Saturday, February 4, 2012

What Do I Do in the Classroom

As mentioned in the last post, I wanted to post what I have done in the class. Although I am no expert teacher, I am thrilled that my students have raised in scores (minus two, which one went down a point and another stayed the same). For working with at-risk categories of students, I have set my bar of expectation at that of any school with privileged students. I tell my students this. I tell them that I give assignments at higher levels and that I grade hard. My C is what an average student will get. You need to work hard to get an A. 

A number of parents have been unhappy that this is my teaching philosophy. In the past, many of the students, to my knowledge, received higher grade. Since the parents have realized my grading scale and teaching practices, students have risen to meet my standards. Over the year, more students are testing (on my tests) at B or A level than at the beginning. 

If it hasn't been apparent, I do teach at a charter school. I believe this is important to state. I believe charter schools take a different approach to teaching. Now, that be said, every classroom across America and the world, believes that each child should succeed. However, I think charter schools will take the approach to specify how they will do this across the entire school. Our school really stresses teaching all standards and having students know the standards and expectations.

Anyway, before getting off task, here is some of what I do already:

Areas that we have done strongly in, we have spent a lot of time on. In math, we have covered a lot of topics. I expect fact fluency. Each day, my students have either forty, 100, or 200 math facts to complete. My students also spend time on and use flashcards for fractions and the four operations when they finish the daily math assignments. I do not use flashcard games, but am hoping to implement some coming up. 

With the combined classroom, I taught the whole class at the beginning of the year on topics such as place value, rounding, and +10/100/1000s. When standards began splitting, I implemented four leveled math groups. Students went through rotations: lesson, Saxon (which we use the program), facts, and game (sometimes a center, sometimes an independent sheet). After winter break, I did grade level lessons with the other group doing all the seat work when not in lesson. Now, I am again teaching the whole group. We are covering geometry and I am giving third grade assignments and lessons to all students. 

In language arts, I teach each group separately for 45 minutes and have 30 minuets with both groups. This time is when the other group goes to lunch and have recess. I eat lunch during quiet time. We use Reading Street and I follow this, but teach additional activities in the progress of what I feel is right. I use literature circles, research projects, and standard-based lessons (especially with parts of speech and writing topics).

On that note, I do not find the writing portion of the Reading Street curriculum is all too impressive; so I stress creating writing assignments of my own creation. Sample prompts have included: What super power would you have? Write about what you would do with your super power. and An alien came down to Earth and you were the first human it saw. Describe Earth and humans to the alien. We do this almost every week. I do not grade them, but let the students know what I expect and offer comments. I always insist that they write two complete paragraphs at a minimum. We also do oral readings of works every once in awhile. This encourages students to write with purpose and write so they will be able to read the work later. 

We do a comprehension assessment every two weeks. This really gives the students practice with test-taking. I take full advantage or, which allows public to look at old state tests from around the country. New York, Massachusetts, and Flordia have some of the best selections, and I print a passage and its questions for my students to take. I have all students take a third grade test (as this is what is available at the sites). 

I send homework daily (expect one similar day a week), which allows students to practice more at home. Each is a front-to-back page. There is typically math and spelling/language arts. I occasionally send a science or social studies sheet home, but I try to do these in school. The students are also expected to read at least 15-minutes a night. We subscribe on, which is something that a number use at home. 

I have also used other resource books for language arts and math, including: Scholastic Success (Grade 4), Comprehensive Curriculum of Basic Skills (Grades 3-4), Spectrum Spelling and Math (Grades 2-3), and a few others. I give a mixture of these to my students, regardless of the grade students are in. I do need to get a hold of a few second grade books, I do have one big book of curriculum topics, but I can't remember the name off the top of my head!

I hope these help for others to find success in their teaching. If anything else, take a look at the links, they are very beneficial! 

Finished With NWEA Testing

Fofta! We're finished with testing! I do have one student who I accidently put the wrong test on for, so he will have to take the right one. I'm bummed because he did well. Hopefully, he will score just as well. I'm sure he will be at proficient, hopefully above like the other one too.

One score definitely shocked me. I hadn't thought one of them was as high as he was. It blew my mind! But, it helps to know where he tests! He is one of the students who rarely turns in work. In the first month I had him (he came in near the end of October), he turned in two assignments the whole time. Hopefully, he will now start pulling in some work. In language arts, he is still very below, but at least in math his is above expectations!

So, my scores have now almost completely switched with how many were well below and how many were above- which is fabulous! Of course, there are still a number that I will have plenty of remedial work ahead for!

I'm very pleased with the number that have gone up, but I am very concerned about those that are very low. There is one that is a recent immigrant to America and I am thrilled that she has drastically jumped; but I will understand when she is still in the low percentile in reading in the Spring. The others in reading and all in math are a concern. To keep the post from being too long or off topic, I will post what I will do after learning results here and what I already do in a separate post.

I admit that I have a harder time teaching language arts with my class. Because of a split classroom, I haven't had as much time with the language arts block. If it were one grade, I would have a full one-and-a-half hour block. As it is now, I probably have an hour per grade and half-an-hour for a combo lesson.

What I will do:

Since I have seen the results, I have been looking for ways to build comprehension and fluency. I have opted to change the format of my quiet time. Working with an Islamic student base, I have quiet time in the afternoon. If they want to pray, they can use this time to do so. It has also been a quiet work time, draw time, or reading time. I have changed this to the only option (other than praying) is reading time (or if they really haven't finished work, work time). I hope this will open up more excitement for reading- since being an enthusiastic reader will help build fluency.

I am also planning to implement centers. I haven't done this much. Working with second and third graders, it is harder to create center activities (in my opinion) that fits with both levels. But, I believe my low second graders would very much benefit from centers. I hope to create challenging ones for my upper level students too. I already have comprehension giant jenga and sight word regular jenga, but I need more!I discovered:, which is a collection of activities separated from K-1, 2-3, and 4-5. Best thing? They're free!

In math, I will stress word problems even more. This will hopefully build problem solving skills. Data Analysis is the other area of which my students will need more practice. I have not covered this topic with my third graders, so it will be a topic coming up soon (after geometry and measurement, the other area my students struggled with most). 

We have also gotten an account with, which will allow students to practice benchmark items in math. I aim to create remedial packets for my low students to take home and work on too. I will try to enlist help from parents to ensure that the skills expected of them will be practiced. I am a huge supporter of teacher-created items. I spend a lot of my time creating assignments and packets or of collecting items that will specifically allow students to practice benchmarks.

All of this will be quite a task, but I have a big focus on my class and trying to ensure each to succeed. I am crossing my fingers that the students will grow even more and all will rise up to meet the standards as best as they can!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

NWEA Testing

If you are unfamiliar with the NWEA tests, google them. They are a fantastic tracking system used around the country. Coupled with the fact that it is the same test taken across the grades, you can really see grade averages and student percentiles. At my school, we take the tests three times a year: fall, winter, and spring. The percentiles are judged on each term of where students should be at the beginning of the year, middle of the year, and end of the year.

My class is almost done with them. I have two left for math and four left for reading. I am sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for this to be over again. I am incredibly nervous! Yet, I'm enjoying it too. I love tests and assessments. I believe that is key to teaching to the test.

Right now, my predominately free and reduced priced, english as a second language, and minority ethnic group students have almost all improved. There was one that dropped a point in reading and one that stayed the same there too. Other than that, my math scores have rocketed!

I still have a few left that could add to these numbers- one of which that was not with us in the fall. 

There are a few kids that have a far way to go till they are proficient. That leads to this: who do you focus the most attention on?

I have read supporting evidence that for raising test scores, you should focus on the "bubble" students. These are the students who are just barely under the bar line. Of mine, that would be two in math and thee in reading. If they could manage to just catch onto a few more things fluently, they will be proficient and thus keep classes and schools with more students passing state testing.

But, there are also the students on the lowest levels. With a high-level of Level 1 ELL students, this is a harder task. These is one in particular that I am very concerned about. I try to set up a conference soon with the family and work on progress monitoring, additional comprehension assignments, and, hopefully, strong support system at home. 

Any other ideas, to keep students raising scores, please shout out ideas here! I'll share my own in the next future post.