Monday, May 20, 2013

Closing the Transition Gap

At the end of every year, students learn the material well enough to go to the next grade or the next course of study.  They demonstrate mastery or at least proficiency for their current teacher and the teacher is confident that the student is prepared to learn the following year.

At the beginning of every year, students walk into a new classroom with a new teacher and are asked to show their knowledge acquired from the previous year. All too often, an equal number of students succeed and fail demonstrating their retention of prior learning.  If this is all that is known about the student, the new teacher is left to wonder what the student actually learned last year.

So a gap exists.  Between the time that a student completes school and begins a new year, many factors exist that cause students to be unable to walk into the classroom in August prepared to learn.  Of course, summer regression plays a big part in why students stumble in the initial days of school.  On top of the loss of retention, the learning that the new teacher expects from students is slightly different from the learning that took place in the student's prior year.  Instructional language varies from teacher to teacher and from grade to grade. If students fails to traverse the gap, they will be behind before the first assignment comes their way.

Schools can create transition sheets to help the new teacher learn about students from their previous teacher.  Grades, reading levels, generic behavior infomation are great indicators about the students' performance from the previous year.  A piece of paper can close the gap, but not completely.  Without a deep understanding from both sides of the gap, misunderstandings still exist.  What one teacher deems proficient, another may rate below average.  Something is still missing.


Transition sheets created by administration and handed to all teachers to complete is helpful but may not identify the best information for all teachers.  Teachers from adjacent grades must work together to create transition sheets that have common language and concrete quantifiers of proficiency that both parties can understand.  When teachers decide the proficiency of a given skill, teachers must have a precise definition of what the skill looks like and sounds like at the end of the current year and the beginning of the next year.  Teachers must understand how the skill was taught and learned in the previous year, so the next year teacher can build on prior learning for the beginning of the year.

Transition sheets must not be limited to just grades, skills and numbers to gauge proficiency.  The receiving teacher must know what strategies work best for the student.  Strengths and weaknesses in learning the content should be shared.  Interventions and their frequency can give teachers strong indicators of how much support the new student will need to be successful.  Behaviors that prevent learning are a critical piece of data and positive behavior supports that have worked with the student should be communicated.

Transition is a difficult thing for students.  Each year they have to adjust to us.  Each year we have to adjust to them.  Instead of spending the first 6 weeks of school figuring out what they can and cannot do, we should be more proactive and know as much about the kids before they enter our classroom.  If we can do that, we will definitely move in the right direction toward closing the transition gap.

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