Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Different Way to Look At Remediation

We have a "watch list" of students established for our grade level PLC. This is a list we began construction on the very first week of school, and have added names to it every single marking period. This list is comprised of students who are of concerns to us based on their ABC's, their potential of becoming dropouts. What does ABC stand for?

A  is for Attendance

  • Is this student tardy to class? Tardy to a certain class? Tardy to school? Do they have frequent absences? How come? What have we done to support their coming to school on time? 

B is for Behavior
  • How does the student behave in class? Does their behavior have an effect on their academic performance, or of the academic performance of those around them? Have they been suspended from school for an extended period of time? What interventions have been put in place to help correct their behaviors? 
C is for Classwork
  • How is the student performing academically? Are they failing a subject? Are they failing more than one subject? What are we doing to provide academic assistance?
Throughout the year, we provide interventions for these students. Their school counselor works with them to determine the reason for their frequent attendance issues and puts interventions in place to try to assist these students and their families. Functional behavior assessments are performed to determine when where the most concerning behaviors are taking place, and a team meets to develop new ways to address their behavior to prevent them from being suspended out of school. Also, teachers meet with the families of these students, as well as one another to develop a plan to make sure they are receiving the proper academic supports. 

In many cases, these interventions are often enough to provide support to our students. However, in working with students, there are always extenuating circumstances. In these cases, an extra level of support is required. 

My teachers and I are in the process of a program for our students who haven't responded to our interventions so far. There may be an underlying reason why they are not responding that we may not have determined yet, or they may have fallen so far behind at this point, that they feel that they can't come back. 

Success! Class
This is where Success! class comes in. At the end of the 1st semester, our team had nine students who were in severe danger of failing the grade level, and it was clear that additional intervention would be needed. The solution, trade nine weeks of electives for a study skills class. In order for this to happen, several conversations had to take place
  • The conversation with the teachers: "I'll be willing to take the time to facilitate the class, but I will need your commitment to take a day or two of your time during the marking period to help me out." 
    • Their response? Whatever you need! I'll be happy to help!
  • The conversation with year-long electives teachers: "I understand I am taking them out of your elective for a marking period. How can they make up the time?"
    • Their response? We would be happy to work with these kids during after-school researsals and advisory periods, as long as I get them back after the nine weeks!
  • The conversation with parents: Your child is in danger of failing the 6th grade. I would like to place them in a study skills class for the next marking period.
    • Their response? Yes...all nine of them...yes! 
Parents may not always be too keen about their child starting the year with a study skills class, but when it's crunch time, they are usually pretty receptive. 

Was There Success? 
For the next marking period, these nine students came to me every other day. We worked in a computer lab so that they had access to Edmodo and Google Drive. They had folders with daily agendas and missing work in them. Special guest teachers came by each class period to work with them one-on-one and in small groups. We organized binders, organized lockers, checked grades, made sure they had supplies, and ensured that any completed missing work ended up in the teacher's mailbox for grading. The result? Well, there is still one more week of Success left, but of the nine students, only two have failing grades at this point, and we have a deeper understanding of the interventions that need to be in place for these students to be successful. 

What Happens Next? 
Students were asked to create a three-slide presentation about themselves: how they work, and what they feel they need to be successful. Our staff members are going to be given the oportunity to look at these presentations and select one student to check in on. Since we fave a staff of over one hundred, I feel pretty confident that a match will be made. 

What I Learned
Many of the things that we did to help these students weren't necessairly academically related. Instead they were more relationship driven. We made sure they were organized, had all their supplies and materials, and recognized them for their accmplishments. They were given opportunities to be successful, and took us up on that opportunity! I can't wait to see how the mentoring component works out! 

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Art and Science of Teaching

All in all, I've done a pretty good job at conducting teacher observations this year. I've done even better with the feedback and reflection process thanks to PD360 and my iPad. In 90% of the observations I have conducted this year, I have been able to type up the entire observation and submit it while I'm sitting in the classroom. I then check my calendar in my iPad, and send the teacher an invitation to the post-observation conference that will take place in a day or two. Sure, this means I am spending more time in the classroom, but wait...isn't that the point anyways?

A couple of weeks ago, I observed a particularly awesome math class. What made it this way? It was an absolutely perfect combination of art and science. I don't mean it was an art class that explored science concepts. That would have been pretty awesome too. Actually it was a 6th grade math class. I truly believe that there is an art and a science to teaching, and just like the very best artists and scientists, the very best teachers are masters of their craft, and are passionate about what they are teaching.

The science of this lesson was evident in this teacher's content knowledge, organizational skills, creation of supplemental materials, and instructional delivery. What made this lesson a work of art is that she was absolutely cognizant of her students, and was able to switch gears in order to meet their needs. There was a point during the lesson during which students were using tracing paper to conceptualize rotation of a triangle on a coordinate plane. They were in the process of solving a problem during independent practice when one of her students offered another solution to the problem. Not only did she ask higher level questions to ensure the student was aware of the process, she also stepped aside to allow him to come up to the document camera so that he could show the class what he had come up with. You could see the lightbulbs going off in the heads of the other students in the class! They were asking questions about the student's method, and even offered alternative solutions of their own. Where some teachers may have just acknowledged the student's findings and moved on, this teacher recognized the contribution of this student and empowered him to share his discovery with the class.

Can you teach awesomeness? I'm not entirely sure. This teacher is absolutely passionate about her subject area, and that passion is infectious. This teacher also had the self confidence to release the responsibility of teaching and learning to her students. She combined her passion with her expertise, and as a result, something magical happened.

Passion + Expertise x confidence  = awesomeness

...or something like that!