It has been almost a full year since I have really reflected on my teaching and learning. Not because I haven’t spent quite a bit of time doing that, but because I taught 4th grade in Florida this year.
I posted last summer about the Florida Writes. Our district scores had dropped and teachers felt they did not have the support they needed for the new assessment guidelines. I had gone out to the State of Florida Education Department site to review the information teachers could use. The teachers were right. With new assessment guidelines, the older writing samples on the site did not apply and could not be used.
Fast forward a few months…and my absolute excitement at being able to teach 4th grade for 2012 to 2013! My school is departmentalized so I taught reading, writing, and social studies for a 2 hour block. It was tough, rigorous, and required a LOT of wonderful integration.
Still…what was truly wonderful was the help my district writing contact provided!
She not only sat teachers down at the beginning of the year and walked through points in the FL DOE sample text (which they now had 🙂 ). She also came to our school and provided our 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers with professional development!
I learned in December that my scoring was too soft. I was about a point off of what Theresa felt the state might mark the papers from my 4th grade students. Now…you know…this is not an exact science. However, that ability to align my thinking with hers was invaluable!
Strong assessment requires the ability to understand and ‘see’ the levels in students’ work and understand how those levels align with state expectations.
In the end…I really wanted to reach the 80 percentile range for passing. Our school overall was about 58. However, 70% of my students passed! Considering our school pass rate was 41% last year, we grew a lot!
With the departmentalization, “I felt”, we miss out on opportunities to write across the curriculum. That is not to say that my team didn’t try. They taught math or science to 88 students in 55 minute blocks! It was fast and a lot of ‘content’ to cover.
Overall, I feel, we missed out the cohesiveness of a core planning process that could be apparent in all subject areas. Honestly, with the time it takes to assess 88 science notebooks, 88 math assignments, or 44 writing essays (in my case), plus 2 to 3 meetings a week… there was just little time for us to come together as a team to talk and plan. And when we did, it was scheduled data crunch time. With one teacher, you can create time for yourself, when you are able. You can see the day, the week, the year, more clearly, across subject areas! There are less classroom walls to work through.
THIS YEAR… I will be in a self-contained 4th grade classroom!!!!!
As I create plans this year, I am able to backward plans and choose reading that links to the standards in more than just language arts! I can pick a science article for science standards that work for the reading comprehension I intend to teach in my reading block.
Then, I can have students write to show learning of the science content as well as the writing standard we are working towards.
It’s not that departmentalization couldn’t achieve that I guess. But it did feel like for 4th grade, there were a lot of barriers. It was tough. For this year…
The best way I can explain integrated planning is like streams that flow into one river.
Maybe if you look closely, you can see where water from one stream is in the teaching flow. But day-to-day, hour by hour…the learning is so intertwined that the overall experience is the beauty and process of learning the river ride.
When you finally arrive at the journey’s end, a student should have mastered all that was needed to make their way down…with a depth that can only come from applying the new skills and knowledges in an authentic, holistic setting.
This is the beginning of starting up my blogging again. I learned so much this year. Departmentalization taught me to be faster, more efficient, and make do with less time. I hope that the new year brings a deeper understanding of 4th grade standards and the ability to hone my assessment for learning and differentiated through the flipped classroom and writing across the curriculum.