During a parent-teacher conference, as I was explaining a child's assessment scores and grades, the parent interrupted me in confusion. “I don’t understand. They have an A in your class but can barely write a sentence, and their reading score isn’t that high.” As a young teacher, I stumbled through my answer, realizing that the way that we weighted grades meant that the work that students did in class was graded based on completion and re-takes. These grades often did not align with the results of the standardized assessments we gave. I knew at that moment that my grade book needed a revamp to reflect mastering the standards for the grade level.
As a teacher in a Title 1 school, many of my students lagged behind in meeting benchmarks each year. To teach them my grade level standards, I began by attempting to remediate missed learning. However, their progress was limited. Attempting to backtrack to their level just took too much time and resulted in frustration and disengagement. In order to achieve more within the year, I began to use the accelerated learning approach by integrating the required concepts for specific standards into the current lesson. I saw increased student engagement and achievement. And when I started using Proficiency Scales, my students’ motivation soared!
We all have strengths and weaknesses, but in K-12 education, student weaknesses are often a focus of attention, while strengths fade into the background. Over the past decade, there has been a movement in education to capitalize on student strengths while using instructional practices that promote growth in areas that might need improvement.
Accelerated learning is currently one of the hottest keywords in education. It is hailed as the hero to address “learning loss” and large instructional gaps. Some states have even gone as far as adopting it into their educational policies, hoping to help students catch up to grade-level benchmarks.
We have all heard the analogy that teaching is like juggling. As educators, we are responsible for keeping many balls in the air. Now, imagine you’re juggling all those balls in the air, and then new balls keep getting thrown in while you’re simultaneously sending other balls out of your cycle. In juggling, this is called passing. Who knew this was its own category in juggling?
Executive functioning in the educational setting is often used synonymously with skills associated with focus and organization. While this can be true in some circumstances, executive functioning skills are defined as “the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.” (Harvard University) In order to find success with these skills, it is important to have the tools to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and regulate impulses. The complexity of executive functioning and the interconnectedness of the associated soft skills are essential for academic achievement.
As a middle school teacher, I tapped into every creative avenue for presenting information to my students. My students were diverse, not only culturally but also with different interests, strengths, and challenges. Hooking them on a concept was hard work! I was competing with their phones and social lives. Even so, I wanted to ensure the skills and concepts covered in my English class stuck in their brains for a long time.
Student engagement remains a consistent topic of interest for educators. How do educators and schools compete with all the other entertainment forms that captivate students? As a former middle school teacher, I often felt like I needed to be a circus performer to capture students' attention, standing on my desk and keeping a continuously high-energy environment. However, that isn’t the case. Engagement within the classroom often starts at a simpler level, by meeting the needs of students and building an environment they want to be a part of each day.
When my state began the Common Core Curriculum shift, we examined and mapped out standards. I soon realized there was no way we had enough time for our students to master all of the reading, writing, speaking and listening standards for their grade level. With such a broad range of standards and topics, it was hard to know where my students needed help as we had to quickly move through standards and skills. There was no systematic way to identify what I should prioritize.
When you ask an educator how to make sure Tier 1 curriculum and instruction are meeting the needs of all learners, their first response may be that they need new curriculum and/or professional development on instructional strategies. But will this really fix the problem?