Teachers at The Mozart Elementary School, a BPS school in Roslindale, were thrilled to see significant improvements in student writing last school year. Students were grasping the key understandings in text and structuring responses that addressed all parts of each writing prompt.
As fourth grade teacher Kim Haynes puts it, "It’s great to see my students improve in their ability to write in response to reading. Not only have their mechanics improved, their ability to express what they’ve read and understood, and to know what a question is asking of them, have also improved significantly.”
How did they do it?
In their first year partnering with ANet, Mozart teachers put Common Core writing-type standards (opinion, informative, and narrative writing) at the forefront of their own learning, planning, teaching, and reflection. Mozart's leadership team developed an “arc” of professional development for teachers that focused on writing as their shared instructional priority. They implemented weekly 1x1 teacher support, targeted observation and feedback cycles, and adapted curricular (unit and lesson) planning based on writing standards and student work.
Student writing is a powerful window into what students know and understand. “Focusing on writing is a strategic lens through which we can capture a cross-section of many crucial student skills,” observes ANet coach Irene Shih. “Instructional priorities need not be separate ‘buckets’ of learning—in fact, effective instructional priorities should help us simultaneously advance on several connected themes.”
Their success this past year speaks volumes about the power of focusing on a specific priority: Mozart moved their state accountability status from stagnant Level 3 (for three years) to Level 1 in 2015-16.
As Mozart’s teaching community continues to pursue equitable outcomes for students and push students to the next level of critical thinking and expression, their instructional priority in 2016-17 will be to help students reason with evidence through writing and speaking in all content areas.