Eliot School uses tiered instruction to support students/ Credit: Needham Public Schools

Eliot Elementary School Principal Karen Bourn and members of the school community detailed how the school has improved instructional methods and boosted family and student engagement at Tuesday’s School Committee meeting.

Eliot and other Needham schools use what are called instructional coaches to help develop their teaching methods. For Eliot’s math curriculum, coaches helped collect data based on student learning and held collaborative meetings to assist teachers in improving their Tier 1 instruction. Tiered instruction separates students in a given subject into groups based on their skill levels. This helps teachers adapt to each student’s needs, with those in Tier 1 requiring the least amount of help.

For students in tiers requiring more support, Eliot continued to use sessions called “Eagle Blocks,” where students receive more focused instruction. During these blocks, students receive pre-assessments for each of a subject’s next units. Based on the results, extra support is given to students in areas in which they struggle.

“Not only is it the classroom teachers who are involved — it’s also the special ed liaisons, the reading specialists, the math coaches,” said Betsy Maxwell, a second-grade teacher at Eliot. “It’s like an all-hands-on-deck approach, so that we’re able to have small intervention groups.”

To increase student enthusiasm in reading and writing literacy, coaches and teachers held a space-themed literacy family night at the Needham Public Library. There, parents learned from educators how literacy is taught in the classroom. 

At Eliot this school year, teachers have been given multiple opportunities for professional development. They were given the space to discuss subjects such as family engagement, motivating students, and classroom management techniques. To help with classroom management, educators received a copy of the book “Teaching With Love and Logic: Taking Control of the Classroom,” by David Funk and Jim Fay. “This is about having high expectations for student behavior, while also loving and caring for our students,” said Bourn.

Bourn emphasized that the Eliot community values its culturally diverse student and family population. To embrace different school community members’ backgrounds, the school made an effort to teach students about holidays that they may not celebrate, but which other Eliot families do. “Our teachers can take a little bit of time from their classrooms just to talk about what kids are celebrating at home,” said Bourn. Eliot partnered with students from the Greater Boston Project to create slideshows that teach students about different cultures.

This year, Eliot has piloted the use of Talking Points, an app used to message parents about classroom activities and important upcoming events. The idea for the app came, Bourne said, following a stark lack of responses to her emails asking for parental feedback on the Eliot School Improvement Plan. Instead of having their emails buried in parents’ inboxes, teachers can instantly communicate with them and also have their messages translated into many different languages.

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