For Thomson Middle School and McDuffie County Schools, last week was an opportunity to shine.
Dr. Max Thompson, noted researcher and author, visited the school district as part of the system's commitment to the Learning-Focused Schools Initiative.
Dr. Thompson, after years of research, compiled a set of tried-and-true strategies which enable even the poorest and lowest-achieving students to succeed.
His research is based on studies of more than 3,100 exemplary schools, including more than 700 institutions which were identified as qualifying as high-poverty schools. In these schools, despite obstacles, students were thriving on standardized assessments at a rate of 90 percent or better.
Even though the techniques Dr. Thompson identified are not new, our local district has made an earnest commitment for the past two years to training all staff members in the strategies.
High-achieving schools and communities share a focus on achievement, Dr. Thompson notes on his web site. That pledge is shared through the use of commonly understood rubrics, or detailed expectations and checklists for student projects and tasks. Charts, graphs, and other visual representations are provided for the public regularly to understand and to celebrate student achievement.
The evaluation of students takes many forms in highly successful schools, including peer- and self-assessment as well as through external measures. These measures provide students with multiple chances to succeed instead of to fail.
Graphic organizers, or visual aids to help students remember information and to connect concepts, are utilized in the classroom where the curriculum is prioritized and key concepts are addressed in depth. These graphic organizers may take the form of Venn diagrams, flow charts, graphs and a myriad of others.
Dr. Thompson also touts the use of what has been dubbed "word walls" which contain key vocabulary words germane to the content of the subject. Students refer to the "word walls" while learning the vocabulary and then have visual clues during classroom assessments.
Finally, another important element in Dr. Thompson's toolbox of techniques is the use of essential questions. These queries frame the lesson for the teacher and student. By using essential questions, students know exactly what to study for exams and teachers are able to utilize them to assess student knowledge on a daily basis.
Essential questions and graphic organizers are used to assist students in writing across the curriculum, another specific goal of the McDuffie County School System.
Over the past two years, CSRA Regional Educational Services Agency (RESA) has trained representatives from each of McDuffie County's seven schools. Additionally, the entire state of Georgia is also being trained in the strategies and their use through other local RESAs.
On Tuesday, Feb. 3, the McDuffie County LFS team gathered at TMS for what Dr. Thompson refers to as "a walk-through institute" on his web site.
In groups of five, the local personnel, including teachers and administrators, sought to identify the strategies employed in a variety of classrooms at each grade level.
Using the techniques outlined in Dr. Thompson's research allows all schools within the district to share common expectations for students, enabling each pupil an occasion to shine much as the McDuffie County School System did last Tuesday.