Team Spotlight: Sierra Vista K–8 School

Meet the Team
English Language Arts is a team effort at Sierra Vista, a K-8 school in Vacaville, California serving 600 students. Meet kindergarten teachers Tiffany Galer and Sylvia Rodriguez; first-grade teachers Cheryl Carter and Wendy Horsley; and Lori Lawn, the Response to Intervention (RTI) coordinator and district Teacher of the Year for 2018–2019. Collectively, these teachers have 77 years of teaching experience and report that they love teaching reading and intervention.

I recently had the pleasure of spending the day at Sierra Vista with observers from the California Department of Education and from Collaborative Classroom. We experienced whole-group, small-group, and intervention instruction. The teachers, who have embraced Collaborative Literacy and SIPPS, were excited to discuss the multi-tiered system of supports at Sierra Vista and the ways they use data to drill down from numbers to names to needs in order to reach all students. Their responsive instruction is spotlight-worthy.

Clockwise from top left: Tiffany Galer, Lori Lawn, and Sylvia Rodriguez meet in Sierra Vista’s staff room; Wendy Horsley teaches Being a Reader small-group instruction; Students are able to reference Must Do and May Do activities in Cheryl Carter’s classroom; Cheryl and Wendy meet at lunch time.

Tell Us About Tier 1 Instruction
Sierra Vista has implemented Collaborative Literacy (Being a Reader, Making Meaning, and Being a Writer) supported by SIPPS (Systematic Instruction in Phonological Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words) intervention in their kindergarten and first-grade classrooms since 2016.

At the time of adoption, the school was looking to strengthen their students’ foundational skills and they were drawn to the targeted small-group instruction offered in Being a Reader. They had seen that approach work with SIPPS, which was already being used at the school, and thought all students should have access to those routines and supports.

Both grade levels have a consistent English Language Arts block in which classrooms engage in shared and small-group reading, comprehension and writing lessons, and conference time. During their independent work block, some students spend additional time with the school’s RTI coordinator engaging in Being a Reader reteach opportunities or receiving SIPPS instruction as recommended by Collaborative Classroom’s “RTI/MTSS Guidance for Reading Instruction in Collaborative Literacy” document. A universal access block in the afternoon provides additional time for small-group instruction in homerooms. On my most recent visit, first-grade teachers used this time to meet with SIPPS Beginning Level groups.

The teachers appreciate how time spent establishing their learning community in Collaborative Literacy—with its focus on helping students learn how to engage in partner work, share their thinking, and work independently—benefits the entire school day and makes all instruction more impactful.

Sylvia Rodriguez, who loves teaching reading and describes her kindergarteners as little sponges, says, “It’s amazing to see how they make sense of reading, meaning, and collaboration.”

When talking about Being a Reader, Cheryl Carter says, “It grows in a way that other programs don’t grow.”

Wendy Horsley adds, “Being a Reader literally is the ‘meat and potatoes’ of reading instruction. It is clean, intentional, strategic instruction that not only enables me to meet every student where they are at to push them further, but it allows me to know exactly their needs and strengths. I could give you an ETA on where every student is in their reading journey. Because Being a Reader is so well written and has a clear, logical, and intentional scope and sequence, I actually am able to get through all my lessons! I have never in 12 years been able to get through the curriculum.”

What Have You Noticed About Student Learning?
Wendy is proud of students’ gains and credits the team’s strong Tier 1 instruction, responsive reteaching, and intervention efforts. “Our RTI pyramid looks like it’s supposed to look.”

She recently recounted to me some important data points: When instruction commenced in early September, 11 out of 25 of Wendy’s students needed intensive support. They were starting the year in Small-Group Reading Set 1 and scoring DRAs (Developmental Reading Assessment levels) of 1-4. These students received daily classroom instruction in Being a Reader, reteaching support from Lori Lawn, and additional word work instruction during universal access time. These supports continued throughout the school’s first trimester.

“Because of all this support and front-loading, and clean, deliberate instruction through the Being a Reader curriculum, [by the end of the trimester] I had 7 students out of my 11 who had begun the year in Set 1, meet the DRA level 12. So, my RTI pyramid shifted.”

Tiffany Galer adds, “I love being able to work with all students to help them access reading.”

What Do You Appreciate About SIPPS?
In her role as RTI coordinator, Lori is integral to supporting student access at Sierra Vista. She supports small-group Being a Reader instruction in the primary classrooms, provides SIPPS intervention, and works with the team to review data and make instructional decisions. She appreciates that the SIPPS intervention can so closely mirror Being a Reader instruction and how the programs allow struggling students to seamlessly transfer from one to the other.

“Teamwork is key to our success at Sierra Vista,” Lori says. “We continually collaborate to ensure the needs of each learner are met. The fluidity of using Being A Reader and SIPPS lends itself beautifully to ‘first teaching’ and needed interventions. Because of their similarities, students easily transition between the two.”