Starla Pointer/News-Register##In Bobbi Kidd’s sixth-grade class at YCIS, Devin Ellis examines a marshmallow as he writes descriptive words. Kidd asked students to be as descriptive as possible in order to bring their writing alive.
Starla Pointer/News-Register##In Bobbi Kidd’s sixth-grade class at YCIS, Devin Ellis examines a marshmallow as he writes descriptive words. Kidd asked students to be as descriptive as possible in order to bring their writing alive.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Collaborating to reach every student

“Kids are talking about what they’re doing,” he said. “They’re discussing and debating at a level that shows their understanding.”

Results on the Smarter Balanced state assessments proved his observations correct. YCIS has some great scores. It ranked as one of the top schools in the state on math and literacy, especially at the fifth and sixth grade levels.

The reason for the high scores and the abundance of learning can be summed up in a few phrases, Fisher said: Focus on every student. Teamwork. Most of all, a dedicated staff.

“Kids will tell you the teachers pushed them to think deeply, to understand, to explain,” the principal said. 

ALSO: YCIS earns top scores

Often, he said, that means teachers need to step back from their traditional role of providing information and answers. Instead, they guide students into figuring things out themselves and taking ownership of what they’re learning.

“Who’s doing the thinking? The kids,” he said.

The result is that students learn things more thoroughly, retain the material and can apply the learning process to other questions.

Bobbi Kidd started a recent writing lesson by distributing marshmallows to her students. 

The sixth-graders are learning to write with words that create a picture in the mind of their readers. So Kidd asked them to consider the soft, sweet treats with all five of their senses, starting with vision, then jot down descriptive words.

Devin Ellis squinted at the sticky white confection. “Gooey,” he wrote. “Smooshed. Round. Moist. Small.” 

He and his classmates moved on to other senses. Smell. Touch. Hearing. And, finally, taste.

Starla Pointer/News-Register##Yamhill-Carlton Intermediate School fifth-graders Kya Ellils and Elizabeth Martinez practice rounding off numbers to match with those with only one digit behind the decimal point.

Kidd, a second-year teacher, said she tries to design lessons that will engage every student — something the marshmallow description definitely did. And she always has high expectations for them.

The most important part of her job, she said, “is connecting with kids and giving them confidence.” 

Connecting with her fellow staff members also is of key importance, and it helps boost her confidence and improve her teaching, as well, she said.

She and the YCIS’s two other sixth-grade teachers, Kathy Bales and Chad Tollefson, meet regularly; the fifth-grade team does, as well. They discuss their teaching methods as well as their students’ needs, a process that ensures they will reach every single child.

“We try to create a sense of ownership,” Tollefson said. “Everyone has the responsibility to do their best and make the most growth.”

Bales added, “They have to believe they can. Then they’ll rise.”

In addition to teacher meetings, the entire sixth-grade gets together at least once a week. The 80 or so students squeeze into one classroom for a lesson taught by all three teachers.

“There has to be a balance of things. There’s no one best way to do things, so we do several things — work separately, in twos or all three of us,” said Bales, in her 23rd year of teaching. “We all have different perspectives,” Tollefson noted.

In addition to academics, they stress teamwork and community, the principal said.

“If you ask kids, they don’t say they’re in Tollefson’s room or Bales’ room. They say they’re sixth-graders,” he said. 

As Tollefson, an 11-year teacher, puts it to students, “We’re a team. We win or lose together.”

It’s a powerful message, especially when used consistently, he said.

He and his fellow sixth-grade teachers have even nicknamed their area of the school “the Hive.” Like bees making honey, Bales said, they work together to build a store of knowledge.

Another of Yamhill-Carlton Intermediate School’s strengths is its unique grades 5-8 configuration, Fisher said. He said the school features separate grades 5-6 and grades 7-8 wings, allowing fifth- and sixth-graders to make a more gentle transition from the elementary level to the secondary level.

The older students have more autonomy — and more electives — as they prepare to enter the high school. Some even take elective classes next door at Y-C High, such as Spanish or wood shop. 

YCIS has an enrollment of about 340 in its four grades. Fifth- and sixth-grades have three classroom teachers each. Another seven teachers handle subject areas like literacy, science and math, concentrating on the upper grades.

Health and PE specialists split time between the intermediate school and other Y-C schools, as do music specialists. The school also has a complement of teaching assistants and other classified personnel.

In her fifth-grade classroom, Amber Shore set up several stations for math students, each one focusing on a different skill. The teacher moved from table to table, monitoring progress, making suggestions, bending down to help someone or asking one student to assist another.

At one table, Elizabeth Martinez and Kya Ellis practiced rounding off numbers. They started with specific numbers, such as 6.805, then rounded out each digit to reach a simpler number.

“You round up if it’s more than 5, or down if it’s less,” Elizabeth explained, “so the closest number would be 6.8.” 

Another table was labeled with a learning target, “I can understand and explain the value of digits.”

Hunter McAboy said he already had demonstrated his proficiency by writing numbers with the decimal point in the right place. But he was still sitting at this table while practicing another math skill, so he’d be available to help classmates who were still mastering place values.

At other tables, students did worksheets or played math games to reinforce various concepts. Shore explained that she and other teachers use test scores and other data to determine the areas students need more work on.

Across the school, the principal said, teachers provide additional lessons and support accordingly. They changing things as needed based on what they’re observing -- often during the same day.

That’s important, Shore said. “The sooner you can intervene, the better,” she said.

Another fifth-grade teacher, Michael Buehler, added, “We want to use their time effectively to reach the maximum potential for every one of them.”

In Buehler’s room, fifth-graders were working on Chromebooks.

The school has one set of the laptop computers per grade level, so teachers share them, the principal said. “We would love to have more, a set for each classroom,” he said.

Buehler’s students were using the laptops as they wrote persuasive paragraphs; reviewed them critically in a step called “self-analysis”; then passed them to other students for a second review, or “peer analysis.” 

Earlier, they had learned about the scoring matrix, which shows them the elements they need for the highest score of 5 or a passing 3; 1’s and 2’s show that more work is needed.

Soarin Cox-Hill was writing about the Washington County Fair. “It’s one place everyone needs to go before they’re 18,” he wrote.

He said he picked the topic because he believes in it. the fair is his favorite place to go.

His experiences there enabled him to include a lot of detail by listing things to do at the fair, such as riding roller coasters and collecting free candy.

At another desk, Kyler Waller had finished his paragraph and moved on to the self-analysis stage. Buehler paused to check on his progress, reminding him of some of the questions to ask himself. Did you write it by yourself or did you need help? Were you efficient or not?

“You have to be honest,” Kyler told a visitor.

The fifth-grader said he finds the self- and peer-analysis process helpful.

First, when you look over your own work, he said, “You can go back and improve things.” Second, he said, “You get feedback from your classmates before you have to turn it in to the teacher.”

The principal and teachers think the process is helpful, too. “It’s a good example of self-directed learning,” Fisher said.

It dovetails with a key goal, said Michelle McFarlin, the third fifth-grade teacher — helping kids become lifelong learners.

“I want them to love learning,” said McFarlin, who’s been teaching for 25 years. “And they do.”

Students said they recognize their YCIS teachers’ efforts and know the efforts are paying off.

“Teachers encourage us to be more involved in our learning, to think about it more,” said Cristin Breathower, a seventh-grader. “They push us, but it’s fun. It makes it interesting.”

Sixth-grader Katie Slater added, “The teachers really get you engaged, and that helps you learn.”

Eighth-grader Joseph Smith said he especially appreciates teachers such as Tony Vala-Haynes, who he has for two writing classes this semester.

“He gives us stories you have to read, but he gives us real news things, not just made-up stuff,” Joseph said. “That’s more interesting.”

Seventh-grader Hannah Jolly said students take ownership of their learning. With teachers’ help, they learn how to tell if they are doing well or need improvement.

If they need more assistance, teachers are glad to help, she said. “They really want you to learn,” she said.

When he started sixth-grade, Connor Frost said, one of the teachers told his class, “This is the maturing grade.”

Teachers believe students can do the work, so they really work them hard, he said. He appreciates it when they point out what he needs to work on, and when they go over material to make sure students understand it.

“Teachers here LOVE effort,” Connor said, “almost more than they love answers.”

Last spring, she recalled, the principal came into her room during the Smarter Balanced testing.

“How’s it going?” he asked. McFarlin was pleased to hear her students respond, “It’s fun!”

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