New Year: It really is new (even for teachers!) (Part 1)

Hi teachers!

Okay, you made it through the first trimester, and have rested up during winter break.  Even though it’s not a new school year, the advent of 2015 really is a chance to start fresh with your kids.  If you were in a rut with your teaching before break, you can start an interesting new approach.  If your kids were acting up, you can press the reset button and fix your classroom culture.  This post will deal mostly with academic issues, and my next post will talk about class culture.

The key is to set goals and make plans.  Right now, that might be the last thing you feel like doing–you’re still on vacation, forgoodnesssake!–but you will not regret it when you see those smiling faces on Monday.

To get ready for the new year, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What kind of progress have we made toward our goals for the year?  What do we still need to do?
  2. How did my kids do academically in Trimester 1?  Which kids?  How do I know?
  3. What felt great about our classroom this fall?  Why was it so great?
  4. What definitely did not work this fall?  How do you know?

If you never set year-long goals to begin with, now is your chance!  Check out your district pacing guide and whatever assessments your school uses to measure progress at the end of the year.  For mastery tests (like, usually, math), set a goal that your class will average at least 80% on the final.  For progress tests (like the DRA, Fountas & Pinnell, or other forms of running records), set individual goals based on your students’ current performance: students at or above grade level should grow at least six months between now and June; for students below grade level, set a more ambitious target–I recommend one year of growth between now and June.  Define measures of success that are meaningful, rigorous, ambitious, and feasible for you and your students.  You’ll probably need one each for reading, math, and writing, but you can include other subjects as appropriate.

Next, check your data: which kids have been making progress or scoring well so far?  Which kids are not making progress?  In which areas?  You’ll have to look carefully to diagnose the underlying problems:

  • If a kid is struggling in math, is it because he doesn’t get the new concepts?  Is he missing prerequisite skills?  Does the assessment allow him to show what he knows, or are language or literacy barriers hiding his true skill?
  • If a kid is struggling in reading, is it because of decoding, fluency, or comprehension?  If decoding, what skills is she missing?  If fluency, does she read too fast or too slow, or without expression?  If comprehension, is she missing knowledge of story structure?  Does she know that reading is supposed to make sense?  Or is she simply new to English and therefore not yet able to comprehend English text?

Then, you make a plan.  You need to write down on a calendar when you will teach what and to whom.  Some standards and skills can be addressed whole-class; others will need to be taught in small groups, to meet individual needs.

You and your kids can make a ton of progress between now and June, if you set goals, diagnose gaps, and plan instruction!  2015, here we come!

Our language arts skills tracker! The title says “Help our garden grow,” and the flower display our class average on each language arts test.