What is student achievement anyway? When you’re looking at the umpteenth school improvement report, crunching your student data or figuring out who goes into the latest round of intervention, do you ever find yourself asking that question?
I do. And lots of folks we work with are asking the same question.
I think it’s time for some collaboration around what achievement REALLY is, looks like, smells like, tastes like, feels like. As I’ve been mulling this over, I’ve had five statements rolling around my head about student achievement – I wonder if some thinking around these statements will help us decide upon a common definition about student achievement.
Take a peek…
Student Achievement Fact #1: It’s not about the test, but it’s about the test.
Big idea: Our tendency is to think of “the test” as some looming ogre or a kind of thing that is there to judge, hire/fire, skip grades/hold kids back, scare the heck out of my students and me kind of deal. Well, I have seen teachers who have used the test as a MOTIVATOR for their kids and even themselves! In the end, our teaching has to align with some common measure in order to determine how useful and helpful our instruction has been. Without a common measuring tool, there is no way to measure whether students are on target for long-term success. Just like the height/weight chart at the doctor’s office gives a pretty accurate prediction about important measurements, so should “the test”.
I often say, if we don’t stand for a high standard, then we’re automatically defaulting to the low standard. Eek!
Student Achievement Fact #2: Kids who are working at the appropriate achievement level should be able to AT LEAST past the test.
Big Idea: Kids who are solid on skills pass the test. Period. Kids who are not solid on the skills, drive the teachers to do crazy things like cram before the test, think that testing at a certain time of the day is going to be the difference between a “pass” and “fail” performance. The bottom line is this: Get your kids solid on the skills and you don’t have a thing to worry about on “the test”. I’ve seen this in practice a whole slew of times.
Student Achievement Fact #3: It’s about a pattern, not an event.
Big Idea: Kids who are solid on skills perform at a high level regularly – they have a history of past and more recent success on skill-based tests. So when it comes time to take “the test”, we know who is going to do well and who is not – – the writing is on the wall LONG before we even take “the test”. I don’t know about you, just because I did a 5k over Thanksgiving, doesn’t make me a “runner”. It was an event, believe me…not a pattern.
Student Achievement Fact #4: It’s not about the standards, but it’s about what the standards produce in the end.
Big Idea: Lots of folks are fussing and fighting about “what” to teach – and I think it’s a huge waste of time and a huge morale killer amongst education professionals. Here’s the deal: the standards that we are held to, IF TAUGHT THOROUGHLY AND SKILLFULLY, will produce students who are confidently mastered on important skills. We must keep our eyes on the prize and base all of the skill-related work that we do firmly rooted in the idea that “I am teaching you to do xyz so that you can do abc” – random skill practice doesn’t lead to standard mastery. By linking everything we do to the bigger, end result-kind of success for kids, we’re going to see a pay-out.
Student Achievement Fact #5: It’s not about the past, it’s about the future.
Big Idea: Get over what didn’t work in the past or what should’ve happened in the past and get to teaching. What you do tomorrow in class has a bigger impact on the future than what happened yesterday or last year. We should always operate in this mindset: What I’m doing right now with my students is the most powerful thing I could be doing with my time.
In the end – teaching really counts!!!!
Are there other “facts” that support different schools of thought than what you’ve just read?
Certainly! But, where I see so much of our “achievement calibration” work to be done is in the idea of mindset. In fact, I just emailed back and forth with a teacher that we support and her final words were: These kids WILL make benchmark…if it kills me! Now that’s one strong mindset! (She was also reaching out for very specific support, which tells you something about her commitment to her practices)
So, as you mull over the Facts above, I encourage you to not think of every way that I’m off base, obsess over every time-crunched moment of your instructional day, or every reason why this or that won’t work with your students.
But instead I’d like you to repeat this a few times: I wonder what would happen if…
And finish that sentence with something like this:
I wonder what would happen if…I used the test as a tool to help me figure out what I need to emphasize next week?
I wonder what would happen if…I taught everyday like all of my students were poised to pass the test?
I wonder what would happen if…I established a pattern of success from the very first test at the beginning of year with every student?
I wonder what would happen if…I corrected my students’ assessments and imagined them as 22 year olds, ten years from now?
I wonder what would happen if…I let go of the past results about my students and focused on what they can do today.
What do you think would happen?
For those of you who know me, you know I’m obsessed with simple goals that lead to big results. In fact, I just guest authored a blog over the holidays where the basic premise was this: we have everything we need, we just need to to simply and faithfully use it!
So, the fact that it’s 2013 already (gulp!) and we’ve got to get started on our big plans, tells me that the goals don’t mean a thing unless we have a route to get to ’em!
So, what we’ve been using regularly with our clients is a very simple 3-tiered goal setting sheet. (I’ve scanned in the copy of one I was just sending my client in preparation for our upcoming work together!
Basically, what we do to create our pathway for success is set goals that are broad and then funnel very tightly down into personal goals to be implemented right there in the classrooms. Annnnnnnnd…voila! Goals are met!
So, where do you get started?
One of our clients chose, “Every classroom will increase student engagement by 15% in the first trimester” as Goal #1 for “Program Implementation Goals”. Then each site got together and mirrored their goal #1 from the district’s #1 goal at the very top. One of the schools made their site goal, “We will implement 2 main structures 5xs each daily in order to increase our student engagement in reading and math: Think, pair, share and response journals”.
Then after each site makes their site instructional goals, each individual teacher then creates his or her personal goal related to the district and site goal.
Here’s the cool thing: Without focusing on 10 zillion different things, EVERYONE is working toward the same goal!
The other cool thing: The work is TAILORED to the site and the individual teacher so that we’re not duplicating work that has already been done or missing big pieces because we’ve avoided customized goals
Yet another cool thing: The work is tailored to reach directly into the classroom with the students. Too many reforms are focused “above” the classroom and never funnel in. By ensuring that individual teachers make goals, we’re reaching right there into the student level – and that’s where the action all happens, anyway!
The other cool thing? Critical mass – -the “spectacle” that arises when everyone is doing the same thing – – it creates momentum of its own. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Now, I know some of our readers are thinking, “But WAIT – we have 10,000 goals on our school improvement plans…how does focusing on 3 areas help us meet all 10,000?” Here’s my answer to that: quality over quantity. Period. I’d also offer this advice: doing small things well is contagious – once you get that “I did it!” feeling, you have more energy and confidence tackling the next thing!
So…where are YOU starting? Talk to me! 🙂
I have to break it to you now, the “Three R’s” need to be replaced with this: read write learn. And here are 5 quick-take-away reasons why:
- The ultimate test of reading skill is whether students are gaining knowledge and information, this demonstrates the read write think idea! It’s critically important that they’re able to WRITE about what they’ve read as a vehicle for explaining and connecting to what they’ve learned! Our reading skills tests tell us whether kids have the necessary underlying skills, but the big comprehension of text and the taking in of important and relevant information will be witnessed in their writing.
- Students need to be reading the RIGHT material. I see so many kids getting points on Accelerated Reader programs and they’re really excited about what they’re reading (which is important!). But the problem is, the text is rarely challenging enough and, ultimately, there is little connecting to the knowledge that kids should be taking with them after reading the text. Big, important comprehension isn’t measured by silent reading and quick-tests alone!
- True learning takes place when students are able to simultaneously decode, comprehend, think about and CONNECT what they’re learning to other relevant topics and previous readings. In other words – get TALKING about what they’ve read, what they’re reading and what they want to learn more about in future text.
- Writing about what you’ve read requires re-writing and editing. And during re-writing and editing of writing, it’s common to GO BACK INTO THE TEXT! Study after study has shown that re-reading text is critical for comprehension. Sooooo…the simple task of editing our writing and going back in the text that inspired the writing is strengthening comprehension. Two bird with one stone, I would say!
- Ultimately, we need to extend our students’ current understanding of what comprehension really is and that it goes beyond ‘answering some questions after I read’. In fact, comprehension of reading needs to include regular and habitual reading, writing, discussing, revising of ideas and written response, rereading, discussing some more…well, you get the point. Answering a few “who, what, where, when, why” questions is critical to begin with and to establish simple retell, but it won’t take kids all the way into deep comprehension. And deep comprehension is critical for our students’ success.
Before you go…consider this quote from my favorite researcher. 🙂
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
So, it’s that time of year when I start to look at what I want my 2013 to look like…and my one major goal is to really to boost my expert-level knowledge by exponentially improving my educational reading library. All done in one click on Amazon – ha!
Here’s what dictionary.com says about what an “expert” is – and BOY do I want to continue to be one!
I WILL BE a person with special skill. I WILL BE a person with special knowledge in a particular field. I WILL receive the highest rating in my field. I WILL BE all of these things, BUT I have to do it through practice and training – – – and I’m starting 2013 by getting PUMPED UP on these resources by true experts in our field! (Most importantly, I’m continuing to practice what I preach – – -and I’m excited about it!)
Executive Intelligence: What All Great Leaders Have
Effective Supervision: Supporting the Art and Science of Teaching
Robert J. Marzano, et al
The SAGE Handbook of Educational Leadership: Advances in Theory, Research, and Practice
Fenwick W. English
Making the Grade: Reinventing America’s Schools
Tony Wagner, Thomas Vander Ark
Leaders of Learning: How District, School, and Classroom Leaders Improve Student Achievement
Richard DuFour, Robert J. Marzano
Just checking to see if you were paying attention.…!
“Never become so much of an expert that you stop gaining expertise. View life as a continuous learning experience.”
– Denis Waitley
Text reading and comprehension – woo hoo! How exciting! Can’t wait to talk about it!! Yay!
I am kind of a wild gal – I like a good adventure and I don’t like the ho hum-ness of living a boring life. BUT one of the things that I’ve had to learn since I began my traveling life 10 years ago is ROUTINE and DISCIPLINE.
Yuck! These things sound horrid and so so boring, don’t they? (I’m nodding my head “yes” even as I type this!)
But the reality is, routine and discipline pave the way for having the ability for freedom and handling tasks that aren’t ho hum and boring! And that’s a good thing.
This is true for teaching kids to read, too! The routine and the discipline of reading tasks is directly related to our students’ ability to have some “fun” with reading. When they have the routine and discipline of reading tasks/skills down pat, then the party begins…they can read what they want to, when they want to and how they want to. No limits.
One of the ways that we need to develop independent readers (or what I’m calling “free readers” these days!) is to teach them to attack the text in a way that will benefit comprehension. Yes, I said “benefit comprehension” – because that’s what reading is all about: gaining meaning. Independent comprehension is completely and entirely dependent on your students’ ability to attack the text with comprehension at the forefront.
So here are a few ROUTINES that you need to be PRACTICING REGULARLY so that the skills become AUTOMATIC at independently comprehending text they read:
- Identify the Core Understandings and Key Ideas of the Text: Identify for kids WHAT you want them to learn from the text – – this teaches them to have expectations of the text and think, “Hmmm…what do I want to learn?” Note: This does NOT mean that kids are wildly setting unrealistic expectations of what they want to learn from the text – they have to use clues to make some expectations of text and it should make sense in light of the title, text structure, etc.
- Start Small to Build Confidence: Focus on a particularly challenging chunk of the text or a piece of the text that holds a lot of meaning and start there. Think about it – when you read, are you reading everything perfectly and completely? Or are you digging into particular pieces of the text that you can get a ton of meaning from? We need to model for kids that they need to be aware of the pieces of text that carry a lot of meaning – and TO SPEND TIME THERE. Help kids realize which parts are worthy of their analysis and dissection!
- Tackle Tough Sections Head-On: Model and teach kids to look ahead at the text and identify rich, challenging parts of the text right away. Teaching kids to manage tough sections is CRITICAL so that they don’t shy away and get intimidated and then quit the text before they’ve gathered all the meaning!
- Create Coherent Sequences of Text Dependent Questions: The questions that we ask must be text-dependent – this means that students have to have read the text to be able to answer them. (Think about it – if kids are really creative and very verbal, is it possible that they could answer some of your questions just by listening in to what other people are discussing about the text? Without even reading the text? I bet so!) This doesn’t mean that we just say, “Support your answer with examples from the text” after every question, but it does mean that we craft the questions so that they go from simpler, recall-like questions and move to more analysis and extension-type questions – this is what “coherent sequences of questions” means!
These 4-steps are a big key to kids becoming independent. And independent readers pass reading tests. And independent readers who pass reading tests tend to like to read. And independent readers who pass reading tests and like to read, more often than not, pass the state test. And kids who pass reading tests, like to read, ace the state test, tend to go to college or big after-high-school jobs.
Am I right?