Monthly Archives: September 2017

All about “Ella”…The “plan” for gradual growth in meeting lofty expectations

4th graders started our new school year right away with a novel we are reading together.  (For more info see “The why behind the what…”) I set up a lofty set of expectations for our study of this novel with the intention of gradually building them to a high quality level. The bar is high, but I do not expect everyone to be at the top already…

First and foremost, I have minimum expectations because I recognize that not everyone will enjoy the reading. I get that and I do not want to completely turn a child off by forcing him/her to do every task. My hope is to inspire the highest level of participation possible. Here’s what you need to know about how I am gradually building what I expect to see.

  1. Week 1, chapters 1-3 (Sept 1) was about getting adjusted to this big routine. I was looking for each child to do the following: read the chapters and show effort in annotating.  That is all I focused on when I “checked” work. The primary goal was establishing that we need to come to class prepared with materials and prepared engage in a discussion with peers.  I gave students the Thursday before our “due date” to explore the options of a digital form with higher level prompts and a digital discussion of select text parts.  The hope was that they would try this on their own later because they enjoyed it. After a 20 minute or so discussion (which was recorded for the routine establishment) in class on Friday, students got onto their Chromebooks to answer the “exit ticket” question. They only got 20 minutes to respond because I am focusing on building stamina and fluency with these types of responses. I did not expect any child to write a full well-developed response at this time. It is about building this skill over time with repetition and practice. I have told the children that their skill here should be improving gradually as their “typing” becomes more automatic as well. No stress in this…because we will learn over time. In fact, I tell each child to put “NF” before submitting so that they let me know they felt they had more to say but ran out of time. Not doing this tells me that a child felt they did “their best” and I should grade it with full expectations of it being a top quality response. Honestly, no child should be at the “I think I’m done” level yet because I encourage them to use every minute possible to strengthen their response.
  2. Week 2, chapters 4-6 (Sept 8) I checked again to see if each child brought his/her book because coming prepared for anything in life is important. Taking ownership for knowing what you need, when you need it is important. I also took photos of annotations made to examine for “quality”. That is the next step. Since students get a task guide with prompts for discussion, I am looking for effort to attend to these prompts to be made. I will be following up through individual ‘conferences’ on the “quality” level.  Again students discussed for 20 minutes and completed a typed “exit ticket” response, but I’ll revisit those later as we examine ways we can improve. I also reinforced how personal responsibility can be taken when getting the “extras” they might need. For example, I referred to a “basic motifs in traditional literature” chart on their task guide. While I was late linking this in our Google classroom, I was surprised at the number of children who did not even bother to try to access it OR ask me in class about it prior to the discussion.  I told the children that if they couldn’t access the HyperDoc because they do not get time or their parents have rules/guidelines about access at home (which I fully support), then they can always ask me for a copy of helpful items. I will not make mass copies to be left behind or lost but am always willing when asked. Therefore this week focused on “owning what we are responsible for having prepared and for bringing it to class”.
  3. Week 3, chapters 7-9 (Sept 15) will be about reinforcing what is conferenced about in regards to “quality” in annotating. Again I will take photos of notes to hold students now accountable for doing what we discussed together. I will also “grade” the exit tickets for the first time to give students an idea of what they are doing well and so that they can start setting goals for improving. We are learning a “RACES” format, building on what I taught last year with Answer-Cite evidence-Explain how evidence ‘proves’ or supports answer. R is about restating the question (or using words from the question in a well written answer) and S is about self-checking. Here’s the rubric I use (note NO student is expected to get full points now!)Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 12.12.55 PM.png
  4. Week 4, chapters 10-12 (Sept 22) all previous expectations will be reinforced and I will now start turning my attention to ‘quality’ in discussion. This means I will need to listen to 8 separate groups of recorded discussions at 20 minutes each. As 3rd graders, we spent a great deal of time modeling how to communicate effectively and to follow these “rules for discourse”. I can listen closely to the level of participation each student engages in as well. I will conference with students individually the week after to set goals based on my observations.Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 12.23.00 PM.png
  5. Week 5, chapters 13-15 (Sept 29) we will look at the “full package” as this marks the end of the “interim grading period”. That is, what level are they consistently working towards. This is where I will start pointing out whether just the “minimum” is being done or extra effort is being put in. (I track who is doing the “extra” all along). While I will encourage students to “do more” on their own, at this point students who have not taken any of the extra options will start doing select ones in class so that I can make sure learning goals are met.
  6. Week 6, chapters 16-18 (Oct 6) while expectations established continue, I plan to have students use reading to start planning their first response letters as 4th graders. I will be helping students plan and work on these letters in class. Class discussions will most likely be impacted by the LES walk-a-thon and may not take place at all.
  7. Week 7, chapters 19-21 (Oct 13) students will be “juggling” reading expectations along with response letters. This week will give students a chance to feel some pressure with having the extra responsibilities so while I will tell them I am not “letting up”, I secretly will be anticipating some “I didn’t get time to…” comments.
  8. (Ella takes a break due to early release on Oct. 20th and to let students focus on catching up with any comprehension lessons as well as doing independent response letters; I anticipate week 7 will push them hard!)
  9. Week 8, chapters 22-24 (Oct 27) after having the week “off” students should return to full expectations (my hope is that they learned some lessons from managing adding letters to the novel expectations; more than likely a few will learn about “procrastination”!)
  10. Week 9, chapters 25-27 (Nov 4) full expectations with emphasis on “pushing yourself” to do the extra options. We will be examining our progress with “exit ticket” responses to see the progress we have made over time.
  11. Wrapping up, chapters 28-epilogue: we will be doing some special activities with the entire book for the rest of Nov. and into Dec. More info will come on this as I evaluate needs and learning goals. The next novel will be given to students prior to winter break with those expectations starting when we return in January.

Establishing Routines and Expectations

As I get to know my new 3rd graders and we start to build relationships, our first weeks together are mostly about establishing solid routines and expectations. We have finished 3 weeks of school, but I have only gotten to spend around 7-8 hours with them. (Students spend the first week in their homeroom classrooms and then have at least 2 days of MAP testing that most likely overlapped their scheduled time with me). This means it takes me even longer to get our classroom running smoothly.

First and foremost, I help the children adjust to the very different environment. Not just a physical difference, but a MINDSET difference. In order to challenge the needs of gifted learners at a variety of levels, I have to do things very, VERY differently. I have to provide choices and learning OPPORTUNITIES. I know that not every child will take every opportunity (and I would not expect them to), but they exist for those that have the drive to seek more or for those with different learning styles and preferences. I know that gifted doesn’t necessarily mean “strong” in language arts as well, so while I offer tasks that really stretch and push students as readers and writers, I also let students know that doing the “minimum” is OK (because my minimum is above and beyond typical grade level expectations) but the minimum will be done very well to the highest level of quality for each student.  (Parents concerned about “handwriting” note that I focus on spacing between words for legibility and correct letter size use; capitals vs. lower case letters used correctly. I am not going to stress any student out about beautiful “penmanship”).

I set a HIGH bar and guide students to reach it. I will give tasks that have a standard to work towards. This often throws off children who are used to being “perfect” or having something be “just right” or “acceptable” the first time. We are going to learn and grow by doing.  I told one of my students yesterday, it is like when people start learning to drive a car. After being given lessons or learning about driving from reading about it, you learn by just doing it, with support and guidance. I don’t expect students to do something “perfect” right away, and quite honestly, if they did, then the task wasn’t challenging enough.  This mindset is different for parents too, as they are expecting their child to get “full credit” or “top marks”.  Please do not expect that of your child in my classroom. How can I push and grow your child if we seek to have them do everything perfectly the first time? Again that means the task was too easy.

When it comes to grading… well, what matters is the progress a child makes and where they are at the end of a “grading period” so to speak.  I look at growing and progressing an individual child’s skill set, and while I have some standards in mind of where a child should be, I never compare children. Nor should parents. Each child is going to have different needs and I’m going to work to meet them. We will have goals that we set and adjust as we go.  (If you are concerned about “grading” note the “scale” I use; I put one number on your child’s report card 3 times.  This number is the result of my considering your child’s overall work ethic, skill development, and progress over time).

Gifted Reading Grading Scale
1 (Needing heavy support and adaptation) 2 (Working with guidance; working at grade level expectations) 3 (Satisfactorily achieving; working above grade level expectations) 4 (Consistently going WELL above and beyond)

Points… in my room I use “points” to track visible effort. Simply put, I cannot figure out what is going on in a child’s mind unless they note it. Some children are more inclined to share their thinking in a visible way than others. When you see “+10” on a piece of student work, it is NOT a grade! Feel free to ask me anything about something your child does and what goals I might have for your child; not “how can they get more points on this or that”? POINTS ARE NOT GRADES.

Feedback…This is CRITICAL to growth (and if you are interested I wrote an advice column for teachers on using feedback for OCTELA). I have already told my 3rd graders that I will put comments on work intended to help them grow and do better. As much as possible I try to make comments on work and if I take the time to do so, I expect students to read them. This will become very important as we move into specific aspects of our routine intended to build and develop written response skills. Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 11.07.54 AM.png

Now routines… I have an extremely complex routine structure in my room because I have to account for learners who do the minimum and learners who strive to take on any challenge they can find. It takes time to unpack and introduce each individual component. Right now I’m focusing on independent choices students have through “stations”. These are tasks that focus on different types and styles of texts and give students choice.  So far we have learned “Metacognition”, “Listening”, and “Newsstand”. Stations are more about giving students a structured opportunity to interact with and think about texts in the classroom. Eventually we will learn about our full “menu” of learning options.

Metacognition is “thinking about one’s own thinking” and it is pretty flexible…choose any text of interest and annotate part of it.  We started the year learning about how we can “leave tracks of our thinking” behind when we read.  Of course we talked about how we do NOT do this for everything we read! By teaching the children to start annotating when they read, I am starting to build some “note-taking” foundations as well as help students pay attention to their “inner voice” when they read. The goal is to share what we are learning to be “quality” thinking. I want students to really pay attention to smaller parts of text or images that resonate with them in some way. There is no “correct” way to do this. However I do encourage and develop more “thoughtful” responses.  The children then use SeeSaw to take snapshots of their annotations in texts and upload them for me to review.  Parents can request access to their child’s annotations on request.  

Listening is specifically targeted at listening skills. I have iPods with short stories and the text is NOT available. I find that my gifted students have learned to tune out or “turn off” their “auditory” receptors because they get bored with repetition or when something they have already learned is being presented. In addition, they often do not listen attentively because they have learned their natural abilities often serve them well to just “figure things out”. I focus on building active listening skills. For this station, students listen to a text and during or after they are to retell or recount it. (This is a 3rd grade standard). This means that they tell the events of the text again with many details and it differs from a summary, which is short and sweet. In 1st and 2nd grade, students should have been given DRA assessments and prior to “level 28” they are asked to orally retell the text to their teacher. (Level 28 and beyond requires students to write in response to a text read). If they do not give many details, they are prompted to “tell more” orally. I take this skill and push it a bit differently.  Here’s is the student “tutorial”: Note that the video was made before I started making “sketching” an option. Many of the children have preferred this! Bottom line, it is about listening for details!

Newsstand focuses on nonfiction texts through the use of periodicals. I have a collection of child-centered magazines as well as a large collection of National Geographic and NatGeo Traveler (for those that need a “vocabulary” challenge). Here is the student tutorial:  Through this station we are learning what a publication is and how it contains “articles”.

This brings me to some expectations I have. I taught 2nd grade for 10 years (and 1st three years) before moving to a year in 3rd grade ELA and then into gifted reading. I know that conventions of capitalization and punctuation have been taught; I was firm on holding my 2nd grade students ACCOUNTABLE for applying these skills in all written work and would return work until correct conventions were applied so that these skills became a HABIT.  There is no reason for a 3rd grader to use capital letters within words in sentences. There is no reason a 3rd grader should not capitalize the first word of sentences, the word “I”, or their own name! Yet I see happen with alarming frequency. When work is returned to children to correct these things, they are learning to make these conventions habitual. Therefore, my students are starting to learn that I will give them work back to “correct and return”. Here is a “checklist” of expectations that are in our ELA standards by grade levels:

ELA conventions checklists.JPG

Therefore I will hold students accountable for K-2 expectations and start guiding their use of conventions beyond. It is my goal to reinforce that self-editing means you take pride in your work before you turn it in!

As we learn more of our routines, the expectations will steadily increase. That bar will be raised. I will help children reach the high goals I set for them by giving them feedback and holding them accountable.