The End of Institute

A single day at institute can fee incredibly long, but the entire five weeks goes by like the high speed train that whips through a busy platform, leaving only the shuddering of people and buildings in its wake.

I said good-bye to my fifth grade students last Friday. They have one glorious month of summer left before most go off to new middle schools around Houston. Meanwhile, I have a month left to prepare to be a fifth grade science teacher, a proposition both daunting and exciting.

There are both successes to celebrate as well as failures to learn from in my experience with the fifth graders of summer institute.

One huge success is the growth of four students who met over 100% of their growth goals this summer in math and science. At the beginning of the summer, we tested our students in math and science using questions garnered from previously released state exams. We then had sixteen instructional days of opportunity to help fill in the gaps in our student’s understanding. At the end, we retested them to find the quantitative difference our teaching made in their understanding of the material. It was very powerful to see the improvement that some students made over the course of four short weeks.

However, the flip side of success were the students who did not progress according to our end of institute assessment, and this was especially evident in reading. Although I recorded improvement in the reading abilities of our most struggling students, they struggled with the final text, both in fluency and in comprehension. I leave with mixed feelings about how we supported the students this summer when it comes to literacy.

Upon reflection, I think that there are three key areas of growth I need to focus on as I enter my regional classroom.

(1) Tracking student growth and leveraging it with the students, the parents, and myself. Although I included assessments for each objective I taught this past summer, and backwards planned from them, I did not use the results of those assessments purposefully. More often than not the assessments sat in my bag, ungraded, for almost a week. Instead, I vow to grade assessments the day they are given, and to enter them into a class tracker so that I know whether or not my class mastered the objective with an average of 80% on the assessment. I vow to share these results with the students in the form of class averages and class mastery, but also in the form of individual trackers so that my students know where they stand, can be invested in their own growth, and know how to seek resources that will help them strengthen what is weak.

(2) Becoming a master of my content so that I can help students internalize enduring understandings of the material. Literacy was difficult for me to teach because I did not understand how to break down what it meant to be a good reader. It wasn’t until I picked the brains of some master fifth grade literacy teachers did I get a better understanding of the subject and how to teach it. However, by that time, two weeks had already gone by, two weeks where limited student learning was occurring. Now I have two years to really master fifth grade science content. That means knowing the content myself, seeing the different patterns in that pool of knowledge, being able to align fifth grade content with lower elementary and upper elementary content, being able to align fifth grade science standards with college readiness standards, and most importantly, how to break it down for my students. Throughout this year, I will be absorbing as much as possible about fifth grade science from from professional development sessions, textbooks, master teachers, you name it.

(3) Pacing my lessons so that students have the time to practice, practice, practice. My students over Institute succeeded when I gave them adequate time to master the objective through constant and consistent practice. However, when my lesson didn’t move fast enough, or when I let the class become disruptive, or when I wasted time because a procedure was not down pat, I lost valuable practice time and my students’ learning suffered. Going into my classroom I will invest in time-saving procedures such as how to get science materials quickly and safely, motivate 100% of my students to be engaged 100% of the time, and plan carefully to maximize student practice time.

Institute. It was tough. It’s over. And I come out a better teacher because of it.

Note: This was written on July 23rd, 2010, a week after institute ended, but finished on August 7th, 2010. New entries that cover the missing time period are upcoming.

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