McVey Elementary

“There’s a real constructivism to this . . . students are owning their learning in both Math and ELA.”

Kerry Dunne
East Meadow, New York

One student’s self image highlighted the need for change and prompted Principal Dunne to take a new approach.

“I am not smart.”

The heartbreaking opening line of a second grader’s poem caught Principal Kerry Dunne’s eye. It was her first year as principal of McVey Elementary, a multi-cultural school in Long Island’s East Meadow School District where about 40 percent of students speak a second language and 25 percent live at the poverty level. Her heart sank. “We have to change this,” she remembers thinking. A strong believer in Carol Dweck’s theory of the growth mindset, Principal Dunne began looking for resources to support a culture of getting smart—which doesn’t reward being smart but rewards student efforts toward continual growth.

She knew Mentoring Minds shared this ethos of getting smart.

When she ordered Total Motivation Math and Total Motivation ELA, she was already familiar with the Mentoring Minds flip charts and knew they shared this ethos of getting smart. She found Total Motivation to be an equally exceptional resource that was “very consistent with the way we approach learning here.” “Every child has the ability to get smarter,” she says. Using Total Motivation to focus on the power of learning and thinking would prove more important than ever in the midst of upcoming challenges with the switch to Common Core, adoption of the new standards, and the challenge of meeting a new level of expectations.

Keys to Implementation

Used to supplement McVey’s primary curriculum, Total Motivation helps teachers to build on each skill—resulting in what Principal Dunne calls a “perfect combination” in the classroom. She considers the curriculum “our right hand” and Total Motivation “our left hand”—a dynamic pair that they use throughout the year. “When we’re working on a certain skill, we align the story from Total Motivation ELA,” Principal Dunne says as a practical example of how one resource complements the other. She also uses the same process with Total Motivation Math.

“It’s all about getting smart,” she says of instruction at McVey Elementary. Lessons start every day with Total Motivation in a daily exercise called Mighty Mind Challenges. In the classroom, her teachers appreciate the rigor of the problems and also take advantage of the structure of Motivation Math that allows them to spiral the standards throughout the year. “The language in the problems is very consistent with the expectations of New York State,” she adds, noting how closely Total Motivation aligns with the standards for success at each grade level. Best of all, her students find the problems fun to do. This increases the J-Factor*—something Principal Dunne enthusiastically refers to as the sheer “joy” of learning.

'It gives them the ability to grow every single time.'

Her teachers also appreciate the real-life emphasis in Total Motivation ELA and the combination of genres used in a single story, such as a historical fiction text that also features a poem. “We don’t see that anywhere else,” she notes. This “much more realistic approach to reading comprehension” prepares her students to practice critical thinking in the real world. “Each story comes with twelve questions, not six or seven, which is a major difference from every other resource,” she explains, pointing to Total Motivation’s comprehensive approach. Targeting many standards in multiple ways increases student comprehension and critical and creative thinking. “It gives them the ability to grow every single time, and it lets the teacher select questions depending upon the lesson or to differentiate for his/her students.”

Mural of the school mascot in McVey Elementary's hallways

In a mural in McVey Elementary’s hallways, the school mascot, Mighty Mind, and his nemesis Dr. Distracto inspire students to consciously choose to grow and learn every day.

Teachers also use extended practice pages as “quick assessments” once a week. “We can really scaffold, break it down, and teach in smaller chunks,” Principal Dunne explains of this convenient way to monitor student progress. Teachers also “love” incorporating the Charting Your Success feature in their instruction because students can see for themselves when they are getting smarter. “There’s real constructivism to this aspect of the program… Students are owning their learning in both Math and ELA.”

From the early days of introducing Common Core, Principal Dunne immediately saw how helpful the Teacher Edition was in supporting her teachers. “There would be full-on debates about potential answers to questions,” she recalls with a laugh. “This made it difficult to teach the children or show them how to discern the correct answer independently.” In addition to providing teachers “the correct answer” and clarifying the standards, the Teacher Edition continues to be vital to everyday lesson planning with a wealth of instructional strategies and suggested activities for every standard. This “vast amount of information” encourages her teachers to unpack the standards for themselves.

Rising Scores and Recognition

McVey Elementary has been a high-performing school for the past four years and was also nominated as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence in 2015. Still there are great challenges that Principal Dunne faces on a daily basis, such as, “Are our 5th graders really ready for 6th grade, do we know? And are our programs really doing what they should be doing?” Principal Dunne trusts Total Motivation’s rigor and close alignment to the standards so much that she relies on it to measure student growth throughout the year. And now, after having implemented Total Motivation for four years, the school uses it as a year-over-year measurement, which “helps us to know if we are continuing to make the same progress despite changes at the State level or issues with the assessment program.”

'One of the best investments I’ve ever made.'

It’s this emphasis on growth that has made Total Motivation Principal Dunne’s perfect partner for building a culture of critical thinking and continual learning. “We never say to children, ‘You are so smart.’ We reward the effort by saying, ’I love how hard you’re working,’” she explains. Even their “most challenged learners are growing” using Total Motivation. Looking back on her initial purchase of Total Motivation years ago, Principal Dunne considers it “one of the best investments I’ve ever made” and credits Mentoring Minds with making “a big difference in what we do here.”

*The J-Factor was described by Doug Lemov in Teach Like a Champion, 2010.