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A few members of the Middle School Matters (MSM) team recently visited Lee Middle School in San Angelo, Texas for two school days. Our purpose was to observe the changes that have taken place during the last few months.
The trip was a reminder of how research-based recommendations can be turned into effective real-life practice. That is, when a school has a strong leader plus teachers ready to learn and willing to try and refine new strategies.
The MSM team observed classrooms where teachers were pursuing strategies like instructing students to ask and answer questions while they read to monitor comprehension and also guiding students during text-related oral and written activities that support the interpretation, analysis, and summarization of text. We visited with the school leadership team as they were planning strategies and discussing the data they had collected. And we spent time with students in their classrooms.
The top three MSM strategies that Lee Middle School is excelling at are:
*After school we were invited to a team meeting of about 20 teachers. Not only did these teachers stay after school after a long day of teaching 100-plus students, they did so with enthusiasm to learn what is going on in the classroom next door and in the grades below and above them.
Lee Middle School has a school culture that is marked by a shared mission among the staff members. The vision centers on academic achievement and a shared belief that they can collectively enable students to succeed.
In the middle grades, students interact with a wider array of adults than they did in the elementary grades, and students need to receive a consistent and common message—that they can and will learn and achieve. Lee Middle School is doing just that.
The school is educating a large number of students with high degrees of educational and behavioral challenges. That is often the case in many of our nation’s middle schools, so Lee Middle School’s adults have worked to create high levels of collective efficacy and trust with establishing a high level of expectations with support from every adult in the building. This creates the uniform and consistent experiences students need to succeed.
*Lee Middle School leaders recognize the importance of data-driven decision making. Using reliable data helps increase student achievement and guide personnel, professional development, and resource allocations. The school’s leaders know that to effectively use data to make decisions for instructional improvements, multiple types of data should be collected and systematically analyzed.
During our observation of the vertical team meeting, our team walked around the room and saw all types of data sources. They included:
Student achievement measures (e.g., formative assessments, summative tests, writing samples, teacher observations); teacher practice measures (e.g., teacher observations);
Demographic information (e.g., attendance, ethnicity, socio-economic status);
Data collected by school programs (e.g., curriculum, technology, supplemental programs); and
Surveys of perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes from staff, students, and the community.
Lee Middle School teachers and administrators know where their students are, why and what they need to do in order to get to where they want.
*Middle school students’ knowledge of general academic terms used across the content areas has been linked to their academic achievement. But cross-discipline word knowledge is only part of what students need to know to succeed in their classes.
Content areas (e.g., mathematics, science, social studies, and English language arts) each have unique vocabulary used to communicate concepts and explain processes. These discipline-specific concept words are the center of learning the big ideas of content as well as the necessary academic vocabulary for success.
At Lee, students learn what many general academic words mean and how to use them within the multiple contexts of reading, writing, and speaking. It was evident during classroom observations that teachers were identifying the key academic or concept words students needed to learn and master the key ideas they were teaching.
These words were introduced by showing students the words, along with a picture, video, or other demonstration to make the words vivid. Teachers then engaged students in a discussion about what the words mean and don’t mean extending understanding to the text and important ideas they are learning.
What we found is that students are learning at Lee Middle School and will be prepared to succeed in high school. The teachers and administrators are the reason why.
Gina Rodriguez is the program manager for Middle School Matters. She joined the Bush Institute team in 2011, continuing her decade-long career with public education in the middle grades.
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