Friday, April 10, 2015

Are You Ending this Year OR Beginning Next Year?

April is here and May will be here before we know, so are you counting the days or making the days count?  The end of the year reminds us that things are coming to an end.  Kids are excited about summer and transitioning to a new grade.  Teachers feel a sense of accomplishment in how far they've taken their students, and administrators gauge the health of their school based on how many kids were academically successful.  But the real question is this.

Are You Focused on the End of the Year or the Beginning of Next Year?

Sure, we have to close up the year.  We have to get ready for graduation and prepare the school for dormant activities such as summer cleaning, maintenance, and inventory, but in order to ensure a successful school year next year, a bridge has to be built, and that bridge must connect this year's kids to next year's learning.  As we near the end of another school year, it is critical to ensure that every student masters the essential skills for every course, but the real reason for this focus on learning is not so kids pass standardized tests.   Students have to be prepared for next year and ultimately what we do in the months of April and May has a huge impact on that preparation.

Just because kids pass this year doesn't mean 

they're ready for next year.

Next year is all about being prepared for next year's skills, and the key to next year is getting kids to  master this year's essential skills. The essential skills are those few but critical skills taught this year which serve as foundational skills for next year's standards.   If left unmastered, these prerequisite skills could prevent students from reaching success next year.

To identify those skills, teachers must collaborate with next year's teachers and identify which skills need additional reinforcement now.  Furthermore, teachers should discuss instructional vocabulary taught as well as strategies that are used to teach those skills.  If teachers can align how they teach these critical skills to students, April and May can actually be a head start on next year's learning, and wouldn't that be a huge advantage to all kids especially those that need additional time and support?

For more on Vertical Alignment Meetings, click here.

But aside from prerequisite skills, students must also master 4 more skills.  These skills are referred to as the 4 C's:  Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity and Collaboration.  These are not separate skills from prerequisite skills.  In fact, the 4 C's should be leveraged through meaningful and challenging activities to help students master this year's essential skills to a deeper degree of understanding.  Teachers should be aware of how next year's teachers integrate the 4 C's into their instruction and incorporate those strategies also into their instruction now.

Mastery can't happen without Intervention and Extension

To ensure that every student masters this year's essential skills, we have to remember that kids are different; therefore, how they learn and process is different.  To help every student learn, intervention and extension should happen simultaneously on a regular basis.  Without intervention and extension happening during regular instruction, learning becomes the variable.  Here is how it can work:

  • Intervention 
    • Intervention is all about remediating the essential skills that students need additional time and support with. 
    • Small groups can be pulled for students who share a common instructional deficit, or 
    • Individuals can be pulled for remediation on an academic deficit unique to the student.
    • During intervention, the teacher works with students directly and scaffolds concepts to help take kids from what they know to what they must know.

  • Extension  
    • Group work can be assigned to students and the work is tied to skills that need additional reinforcement.  In effective extension activities, every student must do their own work, but students should be encouraged to collaborate and communicate to help one another master the skills.  
    • The goal is simple.  All kids will demonstrate their learning.
    • Group work is not busy work.  It's challenging work that piques student curiosity and interest through critical thinking.
    • Individual tasks can be given to students that are based on specific skills that need additional practice.  These tasks should also be familiar to the students so that it will require little to no support from the teacher.   
    • Projects can be assigned to advanced groups or individuals as these tasks allow kids opportunities to apply their mastery of learning in creative ways.
    • Extension activities should increase communication between students as this is where students make sustainable meaning of their learning.
    • The teacher's role in supporting learning through extension activities is to monitor student engagement, provide feedback, and ensure that students complete the work.

The Future is Now
Instead of thinking about ending the year, I'd like you to think about April and May as the first 2 months of next school year.  As educators, our goal should be to guarantee the success of every child and the first step of that guarantee is to begin the transition process now by ensuring that all kids have a firm grasp of the essential skills. By personalizing our support for kids who struggle as well as challenging all kids to master this year's essential skills independently, we are giving every student the tools to begin that transition process on the right foot.

Are you finishing this year or preparing them for next year?  If we truly believe in learning for all, we will commit to student learning beyond the confines of a school year.

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