Teaching Practices

Senita Valley’s Teaching Practices includes:

Senita Valley is a Standards Based Instruction school. Teachers design a curriculum map of the state standards and use it to guide their instruction of the standards, assuring that they teach what is necessary in the school year. Each grade level meets weekly with their team to “Unwrap the Standards” which is a collaboration of ideas, materials, resources, and teaching strategies. We focus specifically on the reading and math standards in these brainstorming sessions. Formative test questions are written based on the state standards being taught. All teachers recognize that the state standards are the root of all our instruction.

New teachers in the district are sent to New Teacher Induction prior to the beginning of the school year. Teachers are instructed in the Essential Elements of Instruction, best practices in classroom management, Standards Based Instruction, Balanced Literacy, and the Vail philosophy of high expectations for all students. Continuity is evident in our staff’s teaching methods and written lesson plans. Experienced teachers mentor and coach new teachers and assist them to assure they are teaching according to the standards of our state. Teachers at Senita Valley are required to post in their classroom, in student friendly language, the standards and objectives they are teaching. If a student is asked what they are learning, they will respond with an “I can…” statement.

Student engagement throughout the learning day is the goal of Senita Valley. WestEd, a national educational consultant company, collects data on instructional practices and student engagement at Senita Valley. WestEd conducts observations of teachers interacting with students, notes the use of classroom visuals that aided learning, and rates teachers’ responses to student inquiries about the objective. All teachers are trained to use Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning in their lesson planning. WestEd observes and notes that we use the higher levels of learning to promote higher level thinking skills.

Our staff uses Balanced Literacy to teach the Reading standards. A block of 90 minutes daily is required, of which Phonemic Awareness, Guided Reading, Shared Reading, Read Aloud, and Independent Reading are used for instruction. Phonics and spelling strategies are presented during the Phonemic Awareness block of Balanced Literacy. Each teacher leads ability-based reading groups several times a week. Shared Reading is integrated into other subject areas and teachers read aloud to their students daily. Upper grades team up with younger students to read together as Reading Buddies. Older students look forward to spending time mentoring and reading to their “Buddies” and the younger students benefit by listening to a fluent reader. Independent reading utilizes the Accelerate Reading Program where students read a book at their assessed reading level and are then given a comprehension test. Points are earned based on the level of difficulty of the book. The broad scope of our reading instruction allows us to meet the needs of all students.

Realizing the importance of life skills, fifth grade students had the opportunity to participate in a simulation through a Junior Achievement program named Biztown. Accounting skills, checkbook balancing, economic concepts and vocabulary, and all aspects of running a business were explored and taught in the classroom. These activities culminated with a field trip to Phoenix where students ran a mini city with the goal of making a profit for their business.

Because of Senita Valley’s belief in the positive impact of cooperative learning on instruction, we provided staff at various grade levels the opportunity to attend the Kagan Cooperative Learning Workshop. Teachers were trained and encouraged to use structures to enhance student engagement and increase critical thinking skills in their classrooms. Teachers implement these structures at various grade levels and share their strategies with all teachers in staff meetings. Kagan cooperative learning structures assist all students at all levels to enhance student engagement. The lowest achieving students and minority students in general benefit most. As students work in cooperative groups, those who have limited English proficiency are able to use and manipulate language which improves comprehension and increases acquisition of the English language. The high achieving students generally perform as well or better in cooperative classrooms than they do in traditional classrooms. When a Kagan structure is paired with any content area, a useful educational activity occurs. When a series of activities are implemented, a great lesson is created, and all students benefit.

Several systems are in place to help students learn to handle frustration, anger, teasing, bullying, and other negative interactions. The development of social skills is the goal of the Check-in/Check-out program. This program is for any student needing support services for their behavior. One student who has benefited from the Check-in/Check-out program had some anger issues in the beginning of the school year and would tend to get frustrated and shut down. Since participating in this daily program, his teacher has noticed more self-confidence, and he has been able to handle his emotions in a more constructive manner. The one-on-one connection he has made with the behavior specialist has helped him to function in the classroom, and has made a huge difference in the way he interacts with peers in and out of the classroom.

The Science Fair offers students a chance to showcase their individual abilities through science. Participants are required to follow the scientific process and complete a board highlighting their topic and findings. There is a school-wide showing and judging of projects. Students interact with distinguished professionals in the field of science, while explaining their entries. These interactions increase the knowledge of students as they learn from master scientists. 

The “Lunch Bunch” is a group of students who meet every Thursday with the Principal, Mrs. Erickson. The goal is for every student to have attended Lunch Bunch at least once throughout the school year. Mrs. Erickson encourages the students to talk about things related to the school and asks them questions about what they like most about our school and what they would like to see change or improve. They get to voice their opinion about things such as lunch choices and see those changes take place. For example, in 2012, the lunch for Thanksgiving didn’t include pumpkin pie, the chef for our lunch program changed it to apple crisp. In 2013, the students voiced that they would like to see pumpkin pie come back. The Principal shared these concerns with our district chef. As a result, a pumpkin crisp recipe was created. The Lunch Bunch students were able to taste test samples and chose a pumpkin crisp. This may seem insignificant, but it taught the students that they can have an impact on their school and that their voice does make a difference.

System To Enhance Educational Performance (STEEP) assessments are also given quarterly. STEEP is a research-based assessment that the District has adopted for all schools. STEEP Screening occurs in the fall, winter, and spring. Students are given short, timed assessments on reading, math, and writing. Data is recorded, collected by the Student Achievement Teacher, and reviewed by teachers and the Special Education Department. The bottom 16% of students are given an intervention called “Can’t Do/Won’t Do” where further screening will indicate if there is a learning or motivation issue. Based on the results, the student will receive one of two things: A student who improves his/her score on the “Can’t Do/Won’t Do” assessment indicates there is a motivation issue. The teacher of that student will be given strategies for motivating that student to increase learning outcomes. If the student does not perform well on the “Can’t Do/Won’t Do” assessment, a Response to Intervention will occur. Our School Psychologist completes the RTI – four weeks of reading intervention, occurring daily with the

At Senita Valley, classroom management is believed to be a key ingredient to the performance of our students. When you walk into a classroom here at Senita Valley, you will note there are routines and procedures in place to keep all students actively involved. As noted above, Senita Valley has a high rate of student engagement which contributes to the low numbers of behavior issues. If all students are participating in their learning, there is no time for acting out. When problems do arise, we use the Six Pillars of Characters to redirect the student in order for them to take responsibility for their own actions. Only positive discipline is used consistently throughout the school. Teachers use the Six Pillars of Character in their classrooms and monitors use it on the playground. Students know and follow these high expectations.

Senita Valley teachers pride themselves on their ability to research and implement new teaching practices which support student learning. Our programs are designed solely with students at the heart. Student achievement is the heart of our school.

The following is a description of the alternative assessments our teachers use to evaluate student performance.

Formatives
Each grade level at Senita Valley has developed Formative Tests, an assessment that measures mastery on Arizona State Academic Standards. Formatives are given every one to two weeks on specific objectives taught in the class. Senita Valley’s performance standard is based on 80% mastery. The grade levels develop five questions per objective for the formative assessment. Depending on whether the student is above or below 80%, determines whether they will attend a Reteach Class or an Enrich Class. Students attend these classes from 12:30-1:00 p.m. daily. The Formative Tests are taken throughout each school quarter. The skills are reassessed on each benchmark assessment. Benchmark Assessments are administered quarterly. These tests provide immediate feedback to the teachers to improve instructional practices. In some circumstances, after-school tutoring is used as an intervention for students that fail to meet mastery.

Benchmarks
Benchmarks are quarterly assessments given to all students in second through eighth grade. All Benchmark Assessments are constructed by Assessment Technology Incorporated (ATI) and are aligned to the Arizona State Academic Standards required for AIMS testing. Once the data is received for the quarterly Benchmark, we determine the performance of each student, each class and each grade level. The data from the Benchmarks are analyzed to determine which students are Meeting the Standards, Approaching the Standards, and Falling Far Below the Standards. This data allows us to determine the effectiveness of the curriculum and instruction implemented in the classroom. Based on quarterly data, teachers are able to modify their instruction to increase student achievement. Benchmark Assessments provide immediate feedback.

Daily Math Skills (DMS)
A timed, math fluency probe given daily in grades K-5. This standardized assessment probe targets a grade level skill. The Student Achievement Teacher collects data from teachers weekly. Students also monitor their own progress via a chart or graph. Mastery is celebrated as a class; an important aspect of DMS.