A new calendar year lies before us! Most schools are approximately half way through their instructional year, which makes this a perfect time to take stock of what we have accomplished to this point, and what is yet to be accomplished this year. We have worked through the fall months, when we normally see students adjust to a new setting and level of expectation, and begin to learn appropriate concepts and skills. Ahead of us are several more months when amazing growth can take place for many students. How can we be sure we approach and use that time in the most productive way possible?
We have heard it said over and over that teachers play a huge part in the learning and development of children. We must make daily decisions about students’ learning, often in split-second time! Fullan and Hargreaves (1996, p. 65) remind us, “There are always things to be done, decisions to be made, children’s needs to be met, not just every day, but every minute, every second. This is the stuff of teaching. There is no let-up.” We know teaching is not an 8:00-4:00 job! We come to expect the pressures of time, initiatives, and added responsibilities, and we can find ourselves on overload, seeing only what is directly in front of us. This is when a deep breath is needed—and now is the time to take it. Reflection is required to check on what we are actually doing and why (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1996); this helps us see the broader picture of what we want to accomplish.
Take, for example, students who build an effective reading process over time. Students who come to us early in the year as ‘emergent’ readers (levels A-B) are able to do such things as hear sounds in words, connect words with names, and recognize some high frequency words (Lyons & Pinnell, 2001). Take time to reflect now on what you have been doing to support their move from ‘emergent’ to ‘early’ readers and beyond, why you have made those decisions, and what needs to take place in the second part of the school year to be sure they make good growth. You might ask yourself how you have supported ‘emergent’ readers in the use of punctuation, reading with phrasing, or using several sources of information to solve reading problems in an effort to propel them into an ‘early’ reader stage. This means assessing needs, adjusting instruction, and making decisions to give us a clear and unique picture of each student (Lyons & Pinnell, 2001). Without taking time to reflect on how far students have come and where they need to go next, it is easy to find ourselves doing what we have always done, and the results could be less than we desire. We must push ourselves to know each student well, and design the next part of their program for broader and deeper application of what we are teaching.
So as we end 2013, having had some time to rest and rejuvenate, consider the following points to begin the second part of this very special year for very special students (adapted from Mack-Kirschner, 2005).
- Think about what you will do in the classroom and what you will ask students to do.
- Be clear about the “why” of what goes on in your classroom.
- Identify the skills your students need to learn, and teach them well.
- Continue instructional practices that encourage engagement and learning, and discontinue those that don’t.
- Remember that we learn by thinking about our experiences.
Time is a precious commodity, and what we do with the time we are given in a school day is crucial to the development and learning of our students. Careful examination of their progress, along with specific reflection on our teaching, will point the way to what they need to learn next.
Fullan, M., & Hargreaves, A. (1996). What’s Worth Fighting for in Your School? New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Lyons, C., & Pinnell, G.S. (2001). Systems for Change in Literacy Education: A Guide to Professional Development. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Mack-Kirschner, A. (2005). Straight Talk for Today’s Teachers: How to Teach So Students Learn. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.