Browse Tag: First Grade

A Literacy Experiment

Jessica Ruscello

Reading growth is a thing. A really important thing.

The reading growth goal that TFA assigns us is 1.6 years of growth on the grade equivalency scale, when our students take their STAR Reading test. Right now, we have a range of scale stores from 66 to 88, which translates to a .4 to 1.2 in grade equivalency.

1.6 is a lot of growth! It means I need to get my kids to read at a 2.0 to a 2.8 reading level by the end of the year. In other words, I need to get every child in my room reading above grade level.

We took STAR for the first time on August 27, and our average grade equivalency was .59. We took STAR again on September 20, and the average grade equivalency was .80. That’s growth! I think there are a few factors going on – first, the kindergarten and pre-k test (STAR Early Literacy) reads questions to the students, so the first time they take STAR Reading, a lot of the kids are taken aback by the fact that they have to read the questions on their own. I think this pulls down some scores – kids who show that they’re high readers in the classroom had some relatively low scores on the first test, and this might be why.

One idea I had to improve our reading growth was sending home books to read – I have access to Reading A-Z, and I thought that if I send home one of their leveled readers every week with every child, along with instructions to read that book every night for of the week, that might make a difference. Using the leveled readers also allows me to differentiate – I can send home a level C book with my lower readers, a level D book for my on-level readers, and a level E or F book for my high readers. This should allow my kids to get more of what they need in terms of reading material, and help them grow more. By December, I should be sending home a level E book with my lower readers, a level F book with my on-level readers, and a level G or H book with my high readers, and that should continue to progress throughout the year.

Of course, this relies on parent engagement too – I need my parents to remind their kids to read. I also need to pick texts that my kids are interested in, so they’ll actually want to read those books.

The one thing I wish I could do is isolate the effect of this – I wish I could, somehow, have a control group of students who are receiving regular classroom instruction, and regular homework, but not sending books home. I think that would be unethical, though, to do something that I think would help improve reading scores, but only do it for half of my kids. I wouldn’t want to have to explain to parents that I tried to do something extra to improve reading scores, but their child wasn’t included in it because…I wanted to run a little experiment in my classroom. It wouldn’t be useful, either, to compare my STAR data from last year to my STAR data from this year, because I’m not teaching the exact same way I was last year, and I wasn’t in the same classroom for the entirety of last year.

So, readers, I’m looking to you – how can I test to see if this is actually working, while still including all of my kids, and all of the kids in the other first grade class? If you have a bright idea about testing the effectiveness of different methods in elementary classrooms, leave it in the comments on this post.

Grading Anxiety

When I was at Western, I was obsessive about my GPA. It felt like a chance to redeem myself from what felt like a huge failure at art school, it felt like a chance to finally prove that I was smart. In two and a half years, I only had one B and one BA, finishing with a 3.96 or 3.94 or something.

That number would have been higher if I hadn’t taken Early American Lit, which ruined me.

It felt like an accomplishment.

At high school graduation, I undoubtedly had the lowest GPA out of my friend group. I wasn’t dumb, but I had made some mistakes (I’m looking at you, C in freshman year Earth Science) and some things just didn’t work out the way I hoped (hey, straight Bs for the semester because I spent the week before finals in the hospital while my grandma was dying.) I graduated with a 3.4, which some of the colleges I applied to recalculated, adding in extra points for AP and honors classes.

I honestly thought that the obsession and investment and confusion over grades would be over when I graduated.

I was wrong.

My elementary school didn’t give out grades. My elementary school was, compared to the school where I teach, hippie-ish. There were movable walls! There was team-teaching! We had recess twice a day! Our report cards were a long list of skills, academic and social-emotional and practical, and you got a grade on each of those. They would include things like “Adding and subtracting two-digit numbers,” “Plays appropriately with peers,” “Using scissors” and “Identifying left and right.”

In kindergarten, I distinctly remember getting the left and right one wrong, because the person asking me gave me a hint, saying “Your right hand is the one you write with.”

I’m left-handed.

At my school, we give out grades. Numbers that translate into letters that translate into passing or failing.

Grading is frustrating because I have to give a number, to every student, for Reading, Language, and Math. That number doesn’t have a way for me to say “They are still behind but they have improved so much.” and it doesn’t have a way for me to say “Their grammar is great, but they struggle with phonics – they don’t quite get vowel patterns yet.” There’s no way for me to say “Their behavior changed recently, and we’ve been working on changing how we react to this kind of situation.”

I’ve spent this year trying to figure out how to handle grading – which assignments to grade, how to grade homework, how rigorous assignments should be in order to count them for a grade. I’m always trying to strike a balance – if the work you’re grading is too hard, everyone’s failing, if the work you’re grading is too easy, then your gradebook is full of 100’s and it’s not rigorous enough.

Then, there’s the troubleshooting side of things – how do I manage making up tests when students are absent? How do I manage making up work that was unfinished in class?

I still don’t feel like I have it figured out.

Afternoon Rhythm

The graphing activity we did in math yesterday, from Tara West’s FirstieMath on TeachersPayTeachers.

I’ve been focusing a lot of my energy, lately, on getting my afternoon math block right. The morning has gotten better because I’ve been more consistent about explaining centers and I’ve started our morning meeting earlier, but it still feels, often, like my afternoon is a hot mess, my kids won’t stop talking, and there’s 10 minutes at the end of the day where I’m not sure how to keep my students occupied while we’re getting ready to go home.

Things have been getting a little better – about two months ago, I started doing a little math meeting routine where we all say the date, “yesterday was” and “tomorrow will be. For example, “Today is Friday, March 31, 2017. Yesterday was Thursday, March 30, 2017. Tomorrow will be Saturday, April 1, 2017.” Then we count to 100 or 120 by fives and tens.

Last week, I added in a little number sense routine, where I hold out some blocks and ask how many blocks I would have to add or take away to get to a different number of blocks. I try to get the kids to explain it to the class, which I guess is something like a math talk.

Here’s an example.

Ms. Macy: I have some blocks. Can anyone tell me how many blocks this is?

Student: It’s 34 blocks.

Ms. Macy: Good job, yep, it’s 34 blocks. I wish I had 12 blocks. Can anyone tell me how I could get to 12 blocks?

Student: You could take away two tens and then take away two ones.

Ms. Macy: Great job, now do that with the blocks and explain it to the whole class.

Student: (gets up in front of class) So we started out with 34 blocks, and I knew we wanted to get to 12 so we have to subtract, so I took away 2 tens but I still had 14 left. I took away 2 more ones and then I had 12.

This week, I started something new in my math block that’s actually worked out pretty. It feels like such an obvious solution, I’m a little embarrassed that it took me this long to figure it out. I got a review packet off Teachers Pay Teachers, printed off five pages of it, and have my kids do a page of it every day, as an early finisher activity. This buys me a little time at the end of the day to get homework folders together, and gives my kids who don’t get dismissed as early something to do while I get my bus riders out the door.

On Elementary Science

Engage NY was easy to use and my kids liked it. Perfect.

In my first year of teaching, I’ve received a wealth of information on teaching reading, and a decent amount about teaching math, and next to nothing about teaching science. I’m not complaining! I understand why – so much of elementary school (especially lower elementary) is about building a foundation so that students can learn later on. That’s why there’s so much emphasis on reading in first grade – it’s where students do so much of learning to read.

Still, science is a thing that I teach, and I really like teaching it. We do science after math, right at the end of the day. I like doing something that’s heavy on carpet time, and things that are immediate. When we were learning about the human body, we did a lot of movements – bending to help understand what joints are, flexing our arms to show what muscles are, that kind of thing.

For the first semester, I used curricula from EngageNY’s Listening and Learning strand – The Human Body and Animals and Habitats.

Both of them are read alouds with a flip book included, which I put up on my projector. Since the projector was on, I had the lights off, which had the added bonus of making my classroom feel a little more calm at the end of the day. Also, it totally helped with some our speaking and listening standards, right?

Now that I’ve used all the Engage NY curricula that are related to our state science standards, I’m kind of at a loss for what to do. We have a science textbook, so that’s one resource, but I’d like to do something more fun and engaging than reading a textbook.

The next topic we’re covering is living and non-living things, then we’ll move on to parts of plants. For the lesson plans I’m writing now, I’m using some passages from the textbook, some videos I found online, and some stuff that I’ve put together myself. When I make materials myself, I’m always worried that it’s not rigorous enough, not good enough, not challenging enough. That’s something that you get a better sense of with time, right?