I was out of my building one day this week for a meeting. I was very thankful for a substitute that followed my plans and did meaningful work with students in my absence. This is no easy task, as my role as an ELL teacher and interventionist means I teach groups of a wide range of ages and skills. Everything from kindergarten newcomers’ language class to 3rd grade strategic ELL’s reading groups to a 5th grade intensive math group. Upon my return, I noted 3 interesting comments in her notes to me:
1. ‘ALL of your students worked so hard! What a great day!’ Yes! A teacher’s dream come true!
2. ‘If you have me back to sub, I’ll need to wear different shoes. You move around the building A LOT.’ Yes, I do! I’m the queen of teaching in any space! :)
3. ‘Your consistency with the colors among classes really made the day easier. I already felt in the groove after just one group.’ This was my huge ‘ah-ha’ moment for me!
Several years ago a colleague introduced me to a particular writing curriculum she had used. As a then 4th grade teacher I was searching to scaffold students in writing. The students I worked with then often had limited prior writing instruction because the focus was on reading and math for the 3rd grade Reading and Math MSP. Students were coming to my grade level needing to learn an awful lot about writing for the 4th grade Writing MSP. This was no fault of any of the incredible educators I work with and was merely a systemic approach (much like the science that wasn’t really being taught to mastery until the 5th grade Science MSP).
In an effort not to endorse any paid curriculum, I will address only the strategies I eventually took from this curriculum and made work for me and my students (this is why I’m not including photographs of any classroom materials). I needed a curriculum at this point in my career to give me some structure to my lessons. I used this curriculum to help myself and my students find tangible goals for writing. Honestly, maybe any curriculum would have given me this to become a more confident writing instructor.
Just a couple of years ago my district adopted the same writing curriculum at the elementary level. It had been updated and rewritten to meet the needs of the CCSS. I had such success with the older version of this curriculum that I was on board. At one of the first trainings, a strategy was introduced of using a color-coded system for creating coherent pieces of writing. I immediately saw this color-coding as a parallel to an annotation strategy I had used for reading complex text. And it paralleled some of the problem solving strategies I had been using in math to comprehend tasks and questions.
So right then and there I committed to finding a way to use this strategy consistently. I adapted the exact strategy to indicate three areas of reading anything: topic, main idea and key details. I gave each of the three categories an assigned color (I just went with what the curriculum used because that is what we were using building and district wide).
With CCSS really tying reading and writing together as ELA, the connection is so clear. Our reading and writing is intertwined so using these colors to annotate any text is beneficial. I can talk with students about writing paragraphs for the purpose of explaining with one main idea and several details. The following week I may be working with students on summarizing and be able to use the ‘main idea color’ to visually represent the structure of a summary. I find that all strands of ELA and content-based reading rely on understanding the difference between topics, main ideas and details and therefore work within my ‘system’. Even my math annotation strategies can follow the color scheme, using the same colors to indicate the questions, important information and tasks at hand.
Students have been successful with this strategy because when students learn how to interact with text, they can read for information successfully. As I said, I teach kindergarten through 5th grade. I teach ELA, math and everything in between. I work with students all over the academic playing field. I am not any of these student’s homeroom teacher. However, because they are using the writing program from which my adapted strategy comes from in their classrooms, they have the basic foundations when they come to my classroom. Students make connections to what they already know.
My substitute’s comment was poignant. Of course I love to make life easier for any guest teacher. However, that was never my goal is making this strategy work for my students. My goal was to make material accessible through tools that are cross curricular for all students. Yet, when she said she knew exactly how to run the classroom after just one group, it made me realize that students then, too, know exactly how to access text after a short time when the processes are consistent. Who doesn’t like to know what to expect?
So yes, I’m around my building a lot. And I love it. My students were well-behaved in my absence. I love that even more (and praised their hard work beyond belief!)! One of my classroom strategies is working for student success and noticeable at a very surface level. That is what I love most of all!
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.