In one of my classes, we asked students to write about a new goal for their language arts course. The seventh graders’ resolutions included: Change my attitude. Do my homework. Finish my classwork. Pay attention. It was an uplifting way to start the week, having our kids share their commitments to change.
Speaking of which, I kept my resolution to join a swim team. I made it to the first practice of Masters Club this week and was so nervous about being out of shape compared to other swimmers. My mind was plagued with images of gripping the wall in fatigue after each drill and being passed repeatedly by swim-mates sharing my lane. But as it turned out, the coach was a gentle, jovial soul who paired me with another swimmer who, like myself, was returning to swimming after a seven-year hiatus. We immediately bonded and shared some time in the hot tub after our 90-minute practice.
Each lap was just a lap. The coach advised us to take it easy and work on our form. He told me I needed to bend my arm with each stroke in freestyle, and I tried to focus on that skill with each lap. Being a teacher, I immediately compared my physical actions—focusing on each movement to complete a full stroke—to student learning. Teachers, like coaches, support students by providing them with skills that they can practice until it become part of their metacognitive process. My getting back into shape is similar to a student’s becoming proficient in a standard. Each stroke is supported by a skill that must be actively developed, practiced, and eventually owned.
In other news, we’re 40 days away from our Maryland State Assessment (MSA) and our school has made preparations to ensure that each child is equipped to pass. At our data analysis meeting this week, we looked at specific student groups and their levels of achievement based on past benchmarks, tests, and MSA scores. Students with special education needs and English language learners were identified as the groups needing targeted and specialized instruction.
Our school-wide action plan is one of student monitoring, teacher communication, and small-group instruction. Every week, language arts, math, and special education teachers will have an additional 30 minutes to work with a fluid group of students to provide specialized instruction based on their learning needs. Teacher teams will discuss the students and specific areas that need reinforcement on a weekly basis. Students not requiring specialized instruction will spend the time in self-selected, monitored reading.
I think this is an excellent plan that will require a great deal of collaboration and support among teachers. I look forward to implementing it, as Friday will be the first day that we use the targeted student-teacher groups. Although my hopes for formal team-teaching training have yet to materialize, I’m sure it will soon be recognized as an intrinsic element for student success, especially as those with special education needs continue to perform lower on assessments.
The new year is full of possibilities. I’m sure that one day we’ll receive professional development focused on co-teaching as it pertains to both planning and classroom instruction. I’ll be part of the task force to develop such training. But for now, I’m committed to take the plunge, stroke by stroke. I strive for the ultimate goal: having all of our students be academically successful.