As part of a partnership between Orange County Public Schools and Learning Science Inc., teachers at SunRidge Elementary have undergone training for the Rigor model of education, said Principal Janice Quint.
The partnership began last year, with a basis of professional learning that focuses on improving student achievement, Quint said.
“The new Florida state standards and the 21st-century skills are very rigorous,” Quint said. “We’re preparing children for a future that may look different than what we see right now, so there’s a lot of rigor in those standards. To make sure we’re preparing students for that rigor, we are in that partnership to help our students and teachers learn and grow professionally.”
So far, the staff at SunRidge has undergone three of six Learning Science training sessions, and nine Learning Science coaching days are spaced throughout the year, said Assistant Principal Brett Jedrzejak.
“The face-to-face trainings are wonderful,” Quint said, “but the coaching days to follow up are going to be powerful, because Learning Science will work with us again, helping us improve, which we want for everyone: our students, our children, our communities.”
In order, the training sessions are: instructional foundations, goals and scales, monitoring, instructional leaders, guiding deeper thinking and facilitating complex learning, Jedrzejak said.
“A lot of what we’re doing starts off with the teacher, and as we are learning, the teachers are going to go through this professional development and training throughout the year,” Jedrzejak said. “We expect in the classrooms it’s going to transfer to what the students are doing.”
Students will work with more complex tasks and have greater autonomy over their learning, Jedrzejak said. He said each segment of learning would involve targets in compliance with new Florida Core standards, set by teachers who learned from Rigor how to state those
goals in accessible, student-friendly diction. Teachers rate students’ progress in each lesson on a scale of one to four, he said.
“We train the students to understand that one on the scale is a time where they still need help from the teacher,” Jedrzejak said. “Once they start getting between two and three, that’s when they’re starting to take a more active role in the understanding of the material. They address the standard at two; three is where we want them to go—they’re going deeper into the learning. Once they are at four on the scale, they’re synthesizing many skills, and they’re bringing in pieces of learning from another subject or things that they had talked about earlier in the year.”
Jedrzejak said truly autonomous learning would occur upon students’ realizations that they could advance even further than the standards their teachers set. Teachers motivate students toward these levels of deeper learning through classroom engagement and celebration of goals the students reach, Quint said.
“Celebrating students’ success occurs at every level of the scale,” Quint said. “And the children appreciate that: When children have adults proud of them—their parents at home and the teachers at school—it’s motivating.”
Though much training remains and the systematic change involved will take time, teachers are getting face-to-face support and coaching that will help them monitor the model and students’ progress, Jedrzejak said.
“If Learning Science just gave us all of this information and walked away, it’s like giving students all of the notes, walking out and then expecting them to pass a test sometime in the future,” he said.
Instead, teachers engage students with a variety of methods, including software they also can use at home, as well as closed-response SMART Board polls, Jedrzejak said. With SMART Board technology, teachers can ask students to use individual remotes to answer multiple-choice or mathematical questions, he said. Then the teachers can show the class the overall poll results, to indicate how well the group is doing together, while keeping each child’s answers private, which allows teachers to check which students need more work in which areas, he said.
Once teachers can see which students are advancing rapidly and which are taking longer, they can split classes into groups during their lessons, so the advanced students can continue to advance together while struggling children can receive more direct attention to catch up, Quint said.
“For example, in reading, we’ll have a whole group lesson that may teach a reading skill,” she said. “We’ll do that for a short time, and then we can break up the reading block into groupings. Teachers will pull small groups out, and other students will go to literacy centers to do activities on the skills they’re learning in class. Within each homeroom class, the teacher will work with each of the small groups for differentiation.”
Quint and Jedrzejak said parents always could get involved in their children’s learning through many ways: attending school advisory council meetings and school-wide family academic nights, reviewing and asking about concepts children have learned, using newsletter tools that complement classroom lessons and having their children teach them how they learned concepts.
“Parents often say, ‘This is not the way I learned this,’” Jedrzejak said. “I look at some things students do and think, I wouldn’t have done it that way. And that’s OK. What we’re trying to do for each student is find the way that works best. That’s why, when they go home to parents, it’s so powerful when they teach it to their parents. It’s showing they do have mastery of this, and then it allows the students to choose which way is the best way.”
Because the fruits of Rigor are not quite ripe—students have been back to school hardly two months—feedback on the model has been sparse, though mostly positive, Quint said.
“One of the best practices is for children to know their learning goal,” she said. “And if they know that goal, they know that they can work toward that goal. So we have to make sure the children understand their learning goals and why they’re learning them. We always tie that in: What is the real-life learning that’s happening? Why is this learning goal important for you? We can tie it into a career and their lives around them.”
Quint said that five other schools in the county were testing Rigor this year, too: Clarcona Elementary, Little River Elementary, Sand Lake Elementary, South Creek Middle and Colonial High.