Now What? (WG)

Increasing accountability has resulted in increased assessment of student progress. Shaunna strives to make learning fun for her students and to support their social and emotional growth. Meanwhile, her focus on literacy instruction has generated some unexpected challenges. Making meaningful connections between assessment results and instructional decisions creates a real test for this new teacher.

Scene: Shaunna and her new kindergarten students get acquainted and begin to address instructional needs.

Some kids just seemed to teach themselves to read. Or, so it appeared. Most of the students in my kindergarten class came to me well prepared, having been completely immersed in books, language, and reading-readiness activities by families who knew what to do with preschoolers and had the means to do it. They were among the lucky ones. And, they were certainly a blessing to me during my first year teaching. There was a lot to attend to, and their successes allowed me to focus on some of the other issues competing for my attention, like getting to know the curriculum, writing weekly newsletters to families, turning in detailed lesson plans to my principal, answering a constant stream of emails from parents, and understanding special education jargon during eligibility meetings.

Andrew and Shaunna were both confronted by challenges in their new classroom.

One kindergartener, Andrew, was like his classmates in many ways, but reading just wasn’t his thing. For most of the first nine weeks of school he struggled with rhyme and beginning sound work, timidly approached even the most basic repetitive books from the classroom library, and looked at me with wide, startled eyes when I asked him to tackle something new.

I knew the feeling. When I was offered my first teaching job at this magnet school, everything was new to me. I had been expecting that. But I hadn’t been expecting my graduate-level reading course to leave me so ill-prepared to teach a kindergarten class. I remembered well the professor who sat at her desk reading to us from her notebook about theory after theory while doing little to suggest how to apply them in a classroom. On back to school night, my eyes were as wide as Andrew’s. There I stood, facing a class of 21 students—and their parents— all expecting me to transform the little ones into enthusiastic readers.

Added to the list of new things I was trying to figure out was the set of reading assessments the district had adopted over the summer. The more experienced teachers seemed as baffled as me by them, but we muddled through. I’m not sure what they all mean, but at least I’m finished with the first round of tests. I didn’t really like timing little kindergarteners. Poor Andrew’s eyes were as big as saucers when he saw the watch. But, he did alright in the end. He could name letters pretty well and match beginning sounds with pictures.

See Shaunna’s Beginning Benchmark mCLASS:DIBELS Class Summary below:

See Andrew’s Beginning Benchmark mCLASS:DIBELS Student Summary below:

Unlike my more able students, there were a couple, like Andrew, who needed a boost. I’d tried every trick I could remember from my own elementary school days, but mostly what I remembered was loving books and reading a lot. I knew I needed help, so by Halloween I was enrolled in a reading instruction course. I lapped up everything the instructor said about language development, teaching skills in context, and making learning fun. Before long, our classroom was full of songs and poems, big books, small books, creative drama, and basals. It was a rich and varied literacy diet that seemed to be working. I was hopeful that what I needed was to wrap these kids in language and let them soak it soak it up like little sponges. I crossed my fingers and kept working.

Eventually, Andrew’s reading started to develop, seemingly before my very eyes. One day he was struggling to connect words to print, and the next day he walked into the classroom, headed straight for our library, picked-up Go Dog, Go, walked over to me, and said, “Look! I can read this!” And, read it he did. Although it was a simple book and one he’d undoubtedly read and reread at school and at home, his relief and delight were contagious. He began to lose the scared look and sometimes even volunteered to participate in his reading group. Go Dog, Go, became one of his favorites, and I had him read it to me whenever we had the chance.

See Andrew’s home reading log below:

Kindergartener Andrew’s fragile disposition challenges Shaunna’s ability to give him feedback on his writing progress.

My relief at Andrew’s blossoming was short-lived. As soon as we jumped one hurdle, there was another one before us. By December, it was evident that Andrew’s writing was lagging behind his reading progress. He became so engrossed in his work that you’d have thought he was writing a dissertation, but instead what he produced usually looked more like a chicken had tap-danced across his paper wearing dirty shoes.

After working quietly for some time one crisp morning, Andrew approached me and hesitantly handed me his latest. “Nice work!” I paused. “Andrew, let’s work on putting some spaces between words. Can we pick a little bit of what you’ve written to rewrite with spaces?”

He looked at me without expression as tears spilled onto his cheeks. I immediately regretted what I’d said and added, “Oh, don’t cry…”

“OK,” he managed, standing up tall and drawing a deep breath. He turned off his tears so instantaneously that it seemed he’s sucked them back up into his head. I felt even worse then, having squashed his emotions. I was at a loss for what to do next. Watching Andrew walk back to his desk, I realized that he didn’t understand what I meant by ‘rewriting his work with spaces.’ What seemed to occur as a natural part of the other students’ writing development, Andrew just didn’t seem to be developing the speech-to-print match that I was learning about in my class.

See Andrew’s December writing sample below:

The diversity among her students enriches Shaunna’s class while it challenges her instructional approaches.

I loved show-and-tell. It provided a rare moment in our school day when my students could be in charge of what we thought about together, and it was a fascinating window into their worlds. Madison informed us that her family had just bought a house on the shore and that they were planning to decorate it with a duck motif. She stood there beaming, biting her lip and trying not to squirm. She was delighted with her parents’ selection of this cute animal for decorating their big house, and at the same time she was oblivious—especially to Harold.

Madison and Harold share little more than their classroom and an occasional book.

Harold was also pretty oblivious to Madison, and with good reason. That morning he informed me that he hadn’t had much sleep the night before. His neighbor had been robbed at gunpoint on his way home from work, and the sirens, lights, and resulting activity on his block had kept him awake. Ducks and guns. We had it all in my class.

I was constantly amazed and bewildered by this variety. And although I was thankful that I only had a smattering of struggling kids in the mix, I definitely identified more with the Harolds of the world than with the Madisons. Regardless, it was a challenge to meet everyone’s needs. The academic diversity was just as real as the disparity among home lives for these students, and I struggled to make sense of what to do with everyone.

Although it was tough to find the time, I was using the progress monitoring tools whenever I could in reading groups. I’d had to shave-off our center time to do it, but I was hopeful that it would prove beneficial in the long run.

See Andrew’s late fall (August-November) mCLASS:DIBELS Progress Monitoring Report below:

Shaunna meets with her most advanced readers.

There was no shortage of role-models in this bunch. When I called the blue group to the back carpet, they came quickly, sat down in a rough circle, and pulled today’s books out of the basket. Madison, Bill, Amelia, Tony, Marquise, and Latisha were all first-graders, somewhat competitive, and mostly eager to please. When everyone was settled, I asked, “So, who in the blue group has ever had a toothache?” Eyes grew wide, heads began bobbing, hands held the sides of faces.

“Ouch! My dad had to pull my tooth last week,” Tony began.

“Mine fell out in my pizza!” Latisha added, making a face.

“Last time I lost a tooth, the Tooth Fairy gave me ten dollars!” Madison chimed in.

Tony looked at her doubtfully, asking, “Ten dollars?”

“Yea, my mommy said to put the tooth under my pillow and I’d get a surprise from the Tooth Fairy, so I did and the next morning I almost forgot to look but then my sister made fun of my missing tooth, see, right here,” Madison stuck her finger in her mouth and shared her gummy smile showing where her tooth had been, “and then I remembered to look, so I ran back to my room and on the way I almost tripped on my shoes and my sister said, see, Mom told you to put those away—she thinks she’s so smart—and when I looked under my pillow there was ten dollars! And I’m going to spend it all on candy.”

“My mom says candy makes your teeth fall out,” Latisha offered.

I pulled my word cards out of their baggy so we could move on with the lesson. “OK, let’s take a look at this word to see if you can sound it out. It’s a tricky one.”

See Shaunna’s blue group reading lesson plan below:

See Shaunna’s reading groups below:

After reading Hippo’s Toothache together I could see the fidgets setting in. It was time to move on. I asked members of the blue group to retell the story, and naturally Madison jumped in first.

“Well, Hippo had a toothache and the animals wanted to help pull it out so everyone tried and tried and even the elephant couldn’t get it but finally the mouse came along and saved the day.”

I wondered if I needed to rethink Madison’s reading list.

Click here to see text from Hippo’s Toothache.

See Madison’s home reading log below:

Shaunna feels like an early reader must when she tries to make sense of her students’ mid-year assessment results.

Winter came and clogged our city streets just as we regrouped after the holiday crush. The snow days and dark evenings allowed me quiet time for reading and planning at home, and I was thankful for the opportunity to slow down and focus. Now halfway through my first year of teaching, I was anxious review the mid-year assessment results and see how far we’d come. And how far we had to go.

Despite his reading growth, Andrew’s emotional state and writing progress had remained tenuous throughout the fall of his kindergarten year, so I was especially curious about his scores. He had slippled from “at benchmark” to “needing strategic support.” Did we spend too much time having fun reading Go Dog, Go? After muscling through the various assessments with each of my students, I was left exhausted with piles of scores to digest and one overarching question: Now what?

See Shaunna’s Middle Benchmark mCLASS:DIBELS Class Summary below:

See Andrew’s Middle Benchmark mCLASS:DIBELS Student Summary below:

See Andrew’s mCLASS:DIBELS Probe Detail below:

See Shaunna’s 120 Day D.E.F Report below: