Student Goal Setting with Data

I’ve been using a new textbook this year that sets a high standard with the rigor of its text and tests. Each week, my students take a test over the skills and vocabulary they have been learning. So far, they’re not doing very well on these tests.

This is one filled out.  :)

This is one filled out. 🙂

In an effort to improve their scores, I recently worked with them to examine their data and set a goal for future test scores. To introduce it, I explained my approach to goal setting. I’m a runner (a SLOW runner!) so I shared my goals with them. I also shared my action plan to meet those goals. The students were very excited to set their own goals and action plans after hearing about mine.

We also discussed making the goal realistic. If they are currently getting 30% on their tests, setting a goal to get 90% is probably not going to happen overnight. Using my running as an example, I pointed out that setting a goal to take 2 minutes off my mile in a month is just not realistic. Nice if it happens, but not likely. This seemed to make them feel better about the idea of setting a goal.

Then we discussed reasonable action steps to plan. I asked them to mark just one or two of the steps suggested. I also pointed out that completing all of their assignments and studying for spelling tests would not only help their test scores, but help their grade. (You’d think they could see that themselves, but they are sixth graders, after all!)

The action steps I suggested were designed to help them increase their reading comprehension skills and their word analysis skills. These are the two areas the class, as a whole, struggle with. Utilizing these steps will help them overall with their reading and word skills. Since the tests don’t cover specific content, but instead skills, these are steps that should help them overall.

I am very encouraged by the response I’ve had from this process. Many of the students immediately put their steps into action and were quite proud of themselves. As we’ve gone along, I’ve been sharing my successes and frustrations in running. They love hearing how I didn’t want to get out and run, but I had made a pledge, so I did. Sharing my work has been helpful in encouraging them to work towards their goals.

Weekly Test Score Goal for

I also asked them to have their parent sign the goal sheet. After explaining that this is not a case of “get them in trouble”, but more a need to keep their parents involved in their learning. The parents have been very receptive, as well. Many have written notes on the page sharing how they will help their child reach the goal.

When they take their next weekly test, we’ll graph the results and celebrate anyone who reached their goal. My plan is to give them a “goaled star” – get it? Gold/goaled! I crack me up!

How do you help your students improve?


Helping Students Organize Their Writing

After teaching writing for a number of years, I’ve finally discovered a method that seems to help them put coherent paragraphs and passages together.  The special education teacher I co-teach with created guides for his students.  Each week, as we progress through a new piece of writing, he gave his students a paper with specific ideas for each paragraph (and, at times, each sentence).  I tried it one week, when we were working on a problem-solution essay, which always gives my students problems.  What a difference!

Student Sample

Student Sample

Student Sample

Student Sample

The students felt more confident in writing their rough drafts and were much more pleased with their final result.  I was happy that I didn’t have to wade through essays which are more first grade than sixth grade quality.  These guides have made all the difference.  As we progress through the year, my plan is to pull back and offer less support.  By that time, however, they should be able to organize their writing on their own.

Reading their mysteries, I’m encouraged by the success.  In the past, when my students had to write a mystery, they had a hard time getting started and then their stories tended to ramble.  The final drafts I scored this weekend rarely were hard to follow (unfortunately, no strategy is foolproof!)  A few needed some help rearranging their paragraphs, but otherwise, they had a good beginning, middle and end.  Next, we’ll need to work on their climax.

I have attached a couple of the guides I have used to help them in their writing.  We’ll see, as we continue through the year, whether they need the support all year, or if I can pull it back and let them write on their own.

Guide to Writing a Mystery

Writing a Movie Review

Accommodating Struggling Readers in the Regular Ed Classroom

One of the toughest things teachers do is try to meet each child’s needs in the classroom.  Given the wide range of abilities, this is a challenging task.  This year, I’ve switched to teaching just reading and language arts.  While I miss teaching other subjects, it has helped me focus more on my content.  In the past, I was constantly switching between two, three or even four content areas.  The variety was nice, but the planning was difficult.

Since I’m able to focus more on my content this year, I’ve been working on differentiating more.  My struggling readers have been quite a challenge, since the textbook we’re using assumes they are reading at grade level.  More than half of my students are reading below grade level, currently.  Sometimes I think it would be easier if I had all struggling readers.  Then we could teach the whole class in a way that would work for them.  However, this is not the case.  I have a few students reading above grade level and the rest reading at grade level.

Note the age of the iPod. 🙂
However, it’s still going strong!

So, to help those students whose reading is below grade level, I have started recording material on an iPod.  Part of the time, I can use the audio that came with my textbook, but part of the time, I’m recording my own.  Luckily, my daughter has an old iPod that she doesn’t use any more, so I have one to take to school.  In addition, she went through a phase where she continually lost or broke many earbuds, so we started buying them cheaply.  This means that I have 7 pairs, now, that I can take to school.

To record the material myself, I’ve been using Audacity.  It is a downloadable, free program that lets you record your own voice, then save it to a file.  You can find it here:  This has been very handy, since I’ve been able to record passages, as well as spelling tests and worksheets.  In class, I can hand the student or students the iPod and they can listen and get the material they need, in a way that works for them.  For me to read the material out loud all the time would be impossible.

The students seem to like it, since the iPod is small enough to go unnoticed by most other students.  They also seem happier and more confident in class now.  This is only my second week doing this, so as I continue, I’m sure I’ll find both positives and negatives about this system.  It seems to be working, though, and allows me to meet student needs by myself.

How do you handle the differing needs in your classroom?

Humor is a Great Way to Build Interest


Ever have one of those days?

One thing I’ve often found in my classroom is that a well placed joke can pique even the most disinterested student’s attention.  I’ve found making a (typically bad) joke during instructional time can keep students listening.  In fact, I’ve been working on powerpoints for my new Reading Street materials this summer and I’ve inserted silly pictures or jokes into each day’s presentation.  I find most of these on, but is also a good source.

What’s great about these jokes is that it helps the class see you as more of a regular person.  When we laugh together, we bond, which makes them more likely to want to learn what you have to teach.  It also relieves stress, which we all know is in plentiful supply in a middle school!

Gotta love a pun!

As the students spend their days worrying about whether they fit in, it’s nice to take a break from the worry and relax for a minute.  I’ve also had students come to me with jokes between classes because they know I like silly, corny jokes.

Today, I found a wonderful video, made by people at Mission Control about the Mars Curiosity Rover:  Take a look – it’s fun to watch and helps make a point with your students that being silly can blow off steam and helps anyone do a better job.  If NASA can laugh at itself, certainly an eleven year old can.

Do you use humor in your class?  What have you found to be the best way to engage your students?

Kids will totally love this one!

Teaching Reading Street

In the fall, I will be teaching language arts using a new textbook: Reading Street.  I’ve heard a lot about it from elementary teachers, most of whom have used the word “overwhelming”.

Basically, it is an all-encompassing textbook.  It includes reading, writing, computer skills, grammar, spelling, etc.  Each week is a separate piece that goes into a 6 week unit.  Students complete a piece of writing each week, as well as read a story, part of a book or article.  In addition, they complete a research project and present their findings.

This summer, I have been going through the materials and creating powerpoints for each day.  I’m not sure how well they will work, but the process has given me a structure to look at it with.  In addition, I’m able to put everything together in an easy-to-use (I hope, anyway) format.  I also listed times for each activity, in order to help me stay on track as I work through class.

Unit 1 Week 1 Day 1

I have attached one of the powerpoints – let me know what you think.  I would love to hear from other teachers:

Will this make things easier for me?

Are the time frames reasonable?

Is this a huge waste of my time?

I’ll post some others, too.  Feel free to use them in your classroom – but be sure to let me know how it goes!