More snow here in the Northeast today so it is difficult to think about spring being just around the corner. However, the clock leaps ahead this weekend so green grass and tulips must be on the way. In my last post I suggested teams assess how well you are connecting with each and every child as a first step in a spring tune-up. A good second step is to think about skills that students need to be successful in all of your classes:
- Identifying the main idea and supporting details
- Writing an open ended response
- Making inferences
- Crafting an argument with sufficient evidence and logical reasoning
- Taking notes
- Searching the Internet effectively, efficiently, and ethically
- Keeping track of assignments and managing time
The list could go on and on, however the team needs to choose one on which to focus. If you could send your students on to the next grade having truly mastered just one academic skill, what would it be? Which one would be the most beneficial to them? (Of course there are many, but you have to start somewhere!) Once you have identified that skill, devise a cross-curricular approach to teaching and reinforcing it:
- Who is going to introduce or reteach the skill? When and in what context?
- What order are the other teachers going to reinforce the skill and provide additional practices within the context of their curriculum? How will they do it? Share ideas.
- How will you assess student progress and then reteach if necessary?
Actually plan it out on calendar.
Hold yourselves responsible. Take time to reflect on this strategy–did you get the desired results? If so, what’s the the next skill you are going to address? If not, figure out what you might try differently next time! Collaborating to build student skills is a powerful strategy for learning.
It’s early March and in some parts of the country the daffodils are starting to bloom, creating waves of bobbing yellow heads that stand out sharply against the greening grass. However, it’s all white in my neck of the woods with snow still piled up two feet high.
No matter the scenery, early spring is a great time for your team to pause and reflect on your progress so far.
There are still at least two or three solid months left before the end of the year rituals and festivities commence. Take time to review what the team has accomplished so far and to prioritize your collaborative efforts for the rest of the year so you can make the best use of this block of instructional time. Focus on those activities that will help your students the most and make sure the team “cylinders” fire in a coordinated and efficient manner.
One aspect of a team spring tune-up ought to include an assessment of how well the teachers are connecting with each of the students. Here are a couple of questions to ask yourselves:
- Does each of our students have an adult advocate on the team—someone who knows the student well and with whom the student feels comfortable talking?
- Do we incorporate student interests in our instruction?
- Does each of our students feel valued?
Here’s an activity for Common Planning Time to help you assess how well you are connecting with your students:
- Write every student’s name on an index card.
- Spread the cards out on a table, name side up.
- Individually, note on the card the interests of the student. For example: Johnny—snowmobiling and water skiing, Maria—singing and composing
- When each teacher has finished noting what s/he knows about individual student interests, step back and look at the array of cards.
- Are there some students everyone seems to know?
- Who are the students with blank cards?
- Do the students with blank cards share any characteristics? What do these shared characteristics tell us about our team? Are there some things we need to address?
- Low grades?
- Behavior issues?
- Special ed?
- Very quiet?
- Eat lunch alone?
- Create a plan. How will you connect with each of those students whose cards are blank?
- Informal conversations?
- Advisory, homeroom or class activity?
- Eat lunch with them?
- Conversations with parents?
- How might we use student interests to connect with our curricula?
- Set a date to review your progress in making personal connections with these students.
We know that relationships are a key element is a student’s motivation and achievement in school. Sometimes connections naturally occur among students and staff, but there are always those students left out. It is imperative that middle grades team teachers be intentional in building relationships:
- Student to student
- Staff to student
- Staff to families
Taking time to check on the status of the connections between you and your students is a first step in a Team Spring Tune Up . Do not let any of your students leave the team at the end of the year without feeling they were known, appreciated, and valued by their teachers.