OTTUMWA — Ottumwa students won’t be picking up where they left off in the spring when they return to school next month. Instead, they will move forward with grade-level learning.

“Students have missed learning around our grade-level essential standards over the spring,” said Lonna Anderson, director of elementary education. “We’ve identified what we think are the most critical piece of learning for students in each subject area. By doing that, we’ve asked teachers to identify, ‘What area are you most concerned about in those essential standards?’”

Horace Mann Principal Jodi Williams said at the elementary level, teachers looked at reading, writing and math specifically and then identified no more than three areas of concern in each of those subjects. “Those documents are going to be incredibly helpful as we move into the next year.”

That has led to what the administrators call vertical conversations, where the teachers address those missed skills with teachers at the next grade level (i.e., a kindergarten teacher addressing them with a first-grade teacher).

Similar work is being done at the middle school and secondary level as well. Marci Dunlap, director of secondary education, said teachers are working on developing unit cover sheets that tell the next teacher the alignment action plan, standards and major rubrics for tasks such as assignments, projects or assessments. From there, they will develop a sequencing guide, which is required by the state.

“Instead of looking at it as a list of units, we can look at all of our grade-level standards and we can see during which one- to three-week place it’s taught so we can say the name of the unit, and that’s connected to that unit cover sheet so that all teachers can have access to it,” Dunlap said. “It’s a really deep dive into the content.”

Ottumwa High School Principal Richard Hutchinson noted how impressed he’s been with the work teachers have been putting into these tasks. “They’ve learned our curriculum even better, top to bottom,” he said. “It is a lot stronger because of the exercise we did here.”

“Our students are going to walk in the door with gaps,” Anderson said. “As they walk into that next grade level, they’re going to have a little less under their belt than they would typically have.”

As a result, she said, teachers will be using developed protocols, and have training for those protocols, to enact accelerated learning.

“The first thought is, ‘Hey, we’ve got to go back and make up for that lost learning,’” she said. “What research has told us and from previous disasters, for example Katrina, we know that when schools have done this what they have done is perpetuate the gap. You’ve just made it bigger because you don’t have enough time to add on a Quarter 4 learning plus the 1-4 grade-level learning that you need to do.”

The district, she said, will be following the advisement of national consultants and the Department of Education.

From there, Anderson said teachers will do a quick diagnosis or formative assessment to identify if students have those prerequisite skills to move forward with the learning. If not, they can step back and do mini-lessons and teaching around those skills. “It may be the whole class or a small group,” she said.

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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