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Jakob: Student ownership comes from intentional planning around data


This is the fifth in a series of stories focused on ways GIPS teachers are putting new skills in action to grow student achievement.

As the students in Rachel Jakob’s fifth-grade classroom at Shoemaker Elementary work in small groups, the room looks almost chaotic.

A quick scan of the room finds, for example, 14 different styles of seating for students to choose from. Scattered throughout the room utilizing small chairs, standing desks, stools, bean bags - even simply laid out on the floor - the students are discussing the French and Indian War.

Jakob smiles at the observation.

“I’m controlling the areas I need to be,” she says. “But life’s too short to worry about the small stuff.”

The seating options, she says, are a small part of the greater concept of student ownership.

“With success criteria and learning targets clearly outlined, we’ve transferred ownership of the learning to the students,” Jakob said. “In the meantime, we’ve cut down on behavior issues.”

Fifth-grade students work in Rachel Jakob’s Shoemaker Elementary classroom.

In her classroom, the targets are clearly identified for each lesson. Students can quickly tell you what they are working on and, most importantly, why they are learning it and how they define success.

“Over the past two years our PLC time has been structured and focused,” Jakob said. “We pinpoint each of the skills kids need. Our team works together. We divide and conquer to make sure we are finding a solution for each skill, for each individual student.”

Her principal, Lee Wolfe, knows this comes from intentional planning based on data.

“She plans with end in mind,” Wolfe said. “She asks the right questions: ‘What do I want my kids to be able to show me they met the target today? How do I make it meaningful? How am I making it engaging to them?’ She works hard to connect lessons to the real world.”

Jakob said her PLC utilizes data - both traditional MAP assessments for the long term and daily check-ins for the short term. They also dig in.

“We have refined the roles of students working in groups,” she said. “We have more structured partnering, groups and teams. There is a lot of model and practice. We set them up for success. We don’t even think about challenges. We think, ‘where is this kid now and how do we do more for them?’”

As her students are working on the French and Indian War, Jakob monitors their conversations, answers a few of their questions and checks to make sure they are on the right track. The students are working on short presentations to include both information on what they are learning and important public speaking skills.

“Teacher verify can happen all day, in all subjects as kids practice their skills,” she said.

Fifth-grade students work in Rachel Jakob’s Shoemaker Elementary classroom.

Wolfe has noticed Jakob’s ability grow in this area. He said she creates very engaging lessons for her students, but just because they are working in teams doesn’t mean she isn’t watching each student as an individual.

“There is always a very calculated and strategic way she has planned to see what each kid understands,” Wolfe said. “Then she will go back and do a micro intervention, for one student or one group of students. She will go to her PLC team and find a solution if she can’t solve it.There is constant reflection and analysis, adjust and revise. Reflection, analysis, adjust and revise. Over and over. Her instruction is constantly modified based on her data.”

As for the successful jumps in student achievement at Shoemaker during the past 18 months, she gives credit to the environment she works in.

“Melissa McDonald is a great coach, Lee Wolfe is a great leader,” she said.

Fifth-grade students work in Rachel Jakob’s Shoemaker Elementary classroom.

Wolfe agreed McDonald is a key to Shoemaker’s success.

“Melissa is very passionate about students,” he said. “People see she cares about kids. She goes above and beyond to help all kids. She is visibly doing whatever she can. The staff see she understands you can’t just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. She brings a lot of knowledge and credibility to the role of instructional coach.”

He said one reason for the big shift in student achievement at Shoemaker is the ability to analyze data.

“Melissa loves data,” he said. “We are really about kids, and she brings the data to the conversation. By showing us what the data is telling us, we can make strong intervention plans for kids who are struggling. She brings us back to standards and reminds us what we are accountable for and what the instruction looks like to close the gap on these standards.”

It makes a difference for teachers like Jakob and others at Shoemaker.

“We all feel motivated,” Jakob said.

The motivation has turned into student achievement, as evidenced by Shoemaker earning an Excellent AQuESTT rating.

“It’s easy to buy in when we see success,” Jakob said. “In our PLCs, when there is something new or different, we always have a growth mindset and we try it. If we don’t know something, we talk to someone else who does.”

Fifth-grade students work in Rachel Jakob’s Shoemaker Elementary classroom.

Wolfe said it’s something he’s proud to have seen in Jakob this year.

“It’s easy to see her willingness to get better as a teacher, her passion for teaching and trying new things from what she’s done in the past,” he said. “She goes outside her comfort zone at times. If kids aren’t producing at the level she’d like, she tries something new. She gives them choices, they own the learning. You can still see she is the leader in the classroom, the kids are working hard, but they are having fun.”

Jakob says whether it’s what type of chair a student chooses or the best way to group students into a team or the design of a lesson, she’s focused on what’s most important.

“We’ll try anything if it is in the best interest of kids.”

Fifth-grade students work in Rachel Jakob’s Shoemaker Elementary classroom.

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