What I’ve Learned About Being A Kick-Butt Reading Teacher–Part 4

Or:  How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Assessment

Inside my district I was an early adopter of Pearson’s Developmental Reading Assessment system.  When the district decided to implement DRA for all elementary classrooms, the cheese was MOVED IN A BIG WAY for many.  Some were downright obstinate, insisting that more “testing” took them away from instruction, and they already knew what their students needed.  When pressed with how they knew, or asked to give specifics…well, we’ve all seen a fear response, right?  Anger, resentment, etc.  As a relative noob, I didn’t get where these folks were coming from.  Looking back, I think these very talented educators did know their curriculum and were rocking some solid pedagogies.  But that’s a different wheel of cheese, man.

What the DRA and similar tools do is help me to notice things about my students as readers on an individual basis.  Some of the things I notice are quite beside the grade level content standards, but instead indicate what one particular kid needs to even get close to those standards, or to move way beyond those standards.  In September, I don’t know my students–they are complicated little people!  So I use the DRA, and we talk a lot about the books we like and why, and the books we hate and why.  I listen to them read aloud.  I listen to them chat mid-lesson with a partner.  I peek at their reading logs.  I carefully read and think about written responses to reading.  I get DiBeLs data from the RtI people in my building.

I sit at home surrounded by notes and rubrics and work samples and memories of conversations with the kid, her former teachers, and her parents, and then I try to get a hold on this one reader.  Her strengths, her weaknesses, her attitudes, her identity as a reader at that moment.  And then I think about the standards, where she needs to be in June, and I begin to plan.  Focal points for instruction.  Tentative goals to discuss and consider with her.  And I do this with every student.  It takes a lot of time.  Because once each kid gets individual analysis, I have to map out the reading geography of the whole classroom for the first part of the year.  There is some triage–which kids need interventions in a big way, maybe beyond my classroom?  Which kids have similar strengths or similar weaknesses and can be grouped for strategic instruction?  Are there some widespread issues that indicate necessary whole class instruction?  At the end of all this thinking and strategizing, I have tentative goals for each reader as well as some initial small groupings for strategic instruction, my initial calendar for conferring with individual students, and notes for specific focus lessons or units of study for the whole class.

Did I mention this takes a lot of time?  When I started teaching fifth grade, I didn’t do any of that–I didn’t know how, let alone why.  Instead I spent a lot of time making excuses for why my instruction wasn’t as effective as I believed it should be, or wondering what I was doing wrong, or making super-fun lessons and projects that may or may not have helped grow my young readers.  I like it better now.  And so do the students, I think.  They are involved in setting goals for themselves, they have the power to choose (with guidance) how to pursue those goals, and most importantly, they know that I know them, each and every one.  They know that I see them, that I think about them, that their learning is a true priority in my life.  Being a kick-butt reading teacher is not easy, or clean, or obvious.  But it sure beats the alternative!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kim Colmer
    Sep 01, 2011 @ 01:18:40

    U R incredible!


  2. hloney
    Sep 01, 2011 @ 23:35:20

    As you well know, Kim, I have the privilege of teaching in a great community where parents are super supportive and the kids are very tolerant of my learning curve! Maybe I am incredible–or just incredibly privileged.


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