Keywords: writing, communication, expectations, relevancy, goal-setting
Introduction and Context
Communication is a key part of my language arts curriculum. I feel the students need to effectively communicate through writing, listening, and speaking on a daily basis. To me, this ensures success in all areas of their academic and personal career. Depending on what grade level I am teaching, I tend to change topics and texts each school year based on the demographics, the interests, and the level of my students. In my 13 years as an educator, I have taught various grade levels, from 8th graders all the way up to 12th graders. I have also taught a range of co-taught, Gifted and Honors, College Prep, and Advanced Placement level classes. As far as the demographics of my school is concerned, there is an ample mixture of various socioeconomic groups which allows the opportunity for students, myself included, to share and to learn about others’ life experiences. Although we all come from different places and cultures, I found that if I communicate my expectations to students, then they in turn will communicate their expectations to me.
Events, Actions, and Outcomes
Teachers before me taught Into the Wild by John Krakauer to juniors multiple times and in various levels. The way the teachers discussed their success with the unit made me want to look into teaching this novel. I wanted to try out the unit as well since it paired well with Transcendentalism and Romanticism and felt this would help the students understand the more challenging texts from Thoreau and Emerson. The opening of the unit was going well with our four essential questions connected to the main themes in the novel to help aid the students for their timed writing summative assessment.
The students seemed to enjoy the book and the unit; however, when it was time for their timed writing, they all seemed to miss the mark on the themes and the author’s purpose of the novel in conjunction with the transcendentalists and the romantics’ pieces we read. I assumed they were understanding the novel when we discussed it in class, but the assessment told me they hated the book and saw no purpose in reading the novel as they felt it did not pertain to their lives. The majority of the students received low grades on their timed writings due to their lack of connection with the novel, the various prose pieces, and the themes as well as showcasing their deep learning. Their feelings were also reiterated to me when they shared their Exit Surveys on the last day of the semester: “don’t teach this novel again” and “teach us more writing skills.” I realized not only did I need to change my lessons for the next semester, but I also needed to communicate more with my students. I realized I did not dive deep enough with them. I thought I saw this unit as an effective way to teach students the skills they needed for the next class level, yet I was not in sync and did not encourage enough deep learning with my students, and I felt as if I failed them. If I want them to feel like their education is relevant and meaningful, then I need to communicate to exactly what they want from the class.
On the first day of the new semester, our administrators discussed the importance of teaching the skills and the standards in our respected content areas; however, what really brought to light my experience last semester with my students was when they highlighted the impact of student goal-setting. This is a part of the Quality Plus Teaching Strategies which is a research-based approach for success in the classroom that my district uses. I knew this was going to be the essential part of introducing a new semester with new students to help me communicate expectations and for me to listen to the students’ expectations for the course.
The expectations were for the students to understand the standards from the Georgia End of Course American Literature exam as well as the differences between Beginning, Developing, Proficient, and Distinguished Learners first, and then I gave them on a worksheet the specific standards we are focusing on for this new novel and unit. The students circled where they believed they were on each standard and then wrote down ways they need specific, tangible help in any particular standard. The main skills that are being assessed in this unit are various writing strategies in the argumentative genre. Students have been working on writing skills mini-lessons as formative assessments in order to help them towards their final summative assessment and goals. In this new unit, students will revisit their goals halfway throughout the unit to evaluate themselves on where they think they are and where they want to go in order to meet their goals.
Having students to dive deep into writing skills allows them to be more successful writers and learners and in turn will make them effective communicators. In a language arts workshop I attended over the summer, I remembered that “when we fail to ask for deep learning, it is unlikely to emerge on its own” (Fisher, Frey, & Hattie, 2016, p. 77). Deep learning is where they become engaging and critical learners and thinkers. In order to fulfill the deep learning, I need more communication with my students and more opportunities for them to communicate with each other. If I allow more opportunities for my students to correspond with one another, then they can “consolidate their conceptual understanding by writing” (Fisher, Frey, & Hattie, 2016, p. 77). My students taught me the importance of communicating not just at the beginning and the end of a unit but throughout it as well. I learned to make students a part of the classroom process in order for me to help guide them in a relevant and meaningful path. Communication is the core for setting and achieving expectations.
Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Hattie, J. (2016). Visible Learning for Literacy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Literacy.
Georgia Milestones Achievement Level Descriptors. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2019, from http://www.gadoe.org/Curriculum-Instruction-and-Assessment/Assessment/Pages/Georgia-Milestones-ALD.aspx
Quality-Plus Teaching Strategies. (n.d.). Retrieved January 13, 2019, from http://publish.gwinnett.k12.ga.us/qpts/strategy/goalsetting