The Challenge of What Next

by Tricia Ebner

Even though it’s not the true middle of a the school year when the semester ends in mid-January, I’ve always viewed winter break as the midpoint in the year. I’ve found that this is a great time to pause and reflect on what my students have learned so far, and what we need to address in the coming months. It is sometimes easy to lose sight of the big picture of what students need to learn and be able to do by the end of the school year when we’re working on the more detailed parts of skills like research, reading informational text, and writing arguments. It’s not a good feeling to return to school in January wondering, “Are we working on the right things?”pablo-29

Taking some time in December and early January to reflect on what we’ve done so far and what we still need to address is critical. I have several resources to help me reflect on what my students have learned, where our demonstrated needs are, and what I need to be sure I address in the coming months.

  • Lesson plans: I use a lesson planning web site for writing up my weekly plans. This site enables me to access my plans anywhere, and it also allows me to conduct an “audit” of the standards I’ve focused upon. This helps me ensure I’m not overlooking standards.
  • Student performance on assignments and activities: Looking through student work samples and my anecdotal notes also gives me information about what’s going well and what needs attention. I often ask students for their thoughts, too, and they are usually honest about what they know and what they don’t know. Occasionally they will surprise me and say they don’t really know a concept or particular skill, when their work suggests they do. That tells me they aren’t yet confident, so I need to give them more opportunities to work with that and increase their confidence.
  • Progress monitoring information: I also use information from the benchmarking & progress monitoring assessments we use in my district. I appreciate having this “outside” perspective to provide another look at how my students are performing on particular skills.

 

This year I am seeing some results that have prompted me to consider changing my approach in the coming months. For example, the eighth graders I teach are generally performing well. There are no major gaps in our work so far. However, I am not seeing the kind of growth I want for them. This has prompted me to look carefully at the kinds of activities I’ve used in past years, and I’ve already eliminated one option, a literature-heavy unit, in favor of one that has a better balance of literature and informational text. I am now considering a couple of options I’ve never used before.

On the other hand, the growth I’ve seen in my seventh graders’ reading and vocabulary skills in the past quarter has been impressive. They have been focused on a unit that utilizes text sets and integrates academic vocabulary, reading, speaking, listening, and writing skills in a beautifully seamless way. Seeing how powerful this has been for the seventh graders has prompted me to consider how I might revamp activities in all of my classes to incorporate more text sets..

Over the winter break, I’ll spend time reading and making decisions about next steps for my students. I’ll get some plans sketched out, and in January, as my classes wrap up the second quarter and get ready to launch the third, I’ll continue reflecting on what student work is showing me about what we still need to learn. Taking time now to consider where we are and what we still need to do helps me ensure we’re addressing the standards and students’ needs, supporting their ongoing growth this year. A little time in reflection now can pay off in the months ahead.

For more information on using text sets, check out Char Shryock’s blog post found here.

Would you like to share a story of how you’ve solved problem related to standards, instruction, and assessment in your classroom? Do you have a specific problem you’re facing, and you’d like to know how other teachers have solved that problem? Use this link to share your ideas with us, and you could see your own blog posted here, or read about how others have solved that problem in their classrooms.

 

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