Sophomore results come back in June for the Educational Course Assessment (ECA) Test they take in May. Students learn if they have passed the graduation test or if they will have to retake it to reach that goal.
On the first day of the school year, I write three goals on the chalkboard to challenge the classes: 1) 100% of my students will pass the ECA in May. 2) Students will write with voice and passion. 3) Students will participate in recreational reading from my classroom library for extra credit with the goal of becoming lifelong learners.
As a teaching consultant for the National Writing Project (NWP), writing is the most important focus in my classroom. Students use word processing programs daily to complete work for my class. Microsoft Word is on the computers in my classroom mini-lab, but students may use any word processing program to type their writing.
Students write poetry weekly using many different types of poetry - pantoum, free verse, sonnets, black line poems, limericks, etc. They do fifteen minute quickwrites on a topic of their choice. I give them a list of possible topics, but it is an open-ended assignment as long as what they write is school appropriate. Through this assignment I learn things about my students that they would never talk about in class, and they improve their writing fluency so that by May they are able to write a four-page ECA essay in fifty minutes.
Students write different types of essays - persuasive, narrative, expository, and descriptive. No one knows which type of essay students will be asked to write in May so they learn to write all four.
Students also write research papers on a topic of their choice. They use the online Indiana State Library Inspire for research. They use Google or Bing to find online articles, websites, pictures, and video clips. Students use Endnote.com to organize their research material. They create a multi-media classroom presentation which may include Presi or Powerpoint.
Analytical thinking and reading informational text is an important standard. Students write compare and contrast essays after watching a youtube video of Martin Luther King's Letter From Birmingham Jail and reading Antigone in the class textbook. They make Venn diagrams and study examples of other compare and contrast essays found on the Internet.
Students learn to write Constructive Response Answers while reading novels. The short answer questions have replaced multiple choice tests in recent years and although it takes much longer to grade CRA, the improvement with student writing makes it worth the time. The sophomores are more prepared for the short answer questions on the ECA as a result of this practice.
Our school improvement plan includes using one short answer question on all tests in all classes throughout the school to help improve student writing.
Parent involvement is an essential part of the learning process. Through our student data system, Harmony, teachers post lesson plans daily and student progress reports are available online 24/7. I sent home letters at the beginning of the year asking parental permission for students to read the books in my classroom library. I also communicate with parents about missing assignments, tardiness, discipline issues, attendance, and progress on the Acuity pilot tests that are predictive of the student success on ECA in May.
Shoals Jr./Sr. High School is part of the Indiana Department of Education pilot Acuity testing program this year. Students take three predictive tests to indicate the areas of weakness and I may create custom tests online selecting questions for the areas in which students need to improve. I may also choose tier 1, 2, 3, and 4 online tutorial resources and assign them to students. Although the tests themselves have worked very well this year, students have had trouble connecting to the tutorial resources. Brain Pop is one of the suggested resources and it tends to lock up on our school network. So, I have not been impressed with the tutorial section of the online program.
In April, I plan to send a summary of the growth (or lack of growth) that students have experienced with the three tests and explain to parents which areas students have strengths or weaknesses prior to the ECA test. The online test predicts who will pass and who will fail the ECA. Since this is the pilot year and the first time I have used Acuity with classes, I do not know yet how accurate the predictions will become. I do like the data assessments of the online program and the individual reports I can generate and print for the students. Since the analytical and informational text reading scores have been areas of weakness (which I would have predicted without the online test from my teaching experience), I have focused on those areas throughout the year.
Collaborative learning and sharing is an important part of my class. Students work in groups of three and then circulate the classroom reading and making comments on written work that the other groups have completed (using post-it notes). They receive class points for participation and writing. Whole class discussion builds on what each group has to say about a specific analyzed writing.
Rose-Hulman provides a free moodle system called PRISM, which is funded through a grant from the Lilly Foundation. Our classroom moodle is password protected and available for students to use from any computer, or even their phones. Students participate in discussion forums about the seven themes of To Kill A Mockingbird. They take quizzes and multiple choice tests. Sophomores write essays and attach the Microsoft Word document to the moodle topic where I may grade it online.
Students learn 500 SAT vocabulary words during the year utilizing Vocabulary Videos that are available online and then taking Vocabulary Video quizzes on the class moodle. They also work in collaborative groups on vocabulary building activities which include many different forms of questions. Sometimes they fill vocabulary words into a fractured fairytale. Prefixes, suffixes and root words may be the focus of another assignment. Filling vocabulary words into blanks like Mad Libs is another format available. At the beginning of the year, they start out writing their own sentences in groups using the words for the week.
Ted Talks are an important venue for educators. Classes watch a variety of talks ranging from creativity, to doodling, to never giving up in life.
After the ECA is over, students work on multigenre blank books of their writing throughout the year. Some students opt to write additional poetry, short stories, or articles. Students may create a theme for their book and design really awesome covers. The books are purchased online. Talented art students sometimes do cartoons, drawings, or pop-ups to showcase what they have written during the year. This is my favorite project and is the most fun to grade because every book is different. It always makes me feel like students have accomplished a lot and that they will take those skills with them as they continue their journey to become lifelong learners.
The philosophy survey that I took indicated my top three methods are Progressivism, Existentialism, and Essentialism. Since I was a Guidance Counselor for twenty-five years of my career, teaching the essential elements of academic and moral knowledge falls naturally into my philosophy of education. I believe in a strong core curriculum and high academic standards for students. I believe that if I set the bar high and expect great things from my classes that they will rise to meet the challenge. Of course, I do not have success with every student, but my goal is still 100%.
I believe in Piaget's theory that a learner cannot master a skill until he is ready to do so. I am concerned that we may be pushing students to do more complex learning skills at earlier ages before they are ready to move on. We need to consider where the child is in the learning process.
The learner is the central focus of classroom activities. Emphasis is on the future of preparing students to be independent thinking adults. The school corporation goal is for the sophomores to pass the ECA. In order to write well, students must experience relevant hands-on learning.
I teach all sophomores which includes the top students in the class and the mainstreamed special education students. The students are divided into classes that are not labeled high ability or remedial, thus each class has representatives from each tier. Some of my tests are differentiated so students may choose to write an AP essay or a less challenging written project. Much of what I teach includes pushing all students to master skills to pass the ECA and graduate.
My parents were both teachers and I grew up in a home that valued education. One of my earliest memories is going to the public library to select books to take home and read when I was about three years old. I can picture vividly climbing the tall cement library stairs and reaching up to the counter where the librarian would stamp the books.Today teachers face challenges that were not even imaginable when I was a student. Students do not communicate face to face like they used to. They now "talk" to each other via text messages, Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, videos, youtube, and digital pictures. Cell phones and the Internet have changed communication. If they don't see an entertainment value in something, they don't embrace doing it even though many of the skills they will need in the future are "boring" now. Online bullying, pseudo online personalities, digital pictures, videos, and higher suicide rates among teens all concern me. Yet I believe that the future will continue to provide positive opportunities and jobs for today's youth that were not available in past decades. Education is still the