The University of Oregon’s Reading First website is an absolute MUST READ for literacy resources, support and dependable tools. Check out this link – I highly recommend the resource Instructional Implications: Interpreting Student Performance Data. It’s great!
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?
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
The reading wars are over (thank goodness for sound research!), but we still are at risk as we teach, model, practice and apply the skills necessary to develop phonemic awareness and phonics in our kids.
And here’s why: We are focusing on “Do they have the skill?” rather than “How automatically do they have that skill?”. And the success of our students, particularly in phonemic awareness and phonics, depends on our response to the second question. Automatically pulling up the skills to support “bigger”, more complex skills like comprehension and using context to determine meaning of unknown words is what is going to make or break the success of your kids.
Now, some of you might be thinking: OF COURSE we teach phonemic awareness and phonics! In fact, we do it EVERY DAY for at least 30 minutes a day!
While that is likely true in nearly all (hopefully ALL!) of the K-2 classrooms and intervention classrooms, our work isn’t done when the kids just “get” the skill. They need to master the skill and then become automatic…and maintain it across time.
One of the things that has risen to the top of my “be concerned about” list is that when schools are using DIBELS and AIMSweb to benchmark and progress monitor kids, the phoneme segmentation fluency, letter naming fluency, nonsense word fluency and other phonemic awareness/phonics-based tasks just fall off. Whether kids have benchmarked or not!
For example, just last week I ran into a group of second grade strategic oral reading fluency students as we did our data review. When I asked if the students had “passed” the nonsense word reading fluency assessment in 1st grade, what we found is that they hadn’t – but because the text was no longer expected to be given in 2nd grade, we never flagged those kids as needing additional phonics support well into 2nd grade.
So, what were they getting? Hours of fluency practice each week.
Hmmm…strike you as a little off base? It sure did to me!
So we fixed the problem right away by getting kids into daily, timed review of letter sounds and sound spellings and then practice in blending words the “whole word blending” way – without having to sound out each sound and then recode the word. In other words – we trained them (in a plan that is lasting 6 weeks!) to look for the spelling patterns in words and quickly read those words.
The interesting conversation came after we did some progress monitoring on the nonsense word reading fluency: the teachers said, “But they’re reading those decodable books at 70-80%+ accuracy, so no wonder I didn’t think they needed additional phonics instruction!”
The point is – without fluency of skill, then the skill mastery may not be sufficient. AND that lack of fluency may not show up until later grades…so we have to be proactive. Actually, I would change our definition of “mastery” to include the element of fluency. Without it, we’re fooling ourselves.
So, here’s where I encourage you to start in analyzing how your students are doing on ANY skill. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are they slow but accurate on the skill?
- Are they fast but inaccurate on the skill?
- Are they slow and inaccurate on the skill?
- Are they meeting the fluency rate on the skill?
Kids will fall into one of those four categories! And once we have sorted kids by skill into those categories, we now have information on how to provide additional support during small group instruction. If you have a slow but accurate student, then timed practice is key. If you have a fast but inaccurate student on a skill then you know your practice will be slowing them down in order to later speed them up. If they’re both slow and inaccurate, then some direct teaching on the skill (even though it’s been previously taught) is the right fit.
I guess my desire for all of us is that we remain vigilant in our pursuit of skill mastery for all of our kids. Fluency of skill IS going to make or break their reading independence now and in the future…especially when they encounter tougher text with lots of unknown words.
I encourage you to start by going back to your strategic and intensive kids and see if they “passed” those critical-to-pass assessments before the particular tests were no longer required in that grade level. Once you sort your kids according to the four types above, then you can more accurately point your interventions to what is really going to make a difference in their skill independence!
So…I talk a lot. In fact, I talk for a living! (How’s THAT for working talking into an art form!)
Well, I’ve been told that I “talk just to be talking”…of course I disagree, but that doesn’t surprise you, does it?
When I’m coaching teachers and observing in their classrooms I see lots of talking for talking sake, but not necessarily lots of talking for mastery sake! Let me explain…
There are two kinds of important verbal interactions in classrooms:
Excellent classrooms have a smattering of BOTH kinds of speaking – teachers who get excellent results make sure that the output (or what kids are saying) is something that they monitor closely and measure carefully…kids need to be responding continually as they try new techniques so that we know what they’re learning and can give them in-the-moment feedback.
Now here’s where I see lots of confusion…
Some teachers are confusing lots of talk and lots of responding with lots of quality talk and lots of quality responding!
Here’s where they’re going wrong, I think: they are confusing lots of responding with lots of discussion. And it causes frustration because they’re thinking, “Geez! Why can’t I get my kids to have a proper conversation about this new piece of text? All they do is copy my answers or shrug their shoulders when it’s their turn to add to the discussion…they also let the same kids do all of the answering all the time…ugh ugh ugh!“
Does that sound familiar to you? (Not that it happens in your classroom of course, but you’ve heard that…ahem…a “friend” is having this problem…)
If you’re struggling with this, here’s where you can fix it:
#1: There is a difference between a response and a discussion
Responses are quick and rapid answers that are oftentimes simple, recall-based skills that they’re practicing. Many a time responses are given as a whole class and in unison. An example of a response would be this:
Teacher: Guys, listen to the this word. “Peak”. What is the first sound you hear in “peak”?
Discussions are more complex and conversation driven. They aren’t focused on a “right” answer, but a complete response that is longer and more complete. An example of a discussion would be something like this:
Teacher: Ladies and gentlemen, today we are going to have a discussion about the motivation of our main character. I would like you to think of two examples from the text that give you clues as to why the man decided to leave the dog in the mountains, even though the dog was his best friend. Think for a minute and then I’m going to have Jonathan start our discussion of the character’s motive.
Jonathan: Well I agree with Heather’s response when she said the man had to save himself before he could ever save the dog. I think the man was motivated to leave his dog in the mountains even though he loved him so much, because the dog was injured and slowing the man down. The man knew that he only had a few hours to live so in order to be able to save the dog in any way, he had to save himself first. The author even gave me that idea when he wrote…
#2: Just because students are good responders doesn’t mean that they’ll be good discussers
Responding is a skill. Holding a discussion is a skill. Both have to be practiced regularly in order to become automatic. I find that some teachers get really frustrated when students aren’t doing well in a conversation around a concept or piece of text. And when I ask them “How often do you practice discussion as an academic skill?” They usually will say, ” ALL the time!!!”
But when I dig deep and give them perspective on discussion v. responding, they realize that they have had students responding constantly (which is why they’re so good at it!), but discussion is rarely taught explicitly and rarely practiced often.
So, what do you do about all of this?
Well, I encourage you to start by putting a yellow highlight in your lesson plan book/curriculum guide/teacher’s manual where you’re going to have students respond.
Then put a green highlight everywhere in your materials that you’re going to have students discuss. If you find that you’re radically lop-sided, add in the under-represented skill a few more times to even it out.
Sometimes it’s the simple awareness of how often we engage in practices that helps us refine our practices beautifully!