Teaching Practices

Mesquite 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 Mesquite 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 Mesquite. WestEd, a national educational consultant company, was utilized in 2004 to collect data on instructional practices and student engagement at Mesquite. WestEd conducted observations of teachers interacting with students, noted the use of classroom visuals that aided learning, and rated teachers’ responses to student inquiries about the objective. All teachers are trained to use Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning in their lesson planning. WestEd observed and noted that we were using higher levels of learning to promote higher-level thinking skills. The outcome of their visit was shared with the staff in a school-wide evaluation form. It was determined that more than 85% of the students were actively engaged at all times during instruction, thus we met the goal of mastery teaching!

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. 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 Biz Town. 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. We have a Junior Achievement Program that includes ALL grade levels in economic-based lessons.

Because of Mesquite’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.

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.

STEEP – System to Enhance Educational Performance: Each day, students at Mesquite Elementary participate in a research validated, curriculum based measure (CBM) for math. Students are given a chance to practice a targeted skill for their grade level. After a short period of practice, a timed test is given to students. Students must move through frustrational and instructional levels to the mastery level to move onto the next targeted skill. Many students keep track of their own progress by graphing the results of their tests daily. In addition, weekly and monthly mixed probes are administered that encompass grade level skills that will be taught throughout the year. Results are compiled and shared with classroom teachers at data team meetings. Grade level teachers and achievement teachers meet every two weeks, to share the results of these tests, which guide instruction. Quarterly reading probes are given and used to determine and measure fluency throughout the year. The reading probe is a one minute test that consists of the student reading an assigned passage to the teacher. A score is given based on the number of words read correctly. Strong oral reading fluency correlates highly with good comprehension skills.

At Mesquite, classroom management is believed to be a key ingredient to the performance of our students. When you walk into a classroom here at Mesquite, you will note there are routines and procedures in place to keep all students actively involved. As noted above, Mesquite 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.

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

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

Each grade level at Mesquite 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. Mesquite’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 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.

Curriculum Based Measures (CBM)
CBM’s are timed assessments that students in grades first through eighth take on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. The Math CBM is the only assessment given to students on a daily basis. The Reading CBM assesses reading fluency (speed and accuracy) and is administered monthly in first grade and quarterly in grades second through eighth. These are quick measures that provide teachers with immediate feedback on student performance (Mastery, Instructional, and Frustration). Students performing in the Frustration Range are given a Can’t Do/Won’t Do Assessment. This assessment determines if students are unable to complete the skill or if extra motivation is needed. Students identified as “Can’t Do” receive individual interventions for ten to fifteen days. If these students continue to perform in the Frustration Range, additional Psycho-educational Testing will be considered. The CBM Assessments and interventions have helped solve the misidentification of special needs students.