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True Team Effort Improves Students’ Growth

True Team Effort Improves Students’ Growth

There’s something special going on in the sixth-grade hallway at Freedom Elementary. A science and social studies co-teaching team has developed an approach that is helping students grow in many ways – even in language arts!

With rooms across the hall from each other, Regan Smither and Victoria Valentine realized they have a unique situation: they are both certified to teach social studies and science – plus they both have their reading certification. Based on a similar model used by Freedom fifth-grade teachers, Smither and Valentine proposed a co-teaching situation where they would cover science and social studies. But they added another component: using their science and social studies non-fiction text and vocabulary to support the work of the language arts teachers.

Now in their second year of co-teaching, the results are impressive. But first, here’s how it works.

The team has a weekly schedule as follows: Mondays and Wednesdays are social studies days and Tuesday and Thursdays are science days. They split Fridays 50-50 to make sure they provide the correct minutes for science and social studies. The teachers change their class makeup every three to four weeks, so that students are taught by both teachers and are exposed to a variety of classmates. “It’s a cool way to learn,” said sixth-grader Miriam. The teachers can talk to each other and ask each other questions to help figure out the best way to help us learn."

The students learn to work with different people and make new friends along the way. “We have also seen that students’ executive functioning skills have increased as we are creating situations where they practice flexibility as we come together as a whole group and mix up groups often,” said Smither. “It prepares them for what junior high looks like, so it eases that transition for them.” 

At the beginning of each school year, Smither and Valentine work with the language arts teachers to look at MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) and AIR (American Institutes for Research) testing scores to identify how they can support each student’s growth.  Because there is so much non-fiction text involved in teaching science and social studies, Smither and Valentine can focus on a different language arts standard each quarter. Students are divided into different “emoji” groups (like fish or flamingos) based on MAP test scores. After testing in the fall, winter and spring, the emoji groups are adjusted accordingly.

A typical day includes a mini lesson, followed by students working individually. Each emoji group has a lesson tailored to meet their needs. For example, even though each emoji group has four questions to answer about a lesson on soil formation, the questions will vary in depth to challenge each student. During this time, Smither and Valentine pull out even smaller groups of students based on where they were on their OST (Ohio State Tests) to help ensure that each student makes at least one year’s worth of growth. “I like how we are learning,” said sixth-grader Max. “I get to meet new people. Sometimes it’s challenging, sometimes it’s fun.”

It was a lot of work and a lot of trial and error for Smither and Valentine to fine-tune their co-teaching model. They’ve developed a friendship and trust with each other that helps make it work.

“We absolutely do see advantages with what we are doing,” said Smither. “Stamina has increased in terms of reading and writing in social studies and science. We also see that because students have been exposed to a variety of non-fiction texts, they are more prepared to approach a new text and have the skills to understand it better."

The teaching duo has also noticed that AIR test scores have increased in the targeted language arts standards. They focused on vocabulary and acquisition last year and saw that among Lakota’s elementary schools, Freedom scored the highest on the sixth-grade standard 6.4. (Standard 6.4 states: Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 6 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.)

What is the reason behind the students’ growth? “It is hard to narrow in on one reason,” said Valentine. “Is it just us or is it the work the students are doing with the ELA teachers or is it what we are doing as a whole at the school? The best answer is that it’s really a team effort to see all of these kids succeed. We are just playing our part.”