During the 2013-2014 school year I discovered the ACE Answer strategy and began using it with my class. I found that some students would follow the strategy, while still others had the strategy in their Language Arts Notebooks, but failed to use it.
This year I decided something needed to change in my practice, not theirs, for this strategy to be successful.
The changes I made in my practice were two fold: Before students were asked to answer the discussion questions a class discussion would take place. Students would begin the reading in class and complete it as homework. As they read they would find two or three things to share in a discussion in class the following day. Some questions were as simple as what does a word mean, while others were questions about the story or connections made with the story. As the discussion occurred I moderated rather than lead. The students began to take ownership of the discussion. They became the experts, sharing evidence from the text to support their thinking.
Any paper that did not attempt to answer discussion questions by citing evidence from the text was returned as “Not Ready”. Students would then have class time to revise answers and cite evidence from the text with support in class. Before students were asked to answer the discussion questions a class discussion would occur with students asking questions and sharing evidence they found in the text. Some questions were as simple as what does a word mean, while others were higher level and asked what a word meant. The change in my practice that I made to address common core was to no longer be the sage on the stage with answers. Students became the ones who had to share their thoughts and support it with evidence from the text.
Because of these two changes in my practice, students written responses to discussion questions have improved. While I still return them for a few revisions their responses are more complete and most contain evidence.
While it saddens me that we have only been able to complete about one and a half novels each trimester, the quality of their work has improved.
Technology in Language Arts
To ease the transition to the SBAC test and introduce more work with non-fiction texts, classroom I began using twos new web-based reading sites.
In the winter I signed up for a trial subscription to NEWSELA. During the months that I had full access to the site, I found it to be an excellent source of reading practice. Articles are taken from current news and available by topic. I could assign articles that were timely and/or corresponded with what we were studying in class. Students were also able to choose a lexia level that was appropriate for and watch monitoring their progress. Having the ability to annotate the text not only helped them when answering the questions, they saw their scores improve as they did so. I liked the fact that they were getting exposure to world news, something my students lack.
I found the writing portion of the program to be even more valuable. Students were asked to write a paragraph citing evidence from the news article. I was then able to review their writing on the computer, make comments and suggestions. In the short time we used the writing program I saw improvements in most of their writing. Unfortunately, when my trial subscription ran out I lost access to all the data. While I found NEWSELA to benefit my students, I found the price per student at $18 was too much to fund out of my own pocket. The students continue to use the program and track their results and note their process on a graph, but I no longer have access to the details of their progress. We no longer have access to the writing program on the computer.
Another web based reading program I began using fairly recently is Read Theory. My students have only used it for a few weeks, so I have limited knowledge of all that it has to offer. Questions are based on research, reasoning and vocabulary. I look forward to exploring it more and am pleased with the improvements I am seeing in the short time I've used it. At this point the entire site is free. At this time the but I only access I have to what they are reading is by looking over their shoulder while they are at the computer. When I view the results and where their strengths are I am seeing progress.
Looking at the above statistics and STAR Reading growth from August to February I can see that my students are progressing toward reading independently at grade level or above.
After having participated In Project Lead for 5 years and working during the summer to become a trainer for the math project I was given the opportunity to be involved in 2 exciting Professional Development /Leadership Rolls this year. I trained 2 cohorts of teachers on Fractions on the Number Line for Santa Rosa City Schools and helped plan, implement and train teachers for the Math Projects Math Fairs in the Santa Rosa City Schools.
Alma and I led the first Math Fair for the Math Project at Lincoln. Out of a concern that we wouldn’t be able to secure enough trainers, we trained guided our sixth grade students to lead the stations for the Pre K to 5th grade students. It was exciting to see our students step up as leaders in mathematics. We also had the opportunity to have our students train the 7th Grade Students at the Santa Rosa Charter School for the Arts to lead the stations at their site. Once again, although timid about the prospect of training the older students they came through and did a great job. The Math Fair the following day at the Charter Arts School went off without a hitch. Both the 6th graders and 7th graders decided that teaching wasn’t such an easy job after having spent a day doing it. I am in the process of working collaboratively with 4 other teachers to have the entire set of math games for grades 3-6 available to our upper grade students by the end of the year.
Teaching math in my classroom has been a challenge this year. I have focused on the students showing evidence, working collaboratively sharing strategies and understandings of evidence and using an illustration, rather than just an algorithm when solving a problem. Although the Star Math Test shows that students are making good progress, I’m not feeling that they are holding on to retaining the concepts that we have worked on. It seems like the gaps in what they understand conceptually are larger than in the past couple of years, which is frustrating for me.
I’ve spent the year meeting them where they are, filling in the gaps and moving forward.