Friday, October 25, 2019

The Best-Laid Plans: When Things Go Awry

Every Saturday morning I sit with my planner and plan out my family's meals for the following week. Sometimes I feel like it's an art form. I need to stay within a certain budget, one day of the week needs to be meatless, and I need to consider what the little ones will actually eat. After all that strategic planning my week never seems to go as planned! It can be frustrating when I go to roast the broccoli and I find mold on it, or when I think I found the perfect meal and my 18 month old instantly cries and dumps her plate on the floor. I understand how important it is to take a deep breath and continue to reflect and refine my meal planning.

This same practice is important in our classrooms. For example, after a recent coaching cycle with a teacher, the post assessment scores weren't as high as we would have liked. This was frustrating and disappointing. Especially because a lot of planning, hard work, and passion went into the unit of study. But now we need to take a deep breath and reflect and refine our instructional practices.

When students in our classes don't do well on assessments it doesn't mean we are bad teachers. It's important to remember that GOOD teachers are the ones that notice when students aren't learning and do something about it. Good teachers are diagnosticians. When students don't perform like we planned or hoped, we notice and begin to diagnose.

Here are three questions we can ask to help us reflect and diagnose when students perform poorly on a post assessment.
  1. Was my assessment an accurate reflection of my teaching?
  2. What do the students need right now in order to successfully meet expectations?
  3. What are some things I might do differently next time I teach this unit?
Let's start with the first question. Was my assessment an accurate reflection of my teaching? Did the post assessment actually assess what I taught in a unit of study? If I adapted a unit of study based on student needs, I also might need to adapt the post-assessment. Each group of students we get has unique needs. As responsive teachers we scaffold, adapt, modify, delete, and insert lessons into a unit of study based on those needs. As we prepare for the post assessment, we need to be sure it measures precisely what has been taught. As I reflected on the work this teacher and I did with her class, we did make changes and adapt. Some lessons were shortened and there were a couple that were deleted. Perhaps we should have preemptively adjusted the post assessment based on the changes we made to the unit. One specific adjustment we discussed was adding a word bank for students. This word bank could include terms that were learned throughout the unit that students were expected to use in their answer, such as some vocabulary for literary language and author's craft.

The second question is super important. What do students need right now in order to be successful? The post assessment doesn't have to be the final grade! Students should always get to try again. The teacher and I looked over the post assessments and decided that students weren't entirely wrong in their answers. They were just simplistic. They needed instruction on how to write a more detailed answer. Now we have a great opportunity to plan some whole group and small group lessons to teach students how to do this. We can create models of more detailed answers for students to study. We can review the rubric with the class more closely, too. Then we will provide students the opportunity to revise their original answers. The classroom teacher will record new grades in her grade book to reflect this new learning.

Finally, we can ask ourselves: What are some things I might do differently next time I teach this unit? Teaching is a really hard job! No year is the same. We learn and become better every year! This teacher and I can reflect on how we might refine our instruction of this unit next year. Perhaps adding a few different exemplar written responses to her conferring toolkit could be helpful. As she confers with students, these can be models for how some written responses could look. Also, it could be helpful to include a copy of the rubric in each student's conferring folder or glued in their reader's notebooks. We could have been more deliberate about incorporating the criteria for success throughout the unit. Finally, next time this unit is taught we could be more intentional about recording what is modified in lessons throughout the unit. Some changes are made on the fly and next time we could document this in the manual. This will help us to modify the post-assessment, if necessary.

I am coteaching another reading unit in a different classroom. After reflecting on my previous coaching cycle, this teacher and I have put some of these new strategies in place. We posted the rubric that is used throughout the unit and on post-assessment. Alongside the rubric are exemplar student responses. This tweak will help students visualize the final goals of the unit as well as self-assess throughout the unit.

I am constantly learning new instructional strategies and refining my own practice as a teacher and an instructional coach. I work hard to help support these strategies in classrooms across Cherry Tree. Teachers here keep student learning at the forefront. Even when things don't go quite as planned and students don't perform quite as well as we would have hoped, teachers put on their diagnostician hats and forge forward. Students are in such great hands here! 

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