In about 3 weeks, the first trimester is ending so I've decided to examine my classroom, my instruction, and my students to see what's working and not working so far.
Here's what's working and not working so far!
Integration of Reading, Research, Writing and Technology
I am very happy so far with combining my writing time block with my content area time block. Why did I do this? For many reasons. In the Language Arts Common Core State Standards for grade 3 (and grade 4 and 5 as well), there is a standard that seems to get little notice but is key to integrating the learning in a classroom: W.3.7. In this standard, students are expected to "Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic."
Now, if you combine this standard with some of the other standards for writing (such as using digital resources, taking notes, writing expository text, etc.), you can get more bang for your buck! Then layer it with a social studies or science unit and you have more integration. Because I'm in a 1:1 classroom with Chrome Books for each student, I've also integrated technology. I've developed Google Slide templates and Google Slides Interactive Digital Notebooks for the students to use with the above-mentioned standards. From one project, I can assess many standards, different curricular areas, and have grades for the report card. I think that integrating writing with the content areas has not only motivated my students to write but to use models that they see in their research to write better.
I've used ClassDojo.com now for the past 3 years. The first year it was not very successful because I relied solely on that and not a behavior clip chart. The second year, I combined ClassDojo with a behavior clip chart and individual behavior charts that each student filled out daily. On Fridays, the student took home the individual behavior chart and had parents review and sign it to bring back on Monday. My only problem last year was that I had about 9 out of 26 parents who I could NEVER get to sign up for ClassDojo. That and the fact that their children would "lose" or misplace their behavior charts made for a long year.
This year, I have all but 2 parents signed up and it is working much better. I also did something new. Each day, I award 1 ClassDojo point to each student who ends up on Green for the day, 2 points for Blue, 3 points for Orange and 4 points for Pink. I also deduct points for students on Yellow, Purple, and Red. That has really increased the effectiveness because no one wants to lose points. In my class, once you've reached 25 points, you can visit my treasure box! I still have other ways of awarding points for being responsible, being respectful and being safe (our 3 school and class rules).
For some reason, this year my grade level has the most RSP students, including 3 who are in my classroom. So far, they are doing fantastic! In California, if there are enough Special Education students (Speech, RSP, SDC) students in your school or district, they qualify as a subgroup that must be watched and monitored on the CASSPP, or California's version of the SBAC. I am confident that this year, these RSP students will show significant progress to score well on the SBAC. They are getting a lot of extra help during the day from the RSP teacher (pull out in the afternoon), small group instruction during RtI, and working with an interventionist on an as needed basis for math. All that, and GREAT parent support means that these students really are starting to put it all together.
What's NOT Working
This year, I have a more challenging group when it comes to math instruction. I have a core group of about 8 - 10 students (1/3 of my class!) that just does not do well on assessments. During math instruction, I have been monitoring their progress and they appear to get it during instruction. But then they take the chapter test and fail...and I mean fail with scores below 50%! In the past, we used to group the kids by current achievement level in math. So those students who struggled in math would be in a smaller group going at a slightly slower pace with more appropriate activities, while those who needed to be challenged were. We are no longer allowed to do this (long story that is nothing but bureaucratic education code). The grouping that we used allowed us to tailor math instruction to a smaller range of student achievement. We saw some very good results from this format. The groups were also fluid, so it allowed for students to move when achievement decreased or increased.
But now we are each left to teach to a wide range of abilities and achievement in our classes. To meet the needs of all my students, I use hands-on instruction, anchor charts, direct instruction, guided inquiry, etc. But the reality for those 8 - 10 students is that it is not enough! So now I'm trying to reconfigure my math instruction to target just those 8 - 10 students with small group follow-up with me, partner work and/or using our interventionist to pull out the really needy students for some one on one or small group tutoring.
For the first time in maybe 10 years, I had two parents who I did not hold parent-teacher conferences to go over their child's progress. I scheduled and reschedules their conferences. I even let the parents choose their times! But both were no shows. Stood up both times by both parents. This is very frustrating because both of these students are below grade level. Both are capable students, who with enough of the right kind of parental support would be on grade level. In the meantime, I have written up a summary of what I would have told the parents at the conference. I'll be sending this summary with the progress report and assessments home in the Parent Communication Folder that goes home on Thursdays. But, I will have to try again before report cards to reach out to these parents one more time to I try and schedule a face to face meeting. I'm also sure I will have to schedule more parent conferences with these two parents in late January for the At-Risk student conferences. Let's hope they show up this time!
Phantom English Language Learners
In California, the only way to identify English Langauge Learners is when the parent fills out a Home Language Survey at enrollment. Many parents, for whatever reason, fill it out incorrectly on purpose stating that the only language spoken at home is English when that is not true. Then these children are never identified as English Language Learners. They don't receive English Language Development that they need desperately. Instead, they are just mainstreamed. When that happens as a teacher I sometimes forget and in the middle of a lesson I realize that they are just not understanding because of limited English vocabulary. The state of California is looking at English Language Development differently now, and the new focus is to make EVERY lesson have a language focus so that English Language Development occurs all day long. But until I receive that training, I am relying on what I've been trained to do as a certificated bilingual teacher.
As a certificated bilingual teacher and I try to use as many strategies as I can to shelter the instruction and make input comprehensible. But in the end, if these students had been properly identified, they would be receiving even more targeted English Language Development. I have about 4 students who are one of these Phantom English Language Learners. Every year, it seems more and more of these students appear in my classroom and there's not much more we can do but to educate the parents to help us properly identify their children.
My school purchased a grade level license to spellingcity.com. This is the first year that I have used the premium version of the website. My grade level decided it was time to try something new with spelling. We really didn't have a spelling program, but we did have spelling lists and worksheets. At one time we also used a spelling contract, but parents seem too confused with that.
Now with spellingcity.com, we just upload a spelling list, select the type of spelling activities we want the kids to practice and assign it as homework for the week. The students also take the test online and it is graded immediately. Through the teacher dashboard, we can see who is logging on to practice and the test scores. Students use their Google accounts to access spellingcity.com online through a computer or the app. After working out a few kinks and glitches, students are now on board with spellingcity.com. The activities and motivation of the students so far look promising. I will update in the future if this is something that works or not for my class this year!