Meeting Students Where They Are

This is a key strategy with which all teachers are familiar. This year, as we rework our curriculum and instruction to best accommodate students, I explicitly remind myself of this basic principle. This post shares my ideas for the 2021–2022 school year.

(Day 11 of my 30-Day Writing Challenge)

Photo Source: Canva

Diagnose and Proceed Accordingly

There are so many diagnostic tests available now, due to concerns over “learning loss” and the “COVID Slide.” My jury is still out on whether that is real or not. I think we should revisit the standards, written well before this pandemic, and move some standards to another grade level or re-prioritize them.

That said, we need to know where students are in their learning progression. Diagnostics can help. CommonLit, Edulastic, Edmentum, NoRedInk, Quill, retired items from state standardized tests, and Pennsylvania’s Department of Education website are all sources for tests to help make data-driven decisions I have used in the past and will again.

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Most of my students groan when I tell them they are going to take a diagnostic or benchmark test. Some, however, express true test anxiety. I can relate to that, and I tell them my story.

First, I tell them about how I approached every test in high school: I assured myself I was going to fail miserably. Eyebrows usually raise when I say that.

Then, I share with them that with one exception (Geometry), I was always wrong. I would usually score between 90 and 100%.

Finally, I ask them, “What do you think that did for me?”

I usually hear crickets, so I follow that by saying, “An ulcer. That’s what I got out of that process. I spent four years talking negatively to myself and wreaking havoc on my system. Let’s try to help you NOT do that.”

Sighs of relief waft to the rafters.

Side Note: When it comes time for the dreaded standardized tests, I tell them my Praxis story. The Praxis is the test teachers take in the U.S. to obtain their teaching credential. When I arrived at the test center, I barely made it into my parking space. I thought I would either throw up or pass out — or both.

What did that get me? Nada. I told myself while standing in line that in a few hours, this would all be over and I could go home. It will be what it will be, I told myself, and you need to trust yourself. Now, go do a job.

Finally, I assure the students that these diagnostics are not graded in the traditional sense. I award completion points instead. These assessments help me, I tell them, meet you where you are academically.

The data from the assessments steers me in the right direction for skill-building activities and content. I plan to analyze all the data I collect very, very closely. I plan to be more strategic than ever.

Then, I’m going to curate and create activities and content that meet the students where they are.

Mastery Learning Takes Precedence This Year

The knowledge gap most students experience in one subject or another is real. It’s not a pandemic phenomenon; it’s been around for as long as the industrial model of schooling has been around.

Instead of “learning loss” and “COVID Slide” being the biggest concerns, closing each student’s knowledge gap should be. I know that leads to personalized learning and that is difficult for teachers who have many students. However, we do have online tools now that help students understand what has long been misunderstood. How wonderful it will be to watch their eyes light up and witness their progress!

(Why do we have discreet subjects in school anyway? I’ll save that for another post.)

I plan to use the data to source or build the tools students will need. Wish me luck.

Self-Directed Learning: Rubrics for Students

Another thing I learned during summer school is that self-directed and reflective learning is possible when specifically embedded into instruction. Exit slips are great tools I will use more often this year. I’m more excited about using self-evaluation rubrics constantly, though.

I use self-evaluation rubrics for writing assignments in all classes, but this year I will push the idea further. Why not use them for other types of assignments, like projects, and even multiple choice tests? I want the kids to constantly tell themselves, “It’s my education,” until they truly believe it and take ownership.

Still So Much to Do!

I will follow up on this post with another after some time ruminating on these ideas. The start of school is only a few weeks away, and my confidence is shaky, but I once again remind myself: Go do a job.

Thank you for reading the eleventh post in my 30-Day Writing Challenge.

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