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Elementary Curriculum Updated As Budget Cuts Loom

What’s new in Mamaroneck’s elementary classrooms? A word study curriculum, literacy assessments, student benchmarks in reading, math resources, and — housed on the district website — an expanded array of materials to both support teachers and inform parents.

These developments were the subject of a February 5 presentation for parents by Annie Ward, Mamaroneck’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, and the four elementary principals .

The presentation continued a thread that began with school board study sessions focused on district and building goals, professional development and instructional coaches earlier in the year and which will continue with a study session about student assessments on March 9.

Curriculum Commitments – Budget Cuts Looming

Underlying the district’s elementary curriculum are four general “commitments,” said Ms. Ward: an emphasis on research-based programs and instruction; consistency across schools and classrooms; alignment with district goals; and active leadership and supervision.

Ms. Ward compared curriculum to a trellis or framework on which a teacher creates lessons that will engage children in the classroom. A team of elementary administrators, teachers and instructional coaches in the district works behind the scenes to build and support that framework.

“The district’s elementary programs are very demanding of teachers, both in preparation and content knowledge,” said Ms. Ward. “It is important that we offer our support.”

Key to supporting teachers and learning is the district website, which houses curriculum and a wide array of multimedia resources, many of which were projected in real-time for attendees to see. “The website is a big electronic faculty room,” said Ms. Ward. “It is a vibrant, interactive forum for professional collaboration.” For parents, the website replaces the “purple book” covering elementary curriculum, which was last published about 4 years ago.

However, proposed cuts to professional development and technology unveiled by Superintendent Paul Fried at the February 2nd and 9th Budget Reduction Initiatives meetings cast a shadow on whether the initiatives could be sustained at the same level next year.

New Literacy Initiatives Rolled out in 2009-10

Ms. Ward turned the presentation over to the elementary school principals — Carol Houseknecht, Central;  Jennifer Monaco, Murray; Carrie Amon, Mamaroneck Avenue; and Gail Boyle, Chatsworth — to review specific curriculum initiatives.

Ms. Houseknecht gave an overview of a new phonemic awareness assessment– developed last summer by a task force comprising elementary literacy coach Allyson Daley, kindergarten teachers and building administrators — that was administered for the first time to all kindergarteners in the district this fall.

She explained that phonemics is the understanding of spoken language (versus phonics, which is based on the written word) and is a predictor of how well children will learn to read. The findings of the fall assessment were used by kindergarten teachers to plan literacy instruction over the year. Students will be assessed again in the spring and their progress noted in the year-end achievement report.

Words Their Way: Ms. Houseknecht also explained that this year all first and second grade classrooms (and some others) in the district began using Words Their Way, a research-based word study program published by Prentice-Hall that encompasses phonics, spelling and vocabulary.

Rolling out Words Their Way involved a massive process to order and prepare materials for use in classrooms. The elementary literacy coach also met with every first and second grade teacher in the district. The program will be used district-wide in grades one through four next year.

Reading Continuum: Ms. Monaco covered several tools used by teachers to track and report student progress in reading, emphasizing that each child learns to read at a different rate. Last summer, a task force revised a reading continuum that depicts the stages of reading development in grades K through five.

Accompanying the reading continuum are new independent reading benchmarks for first through fifth grades. Elementary administrators collected and analyzed data from every elementary classroom in the district to determine reading milestones typical at each grade level. Each grade level spans multiple “reading levels” and most children exhibit behaviors classified under different reading levels, Ms. Monaco noted. This information is reviewed with parents during conferences and is part of the student achievement report.

Running Records: This year, teachers began using running records on a more frequent basis to assess student reading skills and plan instruction tailored to each child’s reading development. To take a running record, the teacher listens one-on-one to a child reading aloud a specific text. The teacher notes words read correctly and records any errors, then afterwards analyzes those errors for patterns to develop appropriate instruction.

Teachers continue to administer the Developmental Reading Assessment, a more formal assessment tool, in grades one through five twice each year.

Writing: The district is in the midst of a project to create and implement consistent units of study in writing. Since 2006, the Literacy Design Team, comprising teachers and instructional coaches, has designed and implemented three units of study – in poetry, personal narrative and nonfiction inquiry writing–in grades K through five. This year, the team is developing additional nonfiction writing units.

The district website houses a rich archive of materials that teachers may draw upon to teach writing, said Ms. Monaco, including lesson plans, sample student work, mentor texts and related media such as books and videos.

“The caliber of the work done by the Literacy Design Team is utterly astonishing,” said Ms. Ward.

New Achievement Report and an Expanded Website Support Revised Elementary Math Curriculum

Ms. Amon reviewed the math curriculum, familiarly known as TERC, that has been used in district elementary schools for over a decade. A revised edition of the curriculum is in at least its second year of implementation in all district classrooms in grades K through five. Last summer the student achievement report was realigned with the revised TERC curriculum and the new report was mailed home this January.

The math section of the website has continued to grow this year. Elementary math coach Mariana Ivanov has located and posted supplemental lessons to address New York State standards missing from TERC as well as resources to help teachers modify lessons for students for both remediation and enrichment. Also posted were a wide array of classroom materials developed by a task force comprising special and regular education teachers and Ms. Ivanov.

Technology is Both a Subject and a Tool of Instruction

Ms. Boyle presented an overview of district technology initiatives at the elementary level. The new Technology-Enhanced Learning Library on the district website, maintained by elementary technology coach Andrew Hess, showcases examples of innovative uses of technology in the classroom that enable students to apply their technology skills to learning in other curricular areas. All students in grades 3 through 5 continue to receive lessons in keyboarding, network skills, word processing and internet use, including internet responsibility and ethics.

Woven throughout the meeting was evidence of how the district has adopted technology to deliver resources to support teachers and students and to communicate with parents and the community.

“There is a direct connection between the district website and curriculum,” said Ms. Boyle. “The website is vibrant and interactive.”

If the District Builds It, Will They Come?

As to whether teachers value and use the on-line resources developed for them, Ms. Ward answered with a qualified “yes”.

“We survey teachers and gather a lot of feedback from them,” Ms. Ward said. “We develop resources in response to what teachers say that they would like to have. As an example, videos of classroom lessons posted on the website have been popular, and annotated bibliographies and glossaries have been requested. Some resources are still catching on, however – it’s a matter of drawing new users in.”

Parents were encouraged to visit the ELA, math and instructional technology pages within the Curriculum and Instruction section to learn more about the elementary curriculum. All four elementary schools and their grade level teams also have pages on the district site.

Is the District Elementary Curriculum Effective?

Can the district measure the effectiveness of the elementary curriculum? Ms. Ward noted that the district analyzes reports generated by New York State from the state Mathematics and English Language test results and looks in great detail at questions that our students get both right and wrong. Samples of student writing are also collected and analyzed. The district also considers questions and concerns raised by parents. All of this information is used to shape curriculum.

Ms. Ward and Mike Kollmer, director of administrative technology and testing, are scheduled to make a presentation to the school board on student assessments on March 9.

To Learn More About the Elementary Curriculum, Visit:
“Words Their Way” Word Study Program
Reading Continuum
Running Records
Writing Units of Study
Math Resources for Teachers
Elementary Achievement Reports
Technology Skills Instruction
School and Grade Level Web Pages
Elementary Curriculum and Instruction
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