Long Hill School

Sara Marr

Long Hill School

Building Staff Capacity While Developing Writing Tools

The Long Hill School ExcEL team was very busy this year analyzing student work and planning things that we could do as a team to help facilitate EL student success in our school. After using the DLLP (Dynamic Language Learning Progressions) to analyze student writing samples, we decided that sentence structure would be a great place to start. We discussed the various things that were already being done in the classrooms across the grade levels to help EL students achieve grade-level expectations in writing, and one place we thought needed more attention was the use of sentence and paragraph frames. Some team members expressed their lack of knowledge in developing sentence and paragraph frames, and others pointed out that they are very lengthy and involved for teachers to create for every type of writing done in their classrooms. Because of these two factors, we chose to use our time as a team to create sentence frames and paragraph frames for all grade levels in the following types of writing: narrative writing, opinion writing, informational writing, writing about reading, and writing about math. These sentence and paragraph frames are currently being compiled into a shared document for the entire staff so they can easily implement them in their instruction. At the beginning of the next school year, the ExcEL team members will be presenting the document to their grade levels and providing training to them on how to use the frames in their classes.   

This project has fulfilled two goals of Project ExcEL at Long Hill. First, it targeted a student need in our building and created a way to address that need. Second, it helped to build capacity in our staff in strategies for helping ELs. After being a part of this team for two years, their grade levels will now be receiving training from them and they will be able to show what they have been a part of. They have developed their knowledge of sentence and paragraph frames, they have developed sentence frames and paragraph frames for all different uses, and now they will get to help put them into practice.  Our team is looking forward to taking the next steps with this project and others in the coming school year! 

Student Led Conferences

In March of this year, the SLC team at Long Hill dove head first into planning our first Student Led Conferences. We set lofty goals for what we wanted to accomplish in our first year and got to work. I chose to work with a third-grade student, Valentina. Her family had moved to the United States from Ecuador in the summer of 2017 and she started school here with little to no English skills. After a few months and a lot of progress, she was still hesitant to speak in English because she didn’t want to make any mistakes. She and I worked very closely together and over time her confidence grew and grew. Since the beginning of the year she has truly flourished thanks to the help of her classroom teacher, her parents, and her dedication to school and learning.   

When I approached Valentina with the idea of holding a SLC, she was concerned about presenting to her mother. When I told her she could also present in Spanish, she warmed up to the idea a little more. So, we started slowly with talking about something she chose - art. She wanted to talk about the projects she liked the best. Then we added in reading strengths and struggles. Then she decided she wanted to add math. Then she wanted to talk about learning a language. On and on she went, adding in subject areas and even expanding into talking about her friends at school. Once she got going she didn’t want to stop talking about her experiences at school this year. After completing her presentation, she even asked me if she could make another soon!  

The morning of Valentina’s SLC came and we both were nervous. Valentina came to my room and we had a quick practice run. Then it was time to start. Valentina did an amazing job. Not only did she share her presentation with her mother in English and Spanish, but she translated the English introduction, the questions we asked her mother, and her mother’s responses to the questions! Valentina’s mother was thrilled with her daughter’s presentation and the whole process in general. Believe it or not, I actually learned some things from the process myself:

1) Flexibility is key: Flexibility with scheduling parents to come in, flexibility with the location of the conferences, flexibility with when you work on the process with the students. This is a new process and it takes flexibility on everyone’s part. 

2) Don’t be too attached to expectations for the end product: We held five SLCs at Long Hill and I have seen footage of all of them. We all started with the same framework and guess what? All of the students’ presentations were completely different in the end. They were truly based around what each student wanted to talk about and share with their parents, rather than topics that were dictated by the teachers.

3) This is NOT about the teacher: Even though everything we do is always about the students, when a new initiative is introduced us teachers often think, “How is this going to impact ME?” After seeing Valentina and her mother during the SLC, I realized this had nothing to do with me. It doesn’t matter that I had to find time to work with her or that I had to cancel a group to hold the SLC because it was not about me. This SLC was about my student connecting with her parent in a way she had never done before. This SLC was about making a parent feel comfortable in a place where not many people can communicate effectively with her. And this SLC was about giving a student a voice to talk about what was important to her in her education this year.
Once she got going she didn’t want to stop talking about her experiences at school this year. After completing her presentation, she even asked me if she could make another soon!