Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring Cleaning

As the weather turns warm in North Florida I start to put away the winter clothes and bring out my spring and summer clothes. Since the weather stays very mild in Florida, especially compared the northern half of the United States and Canada, my wardrobe change has a lot to do with sleeve length and colors. It’s spring now, so I’m doing my spring-cleaning.

There is a rhythm to the seasons. In schools we have a rhythms, too. Right now we are in testing season. The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) will be given in a little over a week. Half the teachers in the school are under tremendous amounts of stress. Months and months of teaching boil down to weeks and weeks of fine tuning of lessons, small groups, and conferences. Spring break, this year before the test, couldn’t have come at a better time. Tempers were sharp and nerves were brittle. The season of the TEST was upon us.

Teaching, like the Florida weather, should remain fairly constant through the school year. Some of the tools we use before the test are ones that we should be using throughout the school year. This year we have had a greater focus on data. We have had more benchmark testing and progress monitoring than ever before. The district implemented a new information system to help teachers sort and configure the data in a very timely manner. The key, however, is what the teacher does with the data that makes the difference.

We learn a new reading genre when we learn to read data. It has it’s own vocabulary and types of comprehension. Reading strategies, such as inference or synthesis, are important to get meaning in data. Schema - for the student, for the assessment, for the benchmark – is critical for comprehending the information. If one just looks at it as a math problem: “What is the difference between the number of students in the proficient range compared to the number in the non-proficient range?” you never get at the root of the data. A better question might be “Compared to the benchmark assessed, which students need significant reteaching and which only need a quick reminder?” The data helps me to see what my students need to learn next.

The FCAT will come and for two weeks we will be testing the culmination of what students have learned since they walked into school in kindergarten. After the test, however, we have a chance to do a little spring-cleaning of our own. Let’s look at our teaching practices. We should keeping looking at the data, fine tuning the small groups or the conferences. Take the time to make sure the students are proficient in the areas they struggle with the most before going to the next grade. In your spring-cleaning, look at some of the teaching you have typically done in the spring. Does it still fit with the data you have on your students? What can you do now that will make a difference to your students in the future? Reflecting on our practice makes us better teachers and helps our students learn. In the end, isn’t that what’s important?