Monday, October 29, 2012

A Week of Reflection

As my students spend their time in class reflecting upon their first quarter of school, I too, decided to take on this task. I think about all of the "things" that make up what we call school: students, parents, teachers and staff, standards, district initiatives, assessments, lessons, management, meetings, classrooms, and resources (or lack thereof). I think about all of the "to do lists" that make up what we call work: planning, creating, copying, communicating, grading, entering, revising, and hopefully - reflecting.

What good is all that we do if we do not take time to reflect?

What if you go through the motions with all of the "things" and "to do lists" and never just STOP and consider - what worked? Or better yet - what DIDN'T work? WHY didn't it work?

What is most important? Am I prioritizing or am I getting bogged down with all of these "things"?

It is time for reflection.

I am constantly striving to do better in a variety of ways. I want my students to learn. It is my job to ensure this occurs. Am I doing all that I can so that this happens?

This quarter, I implemented a new routine, and updated some old ones:
  • unit reflections - students reflect on what they learned by rating their learning targets, providing student samples, and answering questions tied to the targets. They take this home to show their parents and have them sign. I borrowed this from a friend and adapted it for my class. I have found it has opened up communication with families about what students are learning, allows students to think about what they have learned in a holistic fashion, and provides closure to the unit since we often to not have a "test" when we complete a cycle of learning.
  • read aloud - I did this off and on last year, but did not stay consistent with this. It has given me an opportunity to use this book as a mentor text and provide transition time. On days I don't read aloud, students notice! It has given us a common, shared text to discuss and use in lessons.
  • keeping weekly reading journals sacred - I did journals off and on last year. They were always tied to what we were working on, and seemed redundant to the assessments I was already grading. I noticed the students did not find this purposeful, and it was a lose lose situation. I was reluctantly grading journals and students were not putting much thought or effort into them. After opening a discussion with colleagues about how they implement reading journals, I was discovering it really boiled down to purpose. This year, I created a rubric and kept the journals sacred. I also changed the purpose. Instead of journaling on a skill taught, I asked students to consider the author's choices with a variety of sentence starters. This written response has really captured students thinking and held them accountable for reading consistently.
Upon reflection of first quarter, I am comfortable continuing these new routines. However, there are some things to continue to improve as well. I welcome your suggestions! :)

  • flexible groups - during my guided reading cycle, I did not have the opportunity to reach all students. I am struggling with giving students work time AND meeting with them as well because they need extra time. While this only happened with one class, it was a bummer because there was a difference in what they understood during their assessment since they did not have the opportunity to discuss their thinking with me prior to being assessed. On the bright side, it validates how important it is that I provide opportunities for students to share their thinking with each other and have my guidance to clarify confusion. I need to restructure my instruction during this hour to allow this to happen more often. I will try to provide one day in the week for collaboration at the very least with this hour.
  • running records - I have not conducted a single one. Bottom line - this needs to be done with some students and I haven't made the time to sit down and listen to them read aloud. I will try to establish a routine during independent reading days. I will seek out leveled text for students that are in tier 2 interventions.
  • compacting the curriculum - I am comfortable differentiating for my higher students with leveled text and with extension projects, but not with pacing. How do I meet the needs of these students? I have offered some things for these students, but they are still sitting through my mini-lessons and may not need to. I also struggle with this because I don't want to take their higher level thinking out of our classroom discussions, so they sit there. Hmm...not sure what to do there. I will continue to provide opportunities for these students to have higher level texts, be in homogeneous groups when appropriate, and be challenged with my book group I have begun. They will read one book per week in a variety of genres and have a discussion online.
As second quarter begins, I am anxious to see how things continue to unfold. It is always an experience - this "thing" we call school! If I try to approach it with the lens of teaching, learning, and growing; perhaps I can survive another quarter!