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Behind the Practice: Approaching the ALL Block with Tara Pitts, Jhanai Clark, and Sheryl Spikes

This companion video to Implementing the 3-5 Additional Language and Literacy (ALL) Block features two fifth grade teachers and their instructional coach at Hollis Innovation Academy in Atlanta, GA. Their commentary and related scenes describe how together as a "learning school" they approach the ALL Block to ensure mastery and agency for all students in their inclusive classroom. The topics covered are: Understanding the Purpose, The Heart of the Practice, Making it My Own, Responsive Teaching, Using Ongoing Assessment, Why This Matters.


- My name is Tara Pitts, I’m a fifth grade teacher at Michael R. Hollis Innovation Academy in Atlanta, Georgia.

- My name is Jhanai Clark, and I teach fifth grade.

- Hi, my name is Sheryl Spikes, I am the instructional literacy coach.

- This is my very first year teaching, very first year. What I wish somebody would’ve told me the first time because I was completely confused, we’re watching, we’re giving feedback, we’re assisting, but it’s student-guided.

- It’s a continuation on extension of the module lessons.

- [Jhanai] So they know, well, if I’m not getting it right here in the module then I have all of this time in ALL Block with my peers and my teacher to practice.

- When I first read that book I didn’t know what a canopy was. I didn’t know what a rainforest was.

- It’s an opportunity for the students to delve heavily into the curriculum in a different way.

- It’s all the way at the top of a tree.

- Very good.

- The heart of the practice is the trust and the release of the students and allowing them to work independently. It started off where they felt like I have to do direct instruction because the students have these gaps in learning, and I want to make sure that the students are mastering these skills before I let them go. I had to just tell the teachers you have to trust the process. You’ll see that things will work out, where students have taken ownership of their learning.

- ALL Block has shifted my practice a lot. I’m a 26-year veteran teacher, and I was not used to letting the children self-manage. Let me just remind you of our discussion norms. Once you go over discussion protocols, the children practice it, It becomes second nature to them. Our response to the question is to help people better understand what I am saying, I assume positive intent. So with that being said, Quantez you may start your discussion.

- What I think that the actual meaning is, the eyelashes, it real hard.

- I agree with Quantez, but I want to add on.

- When I was reluctant I tried it and just kept practicing and change is hard, so it took me a little bit of time, but I gradually released it to the children. I saw the benefits of it.

- It might be hard or soft.

- He’s saying grow.

- [Tara] I just had to learn that I have to act as the facilitator because I want them to get it on their own.

- He gets more eyelids on his eye.

- [Tara] I let everybody have a voice in it.

- I agree with you, you too, but I disagree with you because he cannot barely keep his eyes open because they’re so heavy.

- It takes a lot for the kids to become self-managed in their sensors. One thing we definitely did in the beginning and we did it again in January, you take each station and practice it. By the time it’s time for them to do it by themselves they’re speeding right through it.

- I know that implementing their curriculum like EL Education can be difficult. It’s not a curriculum that you can just shoot from the hip. You have to prepare for it, but I think that as a coach it was important that the teachers understood that we’re learning, we’re a learning school, we’re learning this together.

- People think that because EL curriculum is right here in a workbook, they think that you just have it so easy. You don’t have to plan anything. You still have to plan, you’re planning to accommodate your students. You’re planning to see what’s going to work, what’s not going to work. This is an inclusive classroom so it accommodates all of our kids.

- Somebody that was surprised, they went like...

- [Jhanai] I think it just frees up more time for us to work with our students individually.

- You show your body language and expressions to match the words that you’re saying. I’m also making my own by having fun with the children. We laugh, we joke, we share stories, we make it personal. Be in hot water. I used to be in hot water all the time when I was growing up. I stayed in trouble.

- We want to have a good time and a lot of times when it’s personal, they’ll remember it. Have we been to the rainforest?

- [Students] No.

- Can we go out of town to the rainforest? I’m not going with ya’ll over them things. Whatever that thing is.

- This right there?

- Right there, I ain’t going with ya’ll.

- Cause that thing be wiggling like this.

- [Jhanai] That would be nice, if we could go to the rainforest. What rainforest is that?

- We can’t take them to the Blue Creek Rainforest. In order to make this beautiful rainforest you see they made these different little animals and the branches and the vines were courtesy of Mr. Blache, our art teacher. Working with him to do our performance task at the end, where they’re making an e-book on why we should save the rainforest.

- I love seeing them take accountability for their assistance. Being able to say I’m at red so I’m still really, really lost about this, or yellow I’m kind of there but I need a little more of assistance, and green I got it and I could teach it to anybody who asked me.

- I use ongoing assessments throughout ALL Block. The mid-unit and the end of unit are the ones that we really use and their honesty. If they tell us or they show us with the red and yellow and green, we take note and they’re still confused on this topic. Maybe while we’re doing this, we need to keep them in this group.

- We make sure that data is not a secret to the students. Where I am, where I’m expected to be, and then these are the strategies that I need to take to get there. So students have now taken ownership of their data.

- I came to trust that the children would pick the right independent reading group, and they’re able to choose the right books based on their data.

- We feel that regardless of where you live, regardless of your race, regardless of how you come to us with those academic gaps that, you still have a right to have a curriculum that is rigorous, that is interesting, and something that you can take outside of these walls.

- If we stick them to below-level texts, then they’re not going to grow.

- They do have access to the fifth grade level materials. That’s a benefit. They need the content, yes, they may be reading on a third grade level, and they have other opportunities throughout their day to read level text.

- We expect all of you to be able to read this complex text for comprehension and with fluency.

- They thought, “My teacher believes that I can do this, so I believe that I can do this.” So, the conversations of our students went from I can’t, I can’t, I can’t to I can.

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