February 18, 2013

High, Middle, Low: PLC Implications

Part of being a literacy coach is taking the time while I'm in observing teachers to take the focus away from how the teacher is teaching and to place to focus on the students.  During our last professional development session, I asked teachers to bring data on a student they considered below grade level in reading and writing, at grade level in reading and writing, and above grade level in reading and writing.  The reason for taking a look at these three types of students is it gives teachers a chance to get a view of the needs of all different types of students without having to analyze an entire class.  The data included a variety of formative and summative assessments such as:

  • Reading Conference Anecdotal Notes
  • Benchmark Assessment Forms
  • Guided Reading Anecdotal Notes
  • Writing About Reading from the Student
  • Students' Self-Evaluations
  • Scores on Standardized Tests
  • Writing Conference Anecdotal Notes
  • Published Pieces of Writing
  • Students' Writer's Notebooks
  • Guided Writing Anecdotal Notes
As a group, we took time to dig into what we noticed about students at these different ability levels as readers and writers.  Teachers wrote down general observations (could be positive or negative) concerning students' reading and writing in the following categories:

For Reading: Fluency, Within the Text Comprehension, Beyond the Text Comprehension, About the Text Comprehension, Reading Habits

For Writing:  Ideas, Organization, Voice, Sentence Fluency, Word Choice, Conventions, and Writing Habits.

After the observations were written, teachers set goals for students and determined at which places within our teaching framework they would be able to help that student reach the goal that was set.

Sample Goal:  Needs to support thinking beyond the text with evidence from the text.
Places to Work on this Goal:  Interactive Read Aloud, Guided Reading, Writing About Reading, Model this during minilessons

We took this even a step further by having the grade levels get together to discuss their below, at, and above grade level students.  Some grade levels were able to determine where good places would be to take their classes next in Reading and Writing Workshop and what would be appropriate for whole group minilessons, small group guided reading and writing sessions, and individual reading and writing conferences.

In addition, throughout my coaching sessions over the following weeks, teachers pointed out three students in each class (above, at, and below grade level students) for me to focus in on throughout the class period.  At first it was difficult for me to keep my focus on only three students as I generally like to take in the big picture and notice a little bit of everything, but once I got the hang of it, I really enjoyed the "zoomed in" approach and learned a lot about students in general.  There are 12 language arts teachers at my middle school teaching grades 5-8, so I was able to get a broad view of these students and am going to summarize my findings below.  Please keep in mind that these are general observations that do not apply to all students that I observed, just some generalizations.

Below Grade Level Students:
  • Avoidance behaviors (sharpening pencils, digging in desks, blowing nose, fiddling with pencils, whispering to a neighbor, looking around but not focusing on the task at hand, etc.)  I was blown away after conferencing with many below grade level students who had accomplished so much less during a class period than there at or above grade level peers.  As a teacher in front of 25 students, I don't know that I would have noticed the avoidance behaviors as many of them were not in any way disruptive.  However, after focusing in on just this, it was obvious that avoidance behaviors were the number one thing that stuck out to me as the common thread between below grade level students.
  • In a few classrooms that I was in, there were opportunities throughout the class period for below grade level students to be paired up with an above grade level student.  Specifically, in an 8th grade language arts classroom that this happened in during a peer revision activity, the below grade level student put in her best effort and thrived during the activity.  In a 5th grade classroom where the below grade level student was paired with an above grade level student in the turn-and-talk during the minilesson, the higher student was able to support the lower student and have a great conversation. 
  • In general, the body language could be described as slouchy and unengaged.  Many of the students I observed did not give the speaker eye contact or face their bodies toward the person speaking.
At Grade Level Students:
  • Always looking to meet the expectation but not necessarily there to exceed it.  I noticed that whenever a task was given, it seemed like the at grade level students were the first to complete the task.
  • There seemed to be two distinct categories of at grade level students: those who were lower students working their butts off to succeed and those who were higher students working to barely meet the standard but capable of so much more.
  • Whole group minilessons for reading and writing seemed to be appropriate for the at grade level learners and meet many of their needs.
  • Classroom behavior was generally very good and students actively listened throughout the minilesson and followed along with all or most of the activities.
Above Grade Level Students:
  • Body language indicates students are very engaged in everything that they do.  Their focus on a topic sometimes has them miss out on what's going on in class.  For example, I witnessed several above grade level students miss out on the sharing of writing during Writing Workshop due to the fact that they were still writing.
  • Application of minilessons is sometimes way too easy for them.  Some above grade level students sometimes then take it upon themselves to take it to the next level but others are not quite sure how to do that and this sometimes gets them off task.
  • When above grade level students participate in partners, small groups, and the whole class discussion, it has the ability to lift the whole class up and gives examples that are perfect models for other students.

I had some great discussions with language arts teachers about these observations and got the opportunity to set goals with teachers for students of all ability levels.  It seems that there are a lot of implications for the classroom from the data above.  These include:
  • Notice and eliminate avoidance behavior whenever possible.
  • Group students heterogeneously to support students when the teacher cannot always be there for everyone.
  • Encourage students to use great body basics and discuss what it looks like to be an active listener during whole group instruction.  Hold students accountable for active listening.
  • Teach above grade level students how to push themselves as active learners by using constructivism and inquiry.  Have general extension activities with a lot of choice available to compliment Reading Workshop and Writing Workshop.
  • Set high expectations for all learners and design whole group, small group, and individualized instruction to best meet the needs of all learners in your classroom.

Implications for Professional Learning Community (PLC) Work:

Many districts, including mine, are moving to a PLC model that encourages teachers to take common team time and move the team time from "collegially planning" to "focusing on data to improve teaching".  There were many items mentioned above that I feel would be productive activities when doing "PLC Work".  These activities include:
  • Analyzing data, summative assessments, and formative assessments from a below, at, and above grade level student within the same classroom to make observations about students as readers and writers.
  • Set goals for students based on data and plan where within your teaching framework those goals will be worked on.
  • Compare data with grade level teammates to plan for whole group, small group, and individualized instruction.
  • Observe someone else teaching and focus in on an above, at, and below grade level student and make observations about these three students.  Meet afterwards to discuss what you noticed.
And just because I'm obsessed with anchor charts.  Here ya go:

Have a fabulous week, friends!


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