In May 2016, I spent 42 hours observing teachers and students at Endeavour Elementary School in Issaquah, Washington. I primarily observed a first grade classroom. The first grade teacher also arranged opportunities for me to observe in second, third, fourth, and fifth grade classrooms. I was very appreciative for the additional observation experiences because I saw how instruction, curriculum, and collaborative learning changed in conjunction with different grades. Anyone who spends time at Endeavour will quickly observe that key values in the school are respect, teamwork, citizenship, and personal growth. These values apply to the students as well as the administrative staff, teachers, and volunteers. Everyone is responsible for helping ensure the school is a safe, welcoming, engaging environment so students are focused on learning and achieving their academic and personal goals. Values are promoted on posters in the hallways, on signs in the classrooms, through classroom expectations, and in how everyone communicates with each other.
Two areas I focused on during my observations were classroom management and assisting students with special needs. Since the observation occurred near the end of the school year, classroom management and organization were already a polished process. Students knew what their teacher expected from them and what management cues their teacher used. One universal cue was a hand gesture students used to indicate they wanted to go to the restroom. In the first grade classroom, the primary focus teaching students to line up quietly to prepare to walk in a silent line to recess, lunch, P.E., art, or music. In second, third, and fourth grade, every student was assigned a classroom duty. These jobs helped the classroom remain a safe, productive learning environment for students while reminding them they are responsible for helping take care of the school. Each teacher had their own system about how to assign tasks to students on a rotating based. It appeared every student took pride in their assigned task and they did not want to leave the room for the day until their job was completed. Designating classroom duties assisted in the organization of the room since jobs included responsibilities such as turning on and off computers every day, handing out papers, collecting assignments, and cleaning the desks.
Most students demonstrated very respectful behavior and self-control. Teachers practiced different age appropriate solutions for student misbehavior. In the first grade class, students were seated on the floor for a lesson when two boys started badgering another boy, B. B asked his classmates to stop bothering him. A fourth boy even tried to tell the instigators they were not following class rules. Once it was obvious this issue was not going to be solved among the students, the teacher stopped mid-lesson to remind everyone of the class rules. The consequence for the two boys who were not following classroom rules was to verbally apologize and to write an “I’m sorry” note to B. The teacher also praised the boy who tried to help, explaining that it is important to help your friends. In the third grade classroom, the teacher privately talked to a few students in the hallway since bullying-type behavior had recently developed and seemed to be escalating. Each student was talked to individually for a few minutes. The teacher taking the time to have one-on-one conversations indicated her respect for students as individuals and provided students the opportunity to engage in a conversation with their teacher. Both teachers demonstrated how a response to misbehavior changes depending on the action and age.
Supporting exceptional learners is a priority for teachers, school administers, and specialists. It is a collaborative effort among the staff to ensure students with behavioral, intellectual, physical, attentive, and/or social issues receive an education that aligns with their needs. Depending on the individual’s need, students might work with a specialist for one-on-one help or spend a portion of their school day in the resource room while also receiving specific academic and verbal instruction from their general education teacher.
I focused on observing how general education teachers differentiated instruction and learning activities for students with special needs. In one class students were working on learning their multiplication facts. First, this activity recognized that all students learn at different rates. Students had to correctly answer a set of multiplication facts before progressing to the next set. The teacher added an extra support to this activity for L, a student with a learning disability. L learned the same material as her classmates, but focused on learning half as many multiplication facts in one set at a time. This differentiated instruction recognized L is capable of learning the multiplication facts. Chunking the information into smaller sets made the activity more attainable for L. I also observed the techniques a second grade teacher used when she assisted two students with special behavior needs. A strategy she used with both students was to create a self-monitoring behavior chart that the students used every day. She tracked their behavior too, but believed that the charts helped them stay focused on positive classroom behavior and interactions. It was enlightening for me to observe how the teachers managed the learning and behavioral needs of students with distinctive needs.
Endeavour offers programs to support highly capable students. For students in Kindergarten through second grade, there is a qualification process to participate in the Primary Enrichment Program (PEP). Students in third, fourth, and fifth grade have two options available. Mind Education Right Left Integration (MERLIN) is a program all students in the district can participate in after a nomination and evaluation process. Endeavour is one of the two elementary schools in Issaquah that hosts the MERLIN classrooms. MERLIN classes have high expectations and challenge students through higher level thinking instruction and independent work (Highly Capable Program, 2016). Highly capable third, fourth, and fifth graders may also qualify for Special Approach to Gifted Education (SAGE), which is a program that enhances the learning experience for students placed in the general education classroom (Highly Capable Program, 2016). PEP, MERLIN, and SAGE reflect Issaquah School District’s commitment to providing highly capable students options that appropriately align with their learning needs.
Student’s academic learning and personal growth are very important at Endeavour. Achievement is guided through direct instruction, applied learning experiences, and student’s exploration into individual interests. Student inquiry and questioning is encouraged as a primary method of learning and understanding. Nearly all direct instruction lessons included a review about students’ background knowledge, especially during math and science. Students were often instructed to incorporate critical thinking skills throughout all subjects. This technique was always used after silent reading ended. All the teachers asked for student volunteers to talk about what they had read, if they had any predictions about what was going to happen next, and if they had any lingering questions.
Teachers also emphasized that students should read stories that matched their reading level. The third grade teacher reminded her students of the 5-Finger Rule during reading time. This strategy helps a student determine how challenging the book is based on how many words they understand on a random page. Students begin reading a page in the middle of a new book and for every word they do not know on that page, they put up a finger. A book is “just right” if they have two or three fingers up by the end of the page (Mascott, 2013). I talked with a fourth grade student about he was reading. It was quickly apparent the story was just above his reading comprehension level. I mentioned this interaction with the teacher. She said that he likes to challenge himself, but she would talk with him and recommend he change books.
Student’s safety within the school and at home is critical. If school personnel have any concerns about a child’s well-being, it is recommended to immediately review the district’s regulation manual to ensure the proper action is followed. Pursuant to the regulations, if an employee believes there is a reasonable cause to suspect child neglect or abuse, the situation must be reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency as soon as possible and no later than 48 hours after reasonable cause was suspected (Regulations, 2012). The policy also states the report should made in the presence of the school principal when possible (Regulations, 2012). The recommendation to review the policy every time a situation arises is an essential process because students’ safety is an issue that should be handled correctly and efficiently.
Observation was an extremely valuable experience. I witnessed how professionals supported students with diverse needs and personalities, as well as how they collaborated with their colleagues. I was inspired watching how excellent teachers incorporated various instructional methods into the curriculum while maintaining the students inquiry and learning as the priority. I am beyond grateful that the teachers and students at Endeavour welcomed me into their community and look forward to returning to observe preparation for beginning of next school year.
Issaquah School District. (2016). Highly capable (gifted) programs overview. Retrieved from: http://www.issaquah.wednet.edu/academics/programs/gifted
Mascot, A. (2013). Help kids to p.i.c.k. the right books. Retrieved from: http://www.scholastic.com/parents/blogs/scholastic-parents-raise-reader/help-kids-to-pick-right-books
Issaquah School District. (2012. Regulations: Child abuse, neglect, and exploitation prevention-3421. Retrieved from: http://www.issaquah.wednet.edu/docs/default-source/district/regulations-manual/3000/3421p-child-abuse-neglect-and-exploitation.pdf?sfvrsn=0