Success Stories

First-year Chicago Public Schools teacher Taiesha Woodson-Durham studied the test scores of the 150 fifth and sixth graders who would be her reading students. Just 27 percent met the state standard in reading. And on extended written response to reading, virtually all posted 1s and 2s out of a possible 4. Taiesha’s goal was to improve their ability not only to connect with what they read, but also to write about it. She turned from the data spread before her and studied a calendar. She wondered how far she would be able to bring her students by the March test date, and whether her first baby would wait until after ISATs to be born.
Taiesha’s school, John P. Altgeld Elementary, is located in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Schools in the high-poverty neighborhood, where nearly all students qualify for free lunch, had long struggled with low student achievement and teacher retention. The pressure was greater than ever to demonstrate yearly progress. Taiesha would be the first reading teacher responsible for all the fifth and sixth graders. The New Teacher Center—Chicago began offering its comprehensive teacher induction program in the area in 2006. The group has since expanded to provide coaching for new teachers throughout the district.
Data-driven analysis of student work
As a new CPS teacher in 2007-08, Taiesha was assigned CNTC coach Clare Donovan-Scane. She describes their association as a meeting of the minds of two data-driven problem solvers. The two analyzed writing samples from all 150 students to determine trends: What were students able to do? What did they need to learn? The data helped them group students according to key needs identified: making connections, providing supporting details and interpreting the text. During her first year, Taiesha administered Fountas and Pinnell’s Benchmark Assessment System to all her students and became the school’s go-to person for the electronic Gradebook system.

During one-on-one weekly meetings Claire and Taiesha used the NTC Analysis of Student Work tool to help clarify lesson plan objectives and ensure that they were matching the identified student needs. Taiesha credits the Selective Scripting observation tool with helping her further fine-tune her instruction. Clare’s timed notes of teacher and student interactions provided a mirror of what was happening in the classroom.

“Analyzing student data with Clare helped me know when I had to revisit something I’d already gone over in class,” Taiesha said. “I would do a mini-lesson with the whole group and give small group instruction to help students master specific skills.”
The results: Fifth-grade reading scores jumped from 27.8 percent of students meeting state standards to 66.7 percent. Sixth-grade scores improved from 27.3 percent to 69.9 percent. And Taniya Durham was born April 16, 2008.

Heightened Student Engagement
During her second year, Taiesha began working with another CNTC coach, Kyle Miller. While her work with Clare had focused outward on student skills, her work with Kyle was more introspective.  “I wanted Kyle to tell me what was working and to recommend techniques to try. Instead, he turned the questions around asked me what I thought was working, what strategies I thought might work."
Through this process of reflection, and with the guidance of her coach, Taiesha challenged herself to differentiate her instruction and introduce more group work. As the year unfolded, Kyle saw Taiesha move from a traditional instructive presence to a teacher whose students worked in groups at a heightened level of engagement.
Taiesha recalls that when they started working together, “Kyle told me I was too serious—that it’s OK to laugh and let the students talk.” She recalls a casual conversation with students during which “a light bulb went off. I realized, ‘You’re having fun. You’re smiling. You don’t have to be a stern face.’ Now the bulk of my lesson and the students’ day is centered around them working together, talking together and learning from each other.”
This year, 81.7 percent of Taiesha’s sixth-graders soared to meet state reading goals. Her fifth-graders hit 78.1 percent. But the results that Taiesha is most proud of are in extended response. Among 69 sixth-graders, who had been with her for two years, the number who achieved 3s on extended response rose to 27, up from seven for the same students the year before. Seven students earned highest scores of 4, which none had achieved as fifth graders. Thirty-one scored 2s and only four students posted 1s, down from 30 of the same students the year before.
“Extended response is so important to me,” Taiesha said. “When it comes to multiple choice, the answer is right there, and students can guess. In extended response they actually have to think and express their thoughts in an essay format to prove they understood what they were reading.

A New Teacher Leader
As a high school student, Taiesha’s peers voted her “most likely to become a teacher.” As a new teacher, her determination to improve her students’ reading and writing skills, coupled with the coaching support she received from CNTC, made her “most likely to succeed” and provided her with a multi-faceted perspective on her teaching practice. A new teacher leader was forged in the process.


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