Commissioner Candice McQueen examines excellence at Farmington Elementary School
As a part of her Classroom Chronicles media and blog series, TN Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has made it a goal to visit 10,000 teachers throughout the school year. The tour series takes her all over the volunteer state as she looks to connect with teachers as they implement statewide initiatives.
This week, she made a highly coveted stop at Farmington Elementary School to look in on early literacy instruction. As the guests and the media arrived they were immediately struck by the decorations in the building. “Luckily,” said Principal Zac Percoski, “the Commissioner’s visit lined up perfectly with our annual Fine Arts Night. In fact, because we practice the tenets of Read to Be Ready every day, we had very little to do to prepare for her visit.”
It was clear that the fine arts staff and teachers worked very hard to display works of art by every child in building—which looked stunning. And, the instruction was on point in every classroom.
The Commissioner and her team after several introductory handshakes with our local officials (see the images below), headed into the classrooms.
They were led by well-spoken and knowledgeable student tour guides from room to room.
Their first stop was in Courtney Berggren’s first grade room where they were beginning The Rough-faced Girl, a read aloud book in a text set of “Cinderella stories”. After the Commissioner asked some probing questions to the children and the teacher they went through things they noticed about the book cover and then wondered about the book cover.
Mrs. Berggren was using Notice/Wonder, a pre-reading strategy that helps students to access their background knowledge about the main character in each Cinderella story. Using The Rough-faced Girl, students will eventually use their notices and wonderings to create text-based opinion essays about the main character.
Next, we visited with Nikki Benzing and her second grade class who were hard at work analyzing a book about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. This book is a part of the Civil Rights Heroes text set and was being used to reinforce expectations in speaking and listening. During this Socratic Seminar, the students were able to support their ideas verbally using text-based evidence.
After observing excellent student engagement in a group discussion, our tour guides led the Commissioner to Mrs. Gould’s third grade class where she was leading the students in identifying text features of an informational passage.
The Commissioner was very interested in discussing the value of Close Reading strategies with Mrs. Gould. It seemed like the Commissioner could have stopped and talked with our GMSD K-4 Teacher of the Year for much longer, but we eventually moved on to the fifth grade class of Amy Harrell to witness a novel walk in progress.
The students were actively engaged in analyzing multiple texts. The Commissioner joined up with one of the small fifth grade groups and got some real-time student feedback on her literacy initiatives.
Lastly, our tour guides led her into the library for a question and answer session. Our GMSD team was able to ask her a few questions about the future of Read to Be Ready and what she most enjoyed about the strategies she noticed at Farmington Elementary on the tour. She gave a glowing report of critical thinking skills and good instructional practice.
Superintendent Jason Manuel, who was also in attendance had this to say about the day, “Our team could not have been more proud of everything that the Commissioner saw at Farmington Elementary School yesterday. The classrooms we visited showcased excellence always, as it was evident that these strategies are being used daily with students. From exceptional instructional techniques, the embracement of Wit and Wisdom or Expeditionary Learning, the level of rigor seen in literacy instruction, and the visible excitement of completely engaged students—it is clear that our district is a statewide exemplar.”