Recently I told you about the LADDER project at WIDA. This week I wanted to share with you what it is like to actually participate in the LADDER training. Cathy Fox graciously offered to share her experiences with us. Cathy is a model ESL teacher at Veterans Memorial Elementary School in Central Falls, Rhode Island. During the 2010-2011 school year her district participated in a pilot program for LADDER. At that time she was introduced to the LADDER cycle of analyzing data to identify target areas of need. Her team worked with a WIDA coach to develop an action plan to improve their area of need. The following summer Cathy was trained to be a LADDER coach for her team.
Can you tell me about your role as a coach?
The professional development I received at WIDA was intense! I received training in the coaching core competencies. As part of the training we identified our coaching styles. The support that was most invaluable to me was the monthly coaching calls with my WIDA coach. During that time my WIDA coach modeled the different competencies for me. The language of coaching became more second nature. These calls addressed the month's successes and challenges. We used the LADDER cycle of establishing a team focus, collecting and exploring data, reflecting and finally re-planning and adjusting our actions.
We had site visits from our WIDA coaches during the implementation phase of our action plan. This was an opportunity to receive feedback on my coaching. It was also an opportunity for my WIDA coach to see my team in action.
What language domains did you decide to focus on? Why?
My team focused on writing because as we analyzed the data provided to us by WIDA, many of our students were making less than average growth in the writing domain. We reviewed Gary Cook's research about Growth. During the process of "Setting the Foundation," in the Ladder cycle, we examined the programs and assessments we had in place in writing.
What did your team discover about current classroom practices? What changes have been implemented?
It became apparent to us that we lacked a clear focus in our writing instruction. In devising our Action Plan, we focused on some routines that specifically addressed the needs of our students. We decided to focus on dictation (to model sentence structure) power writing, (from Fisher & Frey to increase writing fluency) and generative writing (from Fisher & Frey to support syntax and build vocabulary). I provided some initial professional development on these routines. In order to progress monitor our students and the effectiveness of our instruction, we developed benchmark language assessments. This was a real learning experience for all of us and it was where I received lots of support from my WIDA coach, Amanda Spalter.
The experience of writing the benchmark assessments helped my team and me clarify the difference between language assessments and content assessment. Initially we thought we would assess writing in the different content areas. As we moved on with our action plan, it became clear to us that we needed to focus on one content area to clearly assess our progress. We decided to focus on the writing of language arts.
Do you have any examples of what you did to coach your teams as they examined their own classroom practices and their students' work?
With some guidance from Amanda Spalter, my WIDA coach, I introduced the team to the MODEL writing rubric. Using anchor papers, we familiarized ourselves with scoring using the WIDA writing rubric. We then examined student work. We had several sessions where we shared samples of how we implemented the writing routines. One of our more computer savvy members even set up an internal blog for our LADDER members to share successes and challenges. Finally, we had sessions where we calibrated the benchmark assessment together. The conversations that took place were powerful examples of professional development!
Special thanks to Cathy and her LADDER team at Veterans Memorial Elementary School in Central Falls, Rhode Island!