While some teachers are just embarking on their school year, my district just wrapped up its first grading period! For the past 16 years, I’ve taken the time to reflect on several areas of my teaching that are essential to my students’ success.
Where am I at in my pacing in relation to where I’d hoped to be?
In the beginning of the school year, you probably planned your entire year (or maybe semester), or you used a pacing guide provided by your district. I remember spending the summer prior to my first year of teaching English with a calendar and curriculum I’d borrowed from a dear colleague. I had such lofty goals, and I was going to hit all of these standards on these dates! Go Kim!
That first year, my students did horribly on all assessments and standardized tests. Why? Because I was more concerned about covering the standards on time rather than ensuring that my students really learned what’s important in English Language Arts. It didn’t take long for me to realize that depth, not breadth, is more important.
Fast-forward to this year, and in this first six weeks I haven’t hit all of the standards I’d hoped. Every year my students’ needs change, and this particular year my students need me to really break reading and writing skills down for them. I’m more than happy to do that for them, and as a result they’re starting to get the hang of thesis statements and citations!
What have my students accomplished?
This question always makes me nervous! I typically have very few grades in my gradebook for the first grading period. My students and I spend a good amount of time getting to know each other, doing preliminary assessments, having me model exactly how I want them to annotate and write, etc. I’m a big believer in going slow in the beginning so that later I can go faster.
With each year in English, I have a clearer picture of what I think is most important in my ELA classroom. Some teachers really focus on reading, while I put the most emphasis on writing. You can’t have a voice if people don’t understand you, especially in this noisy world. Therefore, I really want my students to have a strong foundation for writing because I want them to be able to clearly communicate their thoughts. Literacy is certainly important, but to me, writing is king.
I was hoping that within the first 6-8 weeks I’d be able to teach thesis statements, evidence and explanation, transitional words and phrases, introductions, and conclusions. This was indeed an ambitious endeavor! I managed to see progress with thesis statements and evidence and explanation, touch on transitional words and phrases, and begin the important work on in-text citations. While we have still a LONG way to go, I can proceed to the next grading period feeling confident that my students are on the right track!
Does my gradebook reflect student learning?
I’m always refining my grading methods to best reflect my students’ progress on the Common Core Standards. I’ve been exploring and refining Standards-Based Grading as a means of communicating this progress to my students and their parents, as well as guide my teaching. With each passing year, I find it easier to implement this grading method with fidelity.
Here’s a snapshot of one of my student’s grades in my class:
From this I can see that this student has only made small gains on writing a thesis statement (W.7.1.a). However, I expected this since she has a 4th grade reading level. After I grade her body paragraph rewrite, I’ll use that data to determine whether or not I’ve done enough to teach evidence and explanation.
What should I teach or reteach next?
I need to move on to introductions and conclusions, however I plan to spiral or integrate more practice on thesis statements and evidence into future lessons. There are a good number of students that have demonstrated proficiency, however my data could be misleading since I assisted them with the initial assignment. I will give mini formative assessments along the way to track their progress on these writing skills in preparation for a summative assessment in the form of an informative essay before Thanksgiving. These standards make or break any future writing assignments, so it will be lather, rinse, and repeat for the rest of the semester!
Of course, I also plan to start on fiction and poetry. I’ve bombarded my student with non-fiction texts, so I think it’s time to mix things up! With the fall and Halloween coming up, it’s the perfect time for something spooky and maybe a little macabre!
Reflect on your progress
Whether you’re reading this at the beginning or end of a grading period, it’s important to constantly reflect on and adjust your teaching. Even after teaching for 16 years, I’m in a constant cycle of changing up what I’m doing in response to my students’ needs. I’m far from being the best teacher out there – but I have a good set of tools and tactics under my belt. I know that I can always be a better teacher for my students. I strive to bring out the best in myself and those around me. I believe in the future success of every one of my students, and I’m honored to be part of their journey.