Imagining one would work in a title 1 school with over 70% of its students receiving free or reduced lunch and most of the students are 2 academic grade levels behind.
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Many good ideas above!
You might want to check out the resources listed below, also. I teach kindergarten in a similar setting. Our district has been training teachers at all grade levels in these systems. The good thing about each one is that you can tailor it to fit your needs!
Hope this helps!
ASSESSMENT to drive instruction
In my opinion, I think making the subject fun and enjoyable for the students is imperative in order to allow them to cement the most information in their minds and achieve the most "academic growth" of which you speak. Games, video clips, anecdotes, activities, experiments, etc. can all be a source of this. There is no one "right" way to make a subject fun. (I say "in my opinion" about this precisely because I have heard the exact opposite opinion from other educators in the schools in which I have taught. And I will admit, ... academic growth can still occur without enjoyment. But how memorable can that possibly be?) However, I don't want to end this post without saying that "academic growth," although important shouldn't be placed above learning many nuggets of wisdom that can help a student through certain aspects of life. Traversing the halls of academia, while important (and some would say even necessary), should not be the most important aspect of education.
I taught for three years at a school very much like the one you are describing. One of the most important things I found to help the students achieve academically involved classroom management. Not only do you need a rapport with the students, but they also need clear, distinct, and fair boundaries. I had strict classroom rules and, in the beginning, the kids rebelled as much as they could. Once they realized I wasn't going to budge and I was really looking out for their best interest, they settled down and I had a lot less classroom disruption from behavioral issues. I also tried to encourage my students who were behind academically not to give up. Often, I saw students in the 11 and 12 grades who were reading on a middle school level. I tried to focus on growth with them rather than test scores. It is also important to help students understand why things are important to learn. My 9th graders couldn't figure out why they had to learn Shakespeare. I told them if they could read that then they could read anything. I returned to assignments and literature that they had previously found to difficult after our Shakespeare unit and they realized how much they had grown.
Building rapport, giving as immediate as possible feedback, and working together might get you great distance with these kids. You might watch Freedom Writers yourself for some inspiration. I have had classes similar to yours only they were the misfits of night school. These kids often feel that they aren't stupid, just misunderstood. When I treat them like human beings, like the mother that they long for, I often get more bang for my buck. I hope your year goes well.
If this were me, I would look first to find things that the students really love. Stories that are exciting, either for the English component or from history would be great. I would review using friendly competition in the classroom, perhaps in a Jeopardy-style game. My kids, of all levels, really enjoyed this. I also had my kids share their ideas, thoughts, and concerns (anonymously) on index cards, coloring them and hanging them up. They are great discussion starters and can be used as writing prompts. (See www.postsecret.com.) I make sure nothing is too "heavy:" my kids would write about sleeping with a nightlight, worry about friendships, clothes, etc. I would also get magazines (kids can bring them in or you can get them from hair salons and a doctor's office) and have kids write a simile for example, using a picture from a magazine, pasting the picture on the page, and having kids share them. It's a great learning tool. Kids of all ages love to draw and cut and paste. This is an awesome thing to engage kids.
I may undoubtedly sound as if I'm from the Dark Ages, but I think one thing would be to have mandatory Homework Hours for floundering students scheduled after regular school hours. This would (1) insure that time was spent under supervision on studies; (2) provide much more positive activity than would be otherwise engaged in; (3) impress an ever-growing number of generations of students in America that studies are their present role in life and that this is for a good reason that relates to their success or failure as adults.
One trap I feel many schools fall into is that they concentrate solely on testing results, without changing the overall approaches they have to students at all academic levels, and then are perplexed when the results don't improve. Schools need to have a mechanism in place to identify students who need help--be it extra tutoring, better class placement, specific learning plans for specific subjects, or a full scale intervention--and a consistent approach to finding and dealing with them. This, over time, builds a confidence in the student body (and their parents) that help is available and they are not just a student number being crunched through the system.
Whilst I agree that #4 is correct in stressing the need for a rigorous assessment system that can easily show advancement, at the same time I think it is always important for us as teachers to try and make sure the learners see the relevance of the learning we want them to do wherever possible. For example, in #3 the novel Speak has many links that could be easily established between the average high schooler and the characters in this novel. In the same way, showing learners how this learning is relevant to them and how they can use it will help ensure that learners learn.
The key to academic growth is assessment, both of the students and teacher. Teachers need to collect data in meanginful ways, not NCLB-enforced robotic data collection. You need to understand why you are collecting the data, what the data you get means, and what to do with it. Once you collect the data, you have to actually use that data to inform instruction. You use it to determine which students need interventions, and where the teacher can improve. This cannot happen without well-designed assessments and proper analysis and use of data.
I feel as though you are describing a district that I am vary familiar with. I found that finding a text with which the majority of my students could relate to (in one way or another) is the primary concern.
I taught the novel Speak last year. I incorporated the following three strategies in the unit: Cooperative learning, Integrating technology, and Discussion.
In regard to Cooperative learning, I find it very necessary that students be able to talk with each other about a text. They may open up more when I am not standing there over their shoulder and listening.
In regard to Integrating technology, I find it necessary to incorporate technology in the classroom. Students today are immersed in technology- simply looking at a book and taking notes does not cut it anymore. There needs to be more. I would go out on a limb to state that all students are familiar with technology. Therefore, to incorporate it in a novel provides the student with prior knowledge to build new knowledge upon.
Discussion is very important in any classroom. A teacher must be able to explain ideas that any student cannot grasp. Through discussion, students can learn more that what the words say on a page- they can question, they can adapt, they can learn.
At my school we have a lead teacher and while my school is not title 1, we do have our own challenges with students. The lead teacher was able to give several intervention resources that are research based, which is necessary for documentation. I hope this is found helpful.
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