Thoughts for Next Year…

I haven’t blogged since last fall…I think mostly because I felt disorganized about it. I didn’t feel like I had a real purpose behind my blogging–and I was WAY too caught up in our district’s roll-out of the Common Core standards. 

My thoughts have been turning toward next year.   I’ve got a list on my work computer on the Stickies app of all the things I think I want to do next year.  Some of these things involve my team of middle school teachers, and some things involve just me and my interactions with students and curriculum. 

1. Build Middle School Culture

This is top of my list for next year. Our school clientele has changed a lot in the last 5 years. With that came a new learning curve: I had to learn how to teach children whose parents weren’t as involved as I was used to. I had to learn how to communicate with children whose immediate response to classroom discipline was to become defensive and victimize themselves. My team and I have come to the realization that if we could build a strong middle school community, our students will more than likely engage more in their learning and interact more positively with each other and with school staff. 

We are a K-8 site. Up through this year, our middle school wing has operated along with the K-6. For some things this is necessary for the purpose of running a school. However, for a lot of things, we can operate independently. We will have an earlier start time than the rest of the school next year. This is a great way to kick off our separation from the K-6–so our students get a real middle school experience. 

We are still brainstorming other community-building ideas, but one we keep coming back to is having our back-to-school night separate from the K-6. Traditionally, we have had back-to-school night during the second week of school. We would like to have ours a day or two before school starts. We think this will break the ice somewhat for our new 7th graders and their parents, and give us a chance to reconnect with the 8th graders and their parents.  We even thought about including a barbecue through the PTSA that night–with us cooking for the families. Nothing like food to bring people together! 

2. More Differentiation

I really struggled with differentiation this year. I have finally come up with a way to use Khan Academy to help me target specific students and assign them specific content to help supplement the curriculum. We use Eureka Math/Engage New York, and while I appreciate the rigor of the curriculum, it is very bare bones. This is where I’ve used Khan Academy this year. It’s been helpful for some students, but I can’t help but think that if I monitored their progress with the program better, I could have helped them progress through the standards at a better pace. It took awhile, but if Khan Academy is to be used to its maximum potential, the coach (teacher) has to consistently monitor progress and plan for intervention according to the reports provided through the program. 

3. Khan Academy

Our school does a great job of giving benchmark rewards for Accelerated Reader.  Students are recognized at quarterly award ceremonies for their reading efforts, and they receive certificates and  keychains with their benchmark point values on them: 5 points, 10 points…etc.  I would like to do something similar with Khan Academy.  I obviously want to start small and focus solely on my classroom students.  Perhaps if it’s successful I can bring other grade levels on board.  I watched a cool video presentation about how another teacher gives student recognition in Khan Academy.  I think I’ll try out some of her ideas next year.  Students love to compete and I think some of the ideas I saw there will help bring out their competitive edge.  

4. Rubric grades–more structured. 

I sent out a parent survey via Google Forms.  One of the questions I asked was about how parents felt regarding rubric scores versus points-out-of-total.  About half of the parents that have responded so far have had positive things to say about the rubric scores their students have received this year in my class.  They like how the rubric scores convey their child’s understanding of the concepts they are learning.  That being said, I think I need to tighten up how I collect information to formatively assess my students. I need to program more frequent assessments throughout the curriculum.  Eureka Math/Engage NY (as I’ve said) is rigorous, but bare bones, and that goes for assessment opportunities as well.  One module in the 8th grade program is 33 (or so) days long (and it took me much longer to get through it than that considering the curriculum is formulated for 75 minute class periods and ours are only 55 minutes), and there are only 2 assessment opportunities.    I plan on going through the curriculum this summer to find some natural breaks within the modules where I can insert formative assessments. 

I also need to re-word the standards into more family-friendly wording.  I just cut and pasted the standards into my grading program this year, and I think they are hard to understand sometimes.  They also combine many skills into one standard, so I plan to work on separating those out into single-skill statements over the summer so that they are ready to plug into my grade program from day one.  

These are my must-do’s for the upcoming school year, and they’re going to require a lot of time on my part over the summer.  I’m ready and willing to do it because I know the school year will run much more smoothly for me, the students, and the parents as a result. 

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