at Callaway Hills Elementary School, led by teacher Susan Isaacs, and a fifth-grade lab classroom at Pioneer Trail Elementary School, led by Dustin Jeffries — bringing the district's total number of lab classrooms to four.