It is reasonable to expect that a certain portion or percentage of students will perform far below their peers at any point in the year. Students who lack the foundation of skills necessary for learning in upper elementary and higher grades can quickly fall farther behind in all content areas. There’s supposed to be a certain mesh or blending of skills that keep students on a clear path for advancing their learning. A lack of adequate reading and writing skills will almost always hold a student back from making adequate progress.
So how does a student without that adequate foundation of skills catch up?
How can an educator successfully teach the widest range of skill levels.
This is not an easy task. I have a few ideas that I would like to toss out for discussion. If you see a point that you would like to address, disagree with, expand on, or maybe you have even more ideas to add to the list, please write a comment below and I will keep the conversation going. While these are numbered, they are not in any order of importance. Rather, they make it easy for us to target in reply.
- Classroom and other teachers can revisit the most basic skills on a daily basis. You know that kids forget to use upper and lower cases correctly. Reteach everyone briefly so as to review and revisit without targeting certain skills. All of the foundation skills bear repeating.
- Find time for short sessions and work with small groups on targeted learning.
I am mulling developing some ideas on how I can offer some of my time as a retired educator to volunteer in areas I feel I can make a difference.I have lots of training and a passion for teaching ELL students. In fact, when our ELL teacher left in the middle of the year, I was asked to self-train and administer the ACCESS testing for students in our elementary school. I quickly agreed without realizing what a big chunk of time was going to be needed in order to feel I was doing a very good job. That was my goal – to do a very good job.
In the end, I administered the test successfully and then sat back, waiting for the results. Well, those results came 5 months later. As I had expected, the students did best in the speaking part of the test. What I found remarkable was the poor performance in writing. ALL of the students did poorly in that area both students who are low performers as well as high performers.
That was revealing and struck me as an obvious area for targeting instruction. It is valuable information for all teachers who work with the students. How easy is it to tell the students’ teachers this news so they can pay special attention.
I would also be interested in hearing how the testing compared with the district writing assessments. Did the same students perform poorly or are they stronger in their daily work? Are there classroom charts and visuals or other organizational tools that guide them, provide basic supports, and are part of their daily writing routines? I know the ACCESS does not allow students to use any supports. It all has to be cemented in their heads.
So, getting back to an area for my volunteer work, I would like to focus on ELL writing. First, I need to see how the ELL students in my area performed on the last ACCESS. If the results are similar to my old school, I would like to help the students develop stronger foundational skills.
I would like to gather small groups of ELL students for 20 minute sessions in developing their organization for writing and for developing a writer’s voice. I would start each session with a mini-lesson and a presentation of someone’s work from a recent class. We would use our oral skills for retelling, commenting on the good things, and offering suggestions for simple improvements. Then I would move on to teaching another tool or strategy that we would practice aloud. We would then move on to writing something using a prompt. The prompt will first be addressed orally so the ideas are there even if the writing isn’t. I can help then with the actual writing.
So there’s the plan. I am looking forward to possibly making a difference in my blue-collar community.
I have been doing some more reflecting of late on how to educate students in the most meaningful ways while also addressing the time constraints and the resources at hand. My focus has had little to do with the Common Core so if that is something you aspire to, you will be well advised to move along. I do not worship at the altar of the CCSS. Instead, I want to continuously think about the passions of students and educators.
Of all the units I have created over the years, the most wonderful, engaging, exciting were hands-on to the extreme. They included tremendous amounts of student input. I’m not just talking about setting up the direction the unit would flow. I am talking about using the students as experts and scientists all along the way. They researched both at home and at school. They shared readily with their peers. They developed confidence and poise. They learned a lot!
Take the unit on Space. Space is not a science standard for kindergarten. Those standards lean more toward cycles and seasons.
Our learning was heavy in discovery through picture books and videos or other online resources. I kept a number of the media resources on a ThingLink and shared the url with parents so they could connect and revisit some of the work we were doing while at home with their kids. Often the kids were the experts and eager learners for the information the parents wanted to share. That in turn came back into class through sharing.
Approximately 25 library books, on space. the sun and moon, and the planets, had a central place in the classroom. Every day children spent time perusing the images in the books as a part of the Work Board rotation. They talked with their peers about what they saw and asked questions. They thought it was COOL!
I read topical books to them through interactive read aloud. This became a magical time as the students became the teachers. They knew so much about the topic and the class loved to hear about it. The reading experiences were rich in personal connections for making better meaning of the content.
Well, it goes without saying that they needed to listen to me and their peers. They needed to attend to the information presented through video and other media. They listened to an astronaut give a tour of the International Space Station and they dreamed about living on it.
This is the most valuable skill to practice. When students organize their thinking in order to share something with their peers, to answer or ask questions, to elaborate on some information, they are communicating with ever-increasing skill. This real world practice can be challenging for some of the quieter kids. Try to tailor an option for them to share with just one or two others, rather than the whole group. The peers can share any information aloud for them. It’s okay.
When asked what we should write about, the class had tons of ideas. We included a class book about our favorite planet. We also did science reports on the sun and sky, as well as what we noticed about day and night. In kindergarten, we are heavy into illustration as a means of written sharing. The details the kids include and their oral presentation of that visual piece are always excellent. Even the weaker illustrators had great detail in their thinking. Being able to orally share their work brought them greater satisfaction that the meaning came across.
- We learned about space careers and government agencies like NASA.
- We tweeted messages to our friends in other classes about what we were studying and shared our thinking on different topics.
- We dramatized being aboard the ISS, then dressing for a space walk. We encountered many challenges on that space walk which fueled our understanding of space.
- We gathered at school early one winter evening with our families to look at the night sky and even do a little “owling.”
Of course we had many opportunities for arts and crafts and the kids ran with it.
The most important thing to take away from this post is that the children will take you where they need to go. Let them take the lead. With just a little guidance and suggestion, they will find the most rewarding and valuable learning experiences. At the same time, they will be exercising all of the key areas of learning in your curriculum.
There is something magical about children at play. By creating the most student centered learning, you are ensuring that the play they feel will extend into their academic lives and will be cemented into world knowledge. We can only wonder where that learning will take them down the road.
An organic educator is a person who sees a student as an individual, an individual who is growing in experience and knowledge and following a personalized path in that growth. This educator can recognize the pathway the student is taking and will build a support system along that learning path using the student’s skills and passions, all the while developing new knowledge about that teaching and learning.
Carol Dweck is a rock star in my book. I took a course through Stanford a couple of summers ago, How To Learn Math, that really rocked my world as an educator. I lerned a lot about the growth mindset and how powerful it is to life-long learning and developing a healthy attitude toward challenges.
Here’s another healthy quote about being resilient and persevering.
Here’s another great one to reflect on. I would like educators to encourage students more and place less judgement on them. Imagine the power you have in your hands when you encourage a child to see themselves along a pathways, not always the best in the class but rather someone on a journey with a healthy amount of excitement for moving toward a goal.
Do you have any more images that you think fit this thread on growth mindsets? If so send the along and I will add them to your credit.
I read this post in The Boston Globe today and it rang true in my own head. Check out the essay by Chris Berdik on the continuing perils for children in the modern age of education. Chris presents both sides fairly and gives plenty of background coverage to them as well. The emotions run high on this one as they do with anything of substance.
In the way of online news, the article may disappear from the feed at any time.
When you are finished with that read, why not take a look at another great post. This one is by Prriety Gosalia.
I have been blogging since 2007. In that time I have gone from a newbie to an Edublogs Pro. I have created blogs on a number of topics. using a number of different platforms. My favorite platform is Edublogs. The support is outstanding and the learning curve is suited to the individual.
The most important blogging I have done is related to being an educator. I found that my audience for Mrs. Poulin: Reflect and Share was blended, maybe too blended. I initially thought I could write to a parent audience and at the same time write to my PLN. After a number of years, my opinions got in the way of the plans and ideas of the powers-that-be. Suddenly I found my site was UN-linked from the school site. I suspect the “complaint” was related to my words on the power parents can have over the decisions schools make, oops! The emperor has no clothes, but I was supposed to keep up the farce. No hard feelings though. I had grown out of a blended blog idea anyway. The newly presented challenge was to remove all student images and videos. I did not have parent permission to use them outside of school use and now the blog was private, educational but still not school sanctioned.
So I created a new class blog, and stuck to sharing classroom news and valuable information on how parents can help their kids at home. It was very well received and I found the work meaningful and reflective. I tried to ignore the fact that busy parents didn’t subscribe even though the articles and images were about their child. I emailed them repeatedly but still, little interest. Boy, the things they missed out on. You can bring a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.
The older blog linked above took on a new title and role as my place for reflecting on the state of education and my own place in it. I was talking to my PLN.
Now that I am retired, I want a fresh look at education and I need to be able to speak my mind without going “against policy.” So that brings us up to date. Organic Educator will channel my real passions in education and take the readers down a wholesome path.
Not a grand introduction to this blog but still a bit of background that I’m hopeful will help you see where I am coming from.
Next post – Just what is an organic educator? Hint: It’s not about farming, but we will get our hands dirty.