Sunday, January 30, 2011

Thinking About Classroom Intervention

I've been thinking a lot recently about intervention--classroom intervention specifically. My friend Miss M. asked me to define what I meant when I said "classroom intervention" and it got me thinking about what it really is.

Usually when we think of intervention, we think about specific programs or series of lessons or pull out groups or things like Reading Recovery. But what I was talking about was not those what was it? All those things are critically important to our kids who are struggling, but the majority of their day is not spent in one-on-one interventions or groups; it is spent with us, in the classroom.

Take a look at this:

Consider our struggling learners--much of what we do in the classroom (those orange stars in the diagram) is not only likely to be outside what they can do on their own, but may be on the far edge of what they can do with help or is outside their learning zone completely.  Yikes!

So consider this. When I looked up intervention or intervene, the following things popped up:
  • to mediate
  • to come between to alter results or the course of events
  • to be situated between
  • deliberate action taken to improve a situation
In the classroom, it's our job to mediate--to be situated between the tasks and teaching and the kids. To find ways to take deliberate actions across the day to create bridges between our struggling kids and what happens in the classroom. Some of it's easier--guided reading groups, conferring one-on-one--those contexts make it easy to intervene in the classroom. But what about during whole group times? As kids enter the classroom each day? During work times when you're not conferring with these kids?

It's not easy, and I wish I had answers for how to make this happen every day for every kid. I don't. But what I do have is a commitment to try. I find ways to sneak in bits and pieces. 

Like with my morning message--it's just inside the doorway, and as kids enter, they read it alone or in pairs or small groups. And I am right there in the doorway, sneaking moments to support my struggling readers as they read that message--while also greeting others and giving out morning hugs. When we meet as a whole group to read the message a little bit later, my struggling kids come to that task already having successfully read the message. Often I have taken those tiny doorway moments to point out something in the message that we'll be coming back to in the large group meeting--kind of like pre-teaching.

It's not perfect. It's not easy. But it is critical. We have to think about how we can mediate any classroom experiences that are outside the zones of our struggling learners. So what I told Miss M. is that I think classroom intervention is bigger than small groups or one-on-one conferring. It's something we ought to be considering across the whole day, in moments large and small.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Too Fast?

"Mrs. M, why is this day so fast? All week is too fast." A's brown eyes searched mine, his brow furrowed. He went on, "It's better if we go slow. All the days this week--too fast."

I was startled. Did he mean that the pace of first grade was too much? I know that we move along at a pretty good clip sometimes and that there is an awful lot that we are supposed to get in, but...too fast? I nodded and patted his back. "Tell me more." (by the way, this little phrase is one of the most powerful ones I know--for working with kids or adults!)

What he told me surprised me. He reminded me that there was no school Monday, then Tuesday morning Miss F. was there (she's the sub who comes and does science things while my grade level meets for reflection/planning once a month). "There isn't a lot of time in this week," he explained, quite seriously. "We need more time to do our stuff and now it's the weekend days."

I smiled and gave him a hug. "Don't worry," I said, "there will be plenty of time next week." He smiled, but shook his head and commented, "it's still too fast for the days on this week."

As he walked away it occurred to me that there was something pretty cool to consider here. A. is one of my kids who struggles...with just about everything at school. At the start of the year, he couldn't wait for the end of the day, for the days off, for anything other than school. And now? Now he's bothered by the fact that the school week was too short and the weekend was already here. Cool, right?

When we can create the kind of classroom communities and relationships that manage to convince kids like A. that school is not only worth it, but a good place to spend time and effort, we've done a lot. Not only that, but in doing this, we also impact achievement. A.'s not only been making good progress--he's catching up to where he should be this time of year. It's all woven together--increase good feelings and relationships at school and achievement goes up; achievement goes up and good feelings and relationships at school improve.

Lester Laminak and Reba Wadworth tell us, “Through our voices, students may come to believe that there is something between the covers of a book that is worth the effort.” I think the same thing is true of school and learning in general. If we can be intentional in forming relationships and creating environments that help kids come to believe that our classrooms are where they want to spend time, they come to believe that learning is worth the effort.

So tomorrow morning, I'll be waiting for A. at our classroom door. I know that I'll be greeted with a smile and a hug before he marches into the room and starts his day. Hopefully this week won't be too fast.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Expect to Be Surprised

Take a close look at this picture from my classroom. See the orange bell pepper plant? With the ripe pepper ready to be picked? Ok, now look at the basket of books next to it...yes, the ones labeled Winter Books. This  pepper plant is a leftover from my summer garden. Not only will it not die, but it blossomed--in December! And then the pepper grew and ripened--in January!  And check this out:

Pieces of tomato--that grew from a volunteer plant that I found in the rocks at my house not anywhere near the tomato plants planted on purpose. I pried the roots from the rocks and stuck the plant in a pot with new soil and took it too school. It too has refused to die. My class picked and ate this tomato on Dec. 21. And guess what? The plant has more blossoms on it now. What makes it even more amazing is that these plants do not get the sunlight they should, are in an environment that's too chilly, and are watered intermittently. And yet they grow and produce fruit. I'm surprised they haven't died, let alone that they are producing something.

It occurred to me that a lot of my kids are like these plants. A lot of things in their lives are less than ideal. Some are downright hostile. But I've learned to expect surprises.

E. is not very confident in herself as a learner. She struggles despite working very hard. One day last week she stopped reading during reading group to point to the bold text in the book of the girl seated beside her. "No," E. said, "if you see those letters that look fat, you have to read it bigger with your voice. Like this." She quickly modeled and then went back to her copy of the book and continued reading--so did the other girl, now making sure to do as instructed by her friend. I sat quietly and savored the surprise. The next day, I asked E. to teach the rest of the group what she new about bold print. She ducked her head, then looked up and nodded, grinning widely.

There are moments like things happening in classrooms on a regular basis. And when we expect our kids to surprise us, we lift the level of what we believe is possible for them--in spite of the challenges they face. What a gift to our learners, and to ourselves as their teachers. I cannot imagine living my classroom life without the expectation that my kids will surprise me. Be ready for it...expect it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Using Assessment

Like most teachers, I often feel overwhelmed by the amount of assessment that needs to be done in my classroom. Some assessments are mandated at the local or state level, and others I choose to do in order to plan and respond to kids over the course of a day. Some assessing that I do is intrusive--instruction needs to be set aside or suspended so it can be completed. Some assessment is done while instruction is happening or while the kids are engaged in their normal day to day activities.
I could rant about the cost to instructional time when we over-assess.
I could lament that much assessment data is never used--a loss of vital information about our kids.
Or...I could think about how I'll make use of the assessments I must do as well as the ones I chose to do.

I find that it helps to remind myself what different assessments tell me about my kids and their progress and consider why and when and how I use them. Of course, most assessments can be used in several ways, and I believe it's important to keep this in mind too.

At my school, we just finished the first semester, and the final days seemed to include several assessments designed to tell us which concepts or skills kids had mastered. Reading levels were also checked and compared to the benchmarks for the current grading period. Much of this information will be used to report to parents and administrators, but we'll also use it for classroom-level planning. During a planning session with some of my colleagues this week, each of us talked about plans for reteaching or moving forward based on what we had learned about our classes when reviewing the assessment results. I find that if I don't take time to review formal assessment results, I may lose sight of how my kids--as individuals and as a group--are progressing in relation to curricular expectations.

We also used this type of data along with observational assessment (anecdotal notes) to form  small groups for guided reading and for intervention groups across classrooms. Starting with reading levels, we grouped kids loosely and then took at closer look. Using running records and our notes from observing the kids as participated in reading groups/conferences, we identified kids with very similar strengths and needs as readers, grouped them, and carefully planned the instructional focus for each intervention group.We found it important to use multiple forms of assessment in our decision making. Some kids appeared to be doing quite well when we looked at informal assessments, but did not do well at all on more formal assessments. Others were the opposite.. To get the most accurate understanding of the strengths and needs of the kids, we needed to look across assessments.

I also use a lot of in-the-moment assessment. While this consists mostly of jotting observations on sticky notes, in the margins of my lesson plans, or on record sheets created for this purpose, it also includes the use of things like checklists. I find checklists really helpful when I need to make sure to watch for specific things, while using observation notes ensures that I take time to learn from my kids what they can do and what they need. These assessments are often the most valuable in terms of day to day planning. They also play a critical role in my ability to respond to kids during teaching/learning interactions, whether it be a whole group or small group lesson or a one-on-one interaction.

Of course, this is a pretty brief reflection on how I use assessment--and there is definitely a lot more that could be discussed! But for now, as we start a new semester, I want to keep in mind the role each type of assessment plays in my classroom and helps me meet the needs of my kids.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Wall Space--what stays? what goes?

One of the things on my to do list over break was to take down some of the charts on our classroom walls to make room for the new ones we've made together. I find it hard sometimes to decide--what stays, what gets moved, what gets put away....  With limited wall space, I take this task seriously. After all, the things on the walls don't just serve as a record of what we've done, it's stuff we refer to constantly and use as a part of the teaching and learning we do daily. Since the charts represent learning that the kids need to keep doing or using all year, I hate to take them down...on the other hand, I also don't want the walls to become so crowded that it becomes visually distracting and impossible for my young readers to locate anything.

So after staring at the walls for a while and then spending another while looking at the new charts waiting for space, I realized I needed a way to decide what gets the prime spots on the wall space near our gathering area, what would stay up but get moved, and what would need to be put away for now. I came up with 3 categories to use for sorting, and some questions to help me think through what would be done with each pile.

High Priority Charts
What do we use every day? How are these things used--do the kids just need to be able to see it? refer to it? reach it (to write on, etc.)?    This stuff needs a spot that can stay the same all year, and if the kids need to interact with it, it needs to be hung low. Examples include our calendar and number chart, as well as our word wall and ABC chart. 
Which charts are from current studies? These also get prime consideration. They need to be front and center, and are often left on the chart tablets we use on our easel throughout the course of the study. That way we can easily add to it or make changes without having to take it up and down off the wall; however, I need to make sure there is space available to hang them as they are finished--in a spot easy to see and refer to during teaching times. 

Not Current, But Still Referred to
Which charts were created during our most recent studies? Are they still needed?  These probably stay up--maybe off to the side a bit, but still in a spot that is easy for the kids to see and for me to refer to when revisiting lessons, concepts, etc. One exception is if they are for short term, specific studies that we are not likely to use again for a while. One example was the chart we created when learning how writers choose and polish a piece to share during writing celebrations. This chart will be used again, but until it's close to time for our next celebration, it can be hung in an out of the way spot or stored. 
Are there any charts that, while not recent, are ones that we continue to use a lot? What about concepts or skills that I know we need to keep working at--that I'm still revisiting and reteaching on a regular basis? This is where I have to be careful--it seems that almost everything fits into this category! But if I work at it, I can narrow it quite a bit. These charts stay near our gathering area, but are moved to the edges--close enough to be used as reminders, but not front and center. And some of them still need to go, as there just isn't room for everything. Sometimes I store them on the back side of our easel in the gathering area; I can pull them out as needed but don't have to give up wall space.

Not Really Needed (for now, at least)
Are there charts that represent teaching/learning that are still needed, but maybe not for a while? This would include things like the chart from a short unit of study we did on informational text writing. I know that we are going to revisit this genre and will expand on our learning; however, it won't be for a while. I can take this chart down until we are ready to focus on that type of writing again. Until then, it can be moved to another part of the room or stored.
What about the charts that we truly don't need anymore? Are there some that are still up even though the kids have taken on the skills/concepts on the charts? Sometimes I forget to look for the stuff we can take down because we don't need it on the walls anymore--because it's in our has become stuff we do automatically. These charts can definitely be stored. I have to remember that being put away does not mean gone forever--I can pull out the charts whenever we need them. 

    This time, I did the deciding and moving and storing and putting up without the kids--but I often do it with them. After all, my goal is that the things on the wall serve as support and reminders for them, so I need their input and I want them to know where things are posted. However, like me, they often have trouble finding anything that can be taken down. So I'll be sure to talk with them about my process and we'll take a look at what was taken down (good chance to celebrate things we can do without reminders!) and what was moved. I'm also thinking that after hearing about how I worked through the decisions, the kids will be more able to take part in the process next time.

    I'd love to hear from others on this--how do you decide?