New Term, Old Challenges

It is the beginning of a new school term, and weighing on many people’s mind are the various challenges that will come as the term progresses. Paramount on tenth grade teachers’ minds in Florida will be the Florida Standard Assessment in English Language Arts Reading and Writing. The scores of these two assessments are combined and student achievement is measured and reported as levels of achievement from one through five. Earning a level three, according to state authorities, indicates that a student has demonstrated the proficiency required in reading and writing to earn their high school diploma. Yearly, ELA and Reading teachers explore different ways to prepare their students.

There is no silver bullet, but after sixteen years of teaching ELA or Reading, I can tell you a thing or two about teaching content while preparing students for the state’s standardized test. Here are some best practices:

Find out what the test entails and incorporate mini-lessons to address these tasks.
Student literacy experiences should be preparing them for lifelong learning. Lessons should follow a focus calendar that addresses the key standards that the school district recommends but also include explicit lessons that address the standards. Therefore, when students learn to write a paragraph, it is both because this skill improves their lifelong communication skills but also prepares them to respond effectively to questions posed to them on standardized tests.

Set up a focus calendar to make sure you cover every strand that will be tested.
Without specific planning to address key items that will be on the test, you will miss addressing key items. Just as bad, you may belabor content that students already know. Every strand should be addressed, but not all of them need the same amount of time emphasis.

Give frequent mini-assessments to check if students are understanding the concept.
In order to know if you should enrich or remediate, you have to know how well students are learning. Mini-assessments are necessary. These should be weekly, but sometimes will be daily or even a couple times during class. Too much testing you say? These assessments are not high stakes. You could check for understanding with one question. For example, you ask: What is the main idea of this paragraph? Based on the answer most students give, you will know if you should reteach, or maybe you only have to reteach two or three.

Create enrichment work for those who get the concept the first time.
Some students learned some things before they sat in your classroom. Don’t waste their time. Challenge them using various strategies. For example, have them help another student, let them work ahead, let them demonstrate to the whole class, etc.

Conduct remediation for those who need it.
More often than not, several students will not grasp a concept the first or sometimes even the second time. Make special aim to meet with those students. This does not have to be a formal meeting either. For example, After assigning a writing topic, pass by the student who you know might have some difficulty. The two or three minutes you use to help this student get started could be that student’s remediation lesson. Move to other students and find out how they are doing too.

Incorporate the use of technology.
Put technology to good use. It is amazing how technology can be used for both remediation and enrichment. Used wisely, technology can be an extension of you as a teacher, enabling students to even teach themselves with you serving as their guide or facilitator.

Aim to engage students
If students are not engaged they will not learn. Be cognizant of students being physically in the classroom but out of it completely. Strive to find ways to capture students’ attention using various strategies. Quite often, no one strategy will work all the time, and anytime you are running out of ideas, skim through a good book on the teaching of your content, or go on the internet to find many examples of strategies to use.

Resolve to make this a better year. Then, search your toolbox for all the best tools. Then, seek more tools—preferably some you have never used before. Take it from someone who had done this for a few years: effective teaching tools can be copied, borrowed, bought—whatever it takes to help students satisfy state requirements and advance learning goals.