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Behind the Practice: Planning the K-2 Skills Block with Sarah Mitchell, Katie Benton and Brenna Schneider

This video shows Sarah Mitchell (Instructional Coach), Katie Benton (2nd Grade Teacher) and Brenna Schneider (Kindergarten Teacher), thinking about their work implementing the K-2 Skills Block at Lead Academy.  The coach and teachers describe the importance of the Skills Block, and how to use the phases and micro-phases to most strategically group students and plan differentiated activities. The video addresses common questions and challenges teachers face when implementing this component of the EL Education Language Arts curriculum at grades K-2, in particular how to make most strategic use of the differentiated small group time.


- My name is Sarah Mitchell. I’m the instructional coach at Lead Academy Charter School in Greenville, South Carolina.

- My name’s Katie Benton. I am a second grade teacher here at Lead Academy. I have been teaching for three years now.

- My name’s Brenna Schneider. I’m the kindergarten teacher at Lead Academy and I’ve been teaching kindergarten for two years.

- When I first saw the Skills Block materials, I kinda thought, oh that’s nice. It’s little stations that you run through throughout the day. It is not stations. It is a highly intentional curriculum where a teacher is getting to really use their professional knowledge to sit down and say I have this struggling student or I have this really high-achieving student. What do I need to do for this hour a day to really meet their needs?

- They have activities intentionally planned specifically for them. And all of the activities are engaging and fun and it keeps them self-managed in their rotations.

- Everything in Skills Block is intentional. All the activities that we do really have a purpose behind them. It really boils down to the assessments that we do. Every activity that we choose is based on where a student is and the needs that they have based on their micro-phases.

- Those micro-phases seem very real and it’s amazing how accurate they actually are. When it tells me that they specifically need to be working on long vowel sounds or beginning sounds, I notice that when given a spelling assessment those are the very things that are their weakness.

- Once I understood where those students are supposed to be in those micro-phases, I became much more confident on what materials and what activities they needed to be doing in those small group times.

- So one of the most powerful pieces of the curriculum comes out of Skills Block. It starts with the teacher individually assessing each student to find out their specific reading and decoding strengths and weaknesses. From there, the teacher will sit down and they’ll take the assessment results and they’ll have an assessment conversion chart that tells them okay, based on these results, these are the exact skills that that student needs to be working on for this week in school. The teacher is able to take those ideas from the assessment conversion chart and design differentiated small group instruction.

- Not only are there Benchmark assessments in Skills Block but there are also ongoing assessments as well. We use Snapchat assessments as well as Cycle assessments. The Snapchat assessments actually happen almost every lesson. It’s simple, it’s a checklist.

- So there’s an activity bank of choices that a teacher can look at and say, well here are some things I can now implement in these differentiated, small groups.

- Word work rotations there is a wonderful activity bank that Yale’s provided with a variety of games and activities. It gives specific ideas for meeting the students in their specific micro-phases. From one of my groups I knew that beginning sounds and sound combinations was a little bit of a challenge for them especially, so I gave them the sandwich game in which they were working on those beginning sounds with some of my more advanced students that were kind of not in the consolidated phases of second grade. I went and watched a third grade teacher and her structure of the odd block and observed and took notes on the structure and the way it was laid out.

- Material management is very important in Skills Block. Once you make the games for the small groups, then you can reuse them not only the next year but also as the students move through those micro-phases. It does take a little bit of time getting those materials prepared. There is some cutting to be done, putting in baggies, making copies. I try to get that done a week in advance so I am prepared for the next week and I’m not trying to run around.

- It took a lot of practice breaking down exactly what self-management means. Setting up norms. Our second graders seemed to take pride and joy in the fact that they can manage themselves at such a young age because that’s not something that typically is expected of children their age.

- I am passionate about Skills Block because I am seeing the movement and the change in my students.

- I have such a better understanding of what my students need and I can support those students in that way.

- There’s just a great equity during this time.

- We just love the joy that it brings not only to our students. I love the joy and the excitement that it brings to teachers, too. It’s really neat that on a teacher’s planning period they’re gonna run down the hallway to tell me that they’ve reassessed this kid and they’ve grown three levels since their last benchmark assessment. So to see that joy in teachers again, that they’re having fun teaching, they’re having fun delivering, really demanding rigorous work to kids and it’s not drudgery. We enjoy our school day and the curriculum is to thank for that.

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