SMART helps improve student scores at Butler

When students arrive at school, the assumption is they are ready to learn; however, that’s often not the case.

To help develop the readiness skills of students, Butler Elementary installed a SMART room. SMART stands for Stimulating Maturity through Accelerated Readiness Training and provides students with the multi-sensory stimulation they need to learn and grow.

SMART is a developmental approach to teaching that focuses on the stimulation of the brain stem versus the brain cortex. The brain stem is where all automatic function takes place, such as a person’s eyes moving across a page smoothly as he reads or looking from the board to work at the desk without interruption. Skills like this are not automatic for many students, and so they must use the brain cortex to attend to these skills. The cortex should be used for comprehension, problem solving and analysis; however, if a child has to use this part of the brain for functions that should be automatic, he can’t use this portion of the brain for higher level skills.

Kim Vaughn, third-grade teacher, implemented SMART in her classroom last year with funds received through the Fort Dodge Community Schools Foundation.

“One of the biggest improvements I saw was in my students’ eye tracking,” Vaughn said. “Over time, the kids were not skipping as many words or lines as they read.”

Students engage in activities in the SMART room daily to move these skills toward automaticity. The duration, frequency and intensity of each activity helps build skills for kids to be ready to learn in the classroom. Students spend two minutes at each station working specifically on balance, body awareness, eye teaming, auditory skills, visual-motor integration, fine motor, bilateral coordination and primitive reflexes.

SMART activities lead to the indirect result of increased student achievement. Although Vaughn only implemented SMART for about half of last year, she saw some great results in the literacy scores of her students.

“My students all made gains on our testing including our FAST assessments and the Iowa Assessments,” Vaughn said.

Looking at the 2016-17 FAST Reading Assessment data for third-grade students at Butler, Vaughn’s classroom outperformed the other three. Eighty-three percent of her students made the expected growth on this assessment compared to 17-76 percent of the students in the other rooms. In addition, 96 percent of her students made the expected growth and were proficient for their grade compared to 38-54 percent of the students in the other rooms. When it came to the Iowa Assessments, 75 percent of her students were proficient in reading. The next closest third-grade classroom at Butler had 64 percent of students proficient.

“As a staff we had conversations at the end of last year about what was happening in each classroom to get the results they got, and Kim’s SMART instructional practices were the topic of conversation,” said Steph Anderson, principal. “All staff were on board this year to work toward the same results.”

With all students accessing the SMART room for 20 minutes each day and looking at Vaughn’s third-grade data, Anderson is hopeful student literacy and math scores will be positively impacted due to readiness to learn being addressed on a regular basis.

“My students absolutely loved the SMART activities and bought into them,” Vaughn said. “They became more focused, and not only did their scores improve, but many also saw improvement in their self-control and behaviors. I am a true believer in this program and am thrilled we are able to offer it to all students this year.”