“Students learn at their own rate.”
“They’ll get there when they’re ready.”
I’ve heard both of these comments many times before, and I agree with them (to a point). I also believe that as teachers, we can make a difference. Our whole class won’t progress at the same rate, but if a student is not making gains, then how can we change our programming in response to this? You see: I do think that these changes we make, matter.
Every day, I make changes to my program.
- I re-look at my guided groups to focus on different skills based on what I notice the students can do and what I notice the students can’t do.
- I see that pictures and storybooks are not helping all of my students with vocabulary development, so I look at the use of concrete objects to help increase vocabulary and build schema.
- I increase the amount of small group and partner “talk time” because the students need these oral language opportunities to support them in both their reading and their writing.
- I reconsider my mini-lessons for Writer’s Workshop based on what I see the students doing and where I think they need to go next.
- I pay attention to student interests (and their intersection with curriculum expectations), change my provocations to align with these interests, and hopefully help inspire reading and writing opportunities.
- I think about my full class teaching times. How long are my lessons? How much talking time am I doing (compared to the students)? What’s necessary, and what’s maybe not necessary? How can I make these lessons shorter, more engaging, and/or more productive? (These questions often change based on what I see the students doing, what I hear them saying, and how involved they are in the lesson.)
- I think about my use of technology. How will I use it? How will the students use it? When is technology the best option, and when is it maybe not the best option?
- I look at problems that occurred during the day. What happened? Why did it happen? What could I do to ensure that it doesn’t happen again?
- I watch video conversations and listen back to podcasts. What did I say? What did I not say? Did I give enough wait time? If not, how could I change this for the next time? Did I focus on the student and his/her contributions enough? How were my follow-up questions? How could I improve them? Did the students learn what I wanted them to learn, and if not, how will I change this for tomorrow?
I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. Sometimes I’m not as patient as I could be. Sometimes I forget about the importance of visuals, and don’t provide enough when they’re needed. Sometimes I need to scaffold the learning more. Sometimes I just need to take a few extra minutes to stop, wait, and let the child work through the problem on his/her own. But every day, I look back, I reflect, I make changes, and then I go back and try again the next day.
On this Wednesday night, as I take a few minutes to think, here is what I know:
- My students will learn.
- They will improve.
- They will become stronger readers, writers, mathematicians, and thinkers.
I say this because that’s what assessment for learning is all about: observing, thinking, changing, and trying again to help ensure that all students meet with success. Will this “success” look the same for all students? Probably not. But there will be growth because I’ll keep making changes and working collaboratively with colleagues to help ensure this happens: this is my promise to you! Whether an educator, administrator, or parent, what’s your promise to your children? How will you fulfill it? Let’s share and celebrate our promises!
I so appreciate reading about your daily journey with your grade 1 students, Aviva, and especially having a window into your thinking, day by day. I’m also finding myself rethinking my program, and reflecting and questioning myself about what I’m doing to help each child to demonstrate success each day. I find myself planning at night, and then even during the day, things need adjusting. It’s taking longer than I thought it would to establish routines, and I have to remind myself that it’s only September. You are so right – they will learn, and they will develop as thinkers and wonderers. Given just right and timeous input and direction, nudging and encouragement, the potential for growth is all there. Thanks so much for the provocation.
Thanks for the comment, Ruth, and for sharing a little bit about your own experiences this year. I think that the second last line of your comment is so important. Students need the input, they need the encouragement, AND (I think), they need our daily reflection and our daily changes, to ensure that each child is getting the program that best meets his/her needs.
This piece gave me goosebumps! Especially when you make your honest and real claim, “I’m not perfect. I make mistakes.”. We all do! I think there come some power in owning that and the pledge to move forward, reflect and improve every day. I applaud your honesty.
A great read. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for the comment, Maria! You’re right: we do all make mistakes, and I think it’s important that as adults and as educators, we’re willing to admit this. As I tell my students, it’s okay to make mistakes as long as we learn from them. I continue to work at learning from mine.
I enjoy reading your blog entries and appreciate sharing your learning journey. Two words came to mind when I read your blog entry: responsive teaching. Prior to the beginning of the school year, I had grand ideas of how I would teach my grade one students (after being away from the classroom setting for a few years and never having taught grade one). However, most of those ideas had to be rethought, revised, and a lot of them not even implemented, as I learned that the most important thing I could do is get to know my students and start from what they know. For example, I wanted to start the school year with open-ended questions and lots of talk. Although talk is still a priority, I have learned that I need to take more time to provide visuals and concrete examples, as many of my students are English Language Learners.
I was wondering if you would be willing to share how your day looks like. Is it more in line with FDK or do you actually have a period set aside for all the students doing the same thing, such all students writing during Writer’s Workshop.
Thanks for your comment, Valerie! I found many of the same things as you. I also have many Stage 1 ELL students, and they need concrete examples to help with developing language (leading to more talking time). Oral Language is a key component of the classroom environment, but oral language in a way that works for the students.
As for the set-up of my program, it’s an FDK-inspired program, but with the addition of certain elements that I think work well for my students and their given needs. I do have a Writer’s Workshop, and I teach mini-lessons, but then I give students a chance to decide how they write. During this time, I take 1 or 2 guided reading/writing groups, and work on phonemic awareness skills with my students that need it. I basically lead into a follow-up activity for them that becomes part of their Writer’s Workshop (but based on topics of their interest and with choice incorporated as well). I include lots of oral language, modelled and shared reading, and independent reading as well (with another guided group for other students). Then the rest of the day is math. I try to link to the real world and to topics of interest for the students. There is lots of talk time during math as well. Science, Social Studies, and The Arts are part of Language and Math. If you want, check out my Daily Shoot Blog Posts: http://missdunsiger.commons.hwdsb.on.ca/category/daily-shoot/ I think this will help you see the day in action. How do you organize your day? I’d love to exchange ideas!
I have just visited your Daily Shoot Blog and am amazed. I hope to one day be able to provide the depth of information that you give to the parents of your students regarding your program.
Right now, I am still trying to figure out what my program should look like, based on my students and what I have learned. Although I am integrating Science, Social Studies, Health, and the Arts into Language and Mathematics, My must have within a school day includes a comprehensive literacy program as well as a three-part Mathematics lesson. Included in my math block is time for Number talks as well. However, I know that I need to work on providing my students with more authentic learning experiences, by setting-up provocations around my learning centres as well as taking my students for some outdoor learning (even if it is just around the school grounds).
I love how integrated your program is and wonder how you gather, organize, and keep track of assessment. Furthermore, how do you translate such assessment into a mark for the report card. Although I’d love to see report cards for Grade 1 students change into something similar to how report cards look like for Kindergarten students (i.e., anecdotal), the reality is that we have to give a mark.
I apologize as I am taking more from you than I can share at the moment. It is my first year teaching such a young group of students. However, I am open to learning, making mistakes, reflecting and, given some time to figure out my program, sharing what I can.
Thanks for the continued discussion, Valerie! Even in my integrated program, I provide comprehensive literacy and three-part math lessons (I’ve never heard of number talks but would love to know more). For comprehensive literacy, I always have modelled, shared, and guided reading and writing, as well as oral language and word work, but with student interest leading many of the topics and with a focus on the content areas. For math, my students are exploring and talking a lot about concepts as they are still developing their skills, but I always begin math with an activity or story that links to the idea behind the exploration, a chance to explore and solve the problem, and then a reflect and connect stage where we look back at the learning and make sense of new learning (I often record these as podcasts). Not all of my math problems involve one right answer — often they’re very open-ended — but still present as a problem so we can share the learning together in the end.
As for assessment, I take lots of photographs and videos of student work and student thinking (organized in Evernote) and have portfolios of student work as well (including feedback provided). I do create rubrics for summative assessment based on overall expectations, and work with the students to complete them. I use these marks, plus the formative assessment data to determine final marks and comments. I hope this helps!