RLTA Study Groups Go Public

Mia Valdez-QuellhorstEvents, Teachers

WITS was thrilled to share the cumulative learning of our eleven 2018-2019 Study Groups this spring. Study Groups are small groups of teachers at the same school who meet regularly throughout the school year to work towards a common instructional goal. Study Groups set goals and meet monthly to examine a professional text and consider student work. Throughout the year, Study Group members experiment with instructional strategies in the classroom and debrief their learning with their peers. These skilled educators have the autonomy to tailor their goals to meet the specific needs of their classroom and school communities, leading to improved student engagement and outcomes.

The Study Groups’ final cumulative projects are called “Going Public:” a nod to the inquiry process, which is a teaching technique that values open explorations of topics and ideas. Borrowing from this framework, Study Groups showcase their learning to a larger audience, in this case the rest of the RLTA community, in May.

Through these action-oriented research projects, WITS Study Groups profoundly impact the larger school community. They are pushing innovation in the classroom and leading the way in response instruction. The work done in WITS Study Groups impacts school cultures for years to come. We’ve chosen to highlight four of this year’s projects to show the impact and influence Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardees have at their schools and on their students’ lives. Continue reading to learn about the projects undertaken by Acero Brighton Park, Brentano Math and Science Academy in Logan Square, and Sawyer Elementary in Gage Park.

Acero Brighton Park
Acero Bright Study Group members presenting at the 2019 Going Public event.

Acero Brighton Park is a charter school serving a primarily Latino community on the near Southside. As a relatively new-to-the-profession group of teachers, they wanted to compile a set of best practices to be shared with the larger school community. The Acero Brighton Park group used The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo. This tremendous resource has over 200 distinct instructional techniques and lessons to implement in the classroom. The Acero group spent the year conducting lesson studies by trying the strategies out in the classroom before coming together as a group to debrief the process. Some lessons were a hit while others didn’t work as well for certain classes or grades. To Go Public, the group created a best practices guide outlining tried-and-true methods to teach concepts of print, comprehension of fiction and nonfiction texts, fluency and vocabulary. By putting together this resource, the WITS study group impacted the teaching and learning culture of the entire school. They’ve positioned themselves as literacy leaders and will serve as valuable tools for other teachers in the upcoming school year.

Brentano Math and Science Academy

Brentano Math and Science Academy is a diverse school located in Logan Square. This year, there were two WITS Study Groups working on a large and exciting project: create diverse book lists across a variety of relevant topics to be used in all language arts classrooms. The teachers were in a primary group (pre-kindergarten through second grade) and a middle grades group (third through fifth grade). At their meetings, different group members would present books related to topics such as LGTBQA+, immigrants and migration, religious diversity, disability awareness, and women in STEM. By curating lists of high-quality, relevant, and diverse books, the Brentano study groups laid the groundwork for years to come. As these lists are used in the classroom, students will see themselves represented in the books they read. Representation and relationships greatly impact student engagement levels.

Students at Brentano Math and Science Academy participating in a reading session using the diverse book lists provided by a RLTA Study Group.

“This list is a compilation of diverse books chosen by our Study Groups at Brentano. These books are both windows and mirrors for students and generate powerful discussions along with some fantastic reads. However, we encourage you to do your own research on them to ensure books you choose are good fits for you and your students. Happy reading!” – Introduction to Bretano’s Diverse Books List

Next year, Brentano will continue their quest to diversify their teaching-texts and classroom libraries by examining the curricula used at the school and offering alternative texts. Most curricula rely on a small cannon of texts. Using the lists created this year, the Brentano teachers will find suitable substitutions.

Sidney Sawyer Elementary

Located on the southwest side neighborhood of Gage Park, Sidney Sawyer Elementary is a large pre-kindergarten through eighth grade Level 2+ school that serves a primarily Latino community. With over 1,200 students served, educators have struggled to create cohesive vertical alignment. Vertical alignment is when curriculum is coordinated across grade-levels. With a vast number of students with varying degrees of skills, aligning instruction is a challenge. The Sawyer study group focused on creating authentic independent reading experiences for students that can be used by teachers across grade levels

Bulletin board at Sidney Sawyer Elementary used to display staff members’ favorite books to showcase the reading lives of teachers.

“We wanted teachers in our school to “buy-in” to independent reading so we provided teachers with resources from the text and created a school-wide event – “Drop Everything and Read,” to encourage independent reading. We also created a bulletin board to display our staff members’ favorite books to showcase the reading lives of teachers. We hope that this literacy rich environment shows students the importance of reading. So far, we’ve received positive feedback about the event and are thinking of doing it once a month next year!” – Liz O’Malley, the Sawyer study group leader