Thursday, January 7, 2016

New Year's Revolution?

In keeping with the practices of good journalism, I'm not going to bury the lead. Here it is -- In the next few weeks we will be working together to change the workshop block into graded classes in reading, writing, and math. Students will be grouped homogeneously for these classes based on the Star360 data, and the Star360 instructional planning reports will drive the lessons. We will implement this change with the semester switch on January 25th.

Back in the fall, the Board of Education made some strong statements about the disparity in the SBAC scores, and student achievement in general, between the two middle schools. In the administrative meetings that followed, we had a great deal of discussion about how the number of teachers on a grade level team effect the number of instructional minutes that students spend in graded content classes. There is no magic in the concept that more instructional time produces more student learning. Higher test scores are a natural consequence of more instructional minutes per school day. I was directed to increase the number of graded instructional minutes, as part of the plan to reduce the disparity in student achievement. It was made clear that we can't sit in those same meetings next year without having taken steps in a new direction.

When there is a 5-teacher team, students are scheduled into 5 periods: math, science, social studies, LA, and an additional language arts class that focuses on writing. In this model every student gets all 5 of these classes every day. Here at Pawcatuck, with only 4 teachers or less per grade level, we have been scheduling 4 academic classes per day plus workshop.

The workshop here has its merits. Pawcatuck Middle School has a disproportionate number of students who receive supports. The workshop model has allowed us to offer a variety of remediation efforts without pulling these students out of academic or survey classes. Many of the teachers here have created wonderful, creative, and challenging enrichment activities for our higher performing students during workshop. With only 3-4 teachers in a team, there is no way to have all of the students in that grade have the same class for that 5th academic period. Workshop solved that problem.

I have created a framework for the plan to change workshop, but we need to collaborate to make it work. The framework places students into two types of classes, foundations and topics. In math and language arts, the foundational classes will have three levels. The levels will be  taught by a special education teacher, Title I tutor, or content teacher for students in the Urgent Intervention, Intervention, and On Watch groups respectively. Students in the At/Above Benchmark groups in both math and language arts will be scheduled with social studies and science teachers for "topics" classes. The focus of these classes will be non-fiction reading and writing in those subjects. We will be meeting together to further develop this plan. Nothing is written in stone yet, and I look forward to everyone contributing their ideas.

To make this work, we will have to make a few technical adjustments to the period schedule, changing the workshop in some grades from 60 minutes to a standard 50 minute class. Change is hard. I hate to make schedule changes midstream, but is an opportunity to take a step forward in student achievement that we can't afford not to take.

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Paw Prints by Timothy B. Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.