Sunday, July 5, 2015

What’s Coming Apart So It Can Come Back Together?

“There are always gaps between our expectations and those of students, misunderstandings born of cultural differences, and bureaucratic constraints, plus the frantic rush of the school day… Many teachers have found the process of generating research questions to be a healthy way to stretch toward new understanding and to avoid having the gaps become gulfs between students and colleagues.”  (Shagoury& Power, 2012, p. 23).

We, as teachers, have a tough job.  We want so much for our students to be successful, and we often times forget that they aren’t like us.  They don’t have the same backgrounds.  They don’t have the same experiences.  They don’t have the same values.  Generally speaking, teachers come from a middle-class background with strong values in the power of education.  I don’t know about you, but I teach in a high-poverty area in a Title I school where the families might value education but struggle to get the kids to school on time.  I could go on and on with this whole idea, but I’ll save you from that whole soap box.  Needless to say, with all of the “stuff” that is piled on the plate of a teacher, the policies and the school day in general do get in the way!  This whole idea that generating research questions will help close the gap, so to speak… I’ll bite.  I’m telling you; I think this teacher-researcher thing might be something!

I was thinking as I was on the plane yesterday (I’m headed to my niece’s birthday party in Louisiana.  She’s turning 8 on Sunday.). I spend a lot of time reading about different things to inform my teaching.  Mostly about how to teach… better.  My focus has always been on improving instruction.  The same is true still.  I mean, look at what I decided to read this summer.  But I need to learn how to change my thinking to improve student learning.  How do I change my thinking?

Then I started thinking about something one of my instructors was asking at the beginning of this class.  She asked, “What do you really want to know, in your heart?  And why?”

Like I mentioned previously, I was honestly just going to pick a topic that was easy just to finish the requirements of this course.  (Don’t judge; we’ve all been there! Haha!)  But I couldn’t really get into those easy topics because I don’t really want to know.  I think what I came up with instead is quite meaningful.  It’s definitely something that I’d like to see resolved.

I really want to know about interventions that can be done in the classroom, either whole-group or small-group, to work on closing the achievement gap before it gets to the point that students are being pulled for “Tier 3” interventions.  Pulling students out of the classroom for interventions means they are missing time in the classroom.  Whether that time is during core instruction or small-group work or community building activities is irrelevant; they are missing that time in class!  Maybe it’s not an actual intervention that I’m looking for.  Maybe it’s just a structure.  I just want my students in class, and I need to know how to keep them there.

So from that and with the support of my colleagues and instructor, my research question is “What happens when interventions are done in the classroom?”  It seems pretty vague, but it’s researchable.  I will document the use of the workshop model in reading, writing, and math instruction.  I will use intervention groups during that time to reteach, reinforce, and enrich the students’ understandings.  I use use the ELL teacher and the ELL tutors that come to help within my classroom rather than having them pull the students to work outside the classroom.  My focus will be on student achievement, but I will also collect data on classroom community, students’ identity, and instructional consistency.  (I’m not really sure how I could collect data on some of these.  I plan to interview students and maybe do something like an anticipatory set, but I’m open to ideas as well!)

In my imaginary world where everything is glitter and rainbows and goes according to plan, my first graders will go to second grade as readers and writers.  They will understand mathematical concepts on grade level.  They will be supported more because I will know exactly what supports they need.  I will be better at keeping data in regards to anecdotal notes.  (I’m sure you wish you lived in my world, too. Haha!)

This is what I plan to work on during the upcoming school year.  I have a lot to do in the next month before school starts to get ready, starting with getting everything organized to start workshop from day one.  What is the one big change that you plan to make this year?

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