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Helping Students Take Control by Principal Waltrip

Our students have taken more control of their own learning…but we have a long way to go.  One area I am finding fascinating is the idea of self reflection.  Untapped potential seems to be just below the surface for our students waiting to be unlocked.  As we ask learners to become their own teachers or at least masters of their own learning, we ask ourselves what can adults do to facilitate this?  Not only do students need to know how they are performing, but they need to know where to go next.  Beyond that, they need to know how they are going to get there.  For example, let’s say I am a basketball player with poor free throw shooting percentage.  Step one in my development is recognizing that shooting 50% is low compared to the average player (I have identified where I am).  Next, I need to determine where to go next.  Perhaps a goal of 60 or 70% would be reasonable.  The next step is crucial.  What am I going to do to reach my goal?  Should I visualize making free throws or shoot 100 free throws per day?  Get coaching advice, or all three?

This process of students determining what they know, where they want to go, and how they are going to get there is a premise that we are running with at Rio del Norte.  In fourth and fifth grade (soon to include third grade), we are going through this three step process.  We are guiding students in understanding their reading ability so they can set learning goals.  Most importantly, students are identifying how they will achieve their goals.  For example, if a student is reading at the mid fourth grade level, a reasonable goal would be to read at the mid fifth grade level by the end of the year.  Some ways to reach that goal could be to read out loud to a sibling every day, check out many library books, identify specific types of words to practice, or ask for help if something doesn’t make sense.  The last part of the three step process, that is identifying strategies to meet goals is the meat of the process.  This is what we are helping are students understand so they can become more independent, more self-aware, and guide their own learning.
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Growth Mindset Group 2016

Next week, Mr. Napoles, our school counselor, and I will embark on a new journey with seven students.  We will over the course of seven 30 minute sessions over 7 weeks teach students what a Growth Mindset is and how to engage in activities that grow our brains.  We chose this group after identifying 14 students that all scored at the same reading level, then randomly chose half to participate.  This will allow us to compare the reading achievement of the two groups after seven weeks.  We posit that by only teaching about Growth Mindset and how the brain grows, we will positively affect reading achievement.  Essentially, we intend to help children learn to read better without doing any reading.  This is an experiment we engaged in last year and we had tremendous results.  Our intention this year is to build a series of lessons that are easy to follow so that our small experiment can turn into a school-wide phenomenon.

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A Letter to Students from Principal Waltrip

Dear Rio del Norte student,

As you already know, statewide testing, known as SBAC or CAASPP, is just around the corner.  You will take computer-based tests in the area of reading, writing and math.  Before you take these tests, we (your teachers and principal) want you to know a few things…

These tests will not tell us how amazing you are.  They will not tell us how great of a friend you are or that you are a gifted artist.  The tests will not show that you have a warm smile or that you are great at basketball.  The tests will not reveal that you are kind-hearted or that you can run really, really fast!  Tests do not tell us about the things that make you an awesome and unique individual.

You might ask yourself, Why do I even have to take these tests?  While it is true that the upcoming tests will not let us know that you have excellent tether ball skills or that you are a fantastic son or daughter, it is also true that these tests do have value.

Your teacher, parents, and principal will use the results of these tests to figure out ways to help you learn better.  The test will also tell us what you have already learned.

The only way we can get true value out of these tests is if you try your best and give 100% effort.  By doing your best and giving 100% effort throughout testing, we will know which academic areas you are strongest in and which areas that need more growth.

These tests do not define who you are or what you will become, but they can show us what you already know and what you still need to learn.

So…Don’t get stressed, just try your best!

 

Sincerely,

 

Principal Waltrip

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Goals, Effort, and Testing by Principal Waltrip

Each May, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students take a state test. Tests, like SBAC/CAASPP, don’t tell us everything about students, but they can have value…if students try their best on the test.

At Rio del Norte, each 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade student knows their test scores.  Each student met or will meet one on one with myself or our school counselor to set specific goals.

Why did we set goals?

A wide range of research, summarized by Locke et al, tells us that,  “Goals affect performance by directing attention, mobilizing effort, increasing persistence, and motivating strategy development.”

Put simply, students that set goals outperform students that do not.

During our one on one goal setting sessions and during our classroom presentations, Mr. Napoles, our school counselor, and I helped students understand what to expect on the Smarter Balanced test and realize that effort will be the key.  With almost any task, and certainly with assessments, sustained effort will bring out the best in our students…really, effort brings out the best in all of us.  While the upcoming statewide test is a one time per year summative test, simply engaging wholeheartedly in the process will do two things:

  1. It will tell us what student know.  Teachers, principals, and parents will only know what students are capable of when they give 100% effort

  2. If 100% effort is given, then teachers and principals can design specific supports for students

We want our students to clearly understand that it is through goal setting and sustained effort that growth will be achieved.

One way parents can help their children attain growth by is reinforcing effort and by communicating that school, including statewide testing, it important.

~Jake Waltrip

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April Newsletter

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Copy of Accelerated Reader Point Kickoff

Accelerated Reader (AR) Goals by Principal Waltrip

Last month we focused on Accelerated Reader (the reading and quizzing program that we use to monitor reading comprehension) in a new way.  Each student now has a specific point goal based upon their grade level.  For example, second graders are expected to earn 4 points by the end of each month.  Fourth graders are expected to earn 8 points by the end of each month.

Monthly Point Goals

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Why are we focusing on points?

Students earn points by reading books and passing comprehension quizzes.  Points are only awarded when students comprehend the books they read.  This means students will be motivated to read closely to ensure understanding.  Points are also an indication of words read.  The more words in a book, the more points that can be earned.  This helps motivate students to read more challenging books because longer books are worth more points (also, kids beam when they start reading “chapter” books.).

Motivation

We are rewarding classes with the highest percentage of students that meet their point goals with a Principal’s Recess.  The top two readers in each class earn AR stAR T-Shirts each month.  Additionally, classes have individualized rewards; however, our ultimate goal is for students to become better readers while developing a life-long love of reading.

What parents can do?

Ask questions.  Ask, “What books have you read today?”  Or, “How many points have you earned so far this month?”  Or, “Tell me about the best book you read this week.”  When you ask your students these types of questions on a regular basis, your students will begin to expect to be asked about their reading.  Happy reading!

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One-on-One Goal Setting by Principal Waltrip

This week our school counselor and I have been meeting one-on-one with students.  We are reviewing test scores, setting goals, and identifying strategies to meet these goals.  The conversations with students have been revealing.  Some students lack confidence and need encouragement.  Others are very confident ​but are not showing their skills on assessments.  I expect these one-on-one connections to yield positive outcomes.  If so, this will become a common practice at Rio del Norte.

 

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3 Ways to Improve Reading at Home by Principal Waltrip

At Rio del Norte, our students continue to make great strides toward our most important school goal to ensure every student becomes an excellent reader. Part of this endeavor includes helping students learn to love to read. We believe that when children enjoy reading, they will read more often. The more children read, the better they will become at reading. As a community, we all play a role in helping children become excellent readers. At school, we engage students in many activities that offer rich interactions with text. We will continue to provide multiple opportunities for students to read or listen to books being read aloud each day. One way parents and families can help children become more engaged readers is by allocating time every day to reading. I suggest setting time aside each day for the following types of reading activities at home:
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Child and parent read together

Parent/adult read to child. Even older children enjoy having books read to them. This also provides opportunities for children to listen to books that are beyond their reading level.  

All three of these reading activities will help your child become a better reader. Additionally, when you set aside time daily to read, it sends a strong and important message to your children. That is reading is important and valued. Happy reading!

~Principal Waltrip