Right now I’m struggling with two things. One is pacing. The second is data.
On the first challenge, my lessons are taking twice as long as I plan them to take. I think the next step is to sit down with someone, go through a lesson plan together, and then have them observe to see what I can do to be more effective with my time in the classroom. In fact, I’m going to email my TFA MTLD* and ask him to do that right now.
Also a concern with pacing is that my long term plan (was) 76 days over the amount of time I have with my students. However, thank goodness for good coaches. My science department head sat down with me this past Thursday, showed me how I needed to prioritize my time with each unit, and started me off on the right track in terms of fixing my long-term plan so that my students will master the standards they need to master by the end of the year.
One thing that we did together that was really powerful, was to completely take out the 21 days I had originally scheduled for “STAAR** Olympics”, which is a really contrived way to get students excited to do test prep. Basically, I had originally planned that for a whole four weeks, my students would be rotating through stations that would help them remember all the topics we’ve learned and would give them opportunities to answer a bunch of test items. I did this last year, and the kids loved it because they worked with computers at one station, earned “TAKS bucks***” which they could use at the “TAKS store”, and also had responsibilities like “Tutor” and “Store Manager”.
Yes, my students did well last year, and yes, I’m sure the test prep helped some of them, especially the computerized independent practice and intensive after school tutoring, but honestly, test prep is a shortcut for what really should be meaningful cumulative review throughout the year and targeted tutoring and small group instruction. So, while scary, I am fully stepping away from test prep and instead, teaching until that last day before TAKS, and teaching right on afterwards, too. State tests weren’t a big deal for me in my high performing public school, nor is it a big deal for any other high performing school, so why should it be for my students? Yes, they should take it seriously, and yes, I think the testing data is necessary, but because I’m not going to receive the STAAR test results in time to inform my own teaching, I’m not going to let it distort what our class is here to do this year, which is to grow as scientists, be Knowledge Creators, and be interdependent.
The level of rigor I’ll hold my students to will be much higher than their performance on the state standardized test.
Finally, my second, and related challenge, is the effective use of data to track my student’s growth and help them reach and exceed mastery in all of their objectives. I’m doing a much better job this year of challenging my highest performers, because even those who’ve memorized a lot of science don’t know everything in an inquiry based classroom, but I am still not being effective with data. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I have yet to build a feedback system that I am satisfied with, that:
- Gives informal feedback on a daily basis
- Gives formal feedback on a weekly basis
- Has structures for individual check-ins and growth meetings
- Has structures for student self-proposed assessments
- Requires only a sane amount of grading and data entry (Because honestly, my time is better spent doing things that require thinking. Why we don’t have this system automated yet drives me batty on a daily basis).
- Small group tutoring every Wednesday during PE
- Having individual conferences with at least three students every day during hallway time / lunch time / homeroom / team time (all those little moments of time throughout the school day) <– and having a tracker for this, too.
- Just committing to giving my exit tickets, regardless of if the lesson is finished or not.
- Getting my computer lab set up so that I can administer in class CFUs and exit tickets and get an automatic grade report.
- Creating a visible class tracker where students can track their mastery on each objective. This is almost done, I just need to figure out how/when students will put up their mastery stickers. Ah ha! Maybe during those last 7 minutes of class when they should be working on their exit ticket, reflecting on the day, and reviewing their notes.
*MTLD = Manager of Teacher Leadership Development, i.e. my TFA instructional coach
**STAAR = State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, Texas’s new state test.
***TAKS = Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, Texas’s old state test. “TAKS Bucks” are just a made-up currency that students could use to buy things like popcorn, candy, small toys and trinkets.