It is often taken for granted that students are being taught a viable curriculum. If there are problems, then it is assumed it is the fault of the student. Perhaps the student is slow or unmotivated.
What we know at eVoyage of Discovery is that most students would be at the top of the class, one to two levels above grade level, if that was the goal set out for them with a viable curriculum!
After many years of in-depth research and testing in multicultural classrooms, we have come to understand what a viable curriculum should look like and how quickly a student can be expected to move forward. The honest truth is, many people do not know what high achievement is in this country!
Listed below are the steps needed to make the highest gains in Reading/Language Arts, Math/Problem Solving, and Writing. If you want to make the highest gains possible, then you need to do each step, even for the gifted and talented students.
STEPS TO LITERACY, MATH LITERACY, WRITING PROFICIENCY
STEP 1: HIGH EXPECTATIONS
It may seem obvious, but the first thing a teacher must do is actually believe that the student can learn. An excellent resource for a relevant discussion on this vitally important topic is the book, Effort and Excellence in our Urban Classrooms: Expecting – and Getting – Results with All Students. (Corbett, Wilson & Williams, 2002) The goal is not to report on what has been taught, but rather, to record what has been learned. When teaching for learning, a different dynamic starts to take place and the relationship between parent, teacher and student becomes important and is built stronger.
STEP 2: BASIC SKILLS
• In reading, we begin with the alphabet, the 70 phonograms of English, and sight words.
• In math we learn the math facts in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
• In writing, we learn neat handwriting, including printing and cursive. The longer a student is delayed in mastery of these basic skills, the more the student falls behind.
It is totally amazing how quickly a student regains ground when time is focused on getting the basics. Suddenly, it is all a new game and success is earned.
STEP 3: WORD FAMILIES, VOCABULARY DEVELOPMENT, MATH CONCEPTS INTRODUCED, WRITING SIMPLE SENTENCES
The human mind is ready to take in a great deal of new information very quickly. What we have lost sight of is how quickly students of all age levels learn. Building background knowledge that is based on easy patterns provides a springform for success.
• In reading, this is the word families and vocabulary development.
• In math, this is drawing pictures of math problems using an ascending scale of math operations, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
• In writing, this is learning to put together an expanding number of sentences. Begin by copying the teacher, and then have students start to add a sentence of their own. What seems like a great leap forward one week, is easy to do the next week. Keep moving forward.
STEP 4: FLUENCY
Simply put, fluency means going fast enough to avoid getting bogged down. If you are able to read at a 12th grade level, but the fluency is at 6th grade, you will not pass exams. You cannot keep up with a natural flow of thought in the classroom. Students do not need to be the fastest kid in the class, but they do need to work fast enough to stay in the game. Make a game of it and it becomes fun. This is not a competition against other students, rather a goal-based progression of skills, as in any sport.
Fluency can be measured using CBM scores – Curriculum Based Measurement. It seems like this step is not really all that important, but our work has proven over and over again, that 15 minutes of class time 3-4 days a week transforms academic performance. This is not just for lower achieving students – it includes the gifted and talented students, as well.
• In reading this step includes timed reading for 1 or 2 minutes and a gradual improvement in speed. Make a game of it and it becomes fun. This is not a competition against other students, rather a goal-based progression of skills, as in any sport. Then 1 day a week will keep students moving forward.
• In math this step includes completing timed math sessions of the basic facts for all operations, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, equations, exponents and the order of operations. We have found that for struggling students a good ratio of time spent on skills is 1/3 skills to 2/3 math literacy. This will give a good balance of time for making significant gains.
• In writing this step includes weekly or bi-weekly writing to a prompt, timed for 3-5 minutes and assessing errors in spelling and grammar with how many words per minute have been written on the page. We have found that bi-weekly writing CBMs will show a true picture of progress. During the 2 weeks, daily exercises in the full range of writing skills needs to take place for gains to be made.
STEP 5: LITERATURE, COMPREHENSION, MATH PROBLEM SOLVING, ESSAYS
This is the one that gets tested! In this step, students need to learn to use thinking skills, the elements of literature, problem solving strategies, and the writing process. This is the expansion of thought with a purpose and for entertainment.
• In reading, this would mean reading 30 minutes to 60 minutes a day, with multiple types of exercises based on the thinking skills. Progress is measured on comprehension tests based on Bloom’s taxonomy.
• In math this would mean learning to become a math thinker using problem solving strategies, building flexibility of thought processing, and building a positive, ‘can-do’ attitude. Progress is measured using formative and summative end of chapter assessments and teaching to mastery.
• In writing, this includes advancing levels of writing from simple sentences, to a variety of sentence structures with correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar. There should be pencils in hand moving across the page and keyboards bussing. Both handwriting and keyboard skills are mandatory in our society – we do not neglect one for the other.
STEP 6: THINKING SKILLS
Thinking skills has been mentioned already and in this section, we want to deepen the definition of what is possible. Skills in this area include note-taking, based on Cornell Notes. Student should be learning to take notes and keep a record of their notes from early grades. Active learners are much more enthused about being in class than passive learners. Teachers can provide the framework that makes this happen for all students. We use a chart of thinking skills and the 12 problem-solving strategies.
• Kids news stories are a great resource for teaching different thinking skills. Aesop’s Fables is also a great resource.
• Make up math story problems that use the 12 problem solving strategies. Then have students make up their own problems and give them to fellow students to solve.
• Students can be shown examples of stories using a thinking skill in a plot. Then have students write short stories that use the thinking skill in a new way. Do one a week. This can be combined with the reading assignment one day a week.
STEP 7: REACHING ALL LEARNING STYLES / ARTS INTEGRATION
Every unit needs a fantastic project! An entirely different side of the brain is ignited through projects and suddenly, there is beauty and inspiration in the classroom. For some learners, this is the beginning of learning and everything else will branch out from here.
• Reading projects can include bookmaking, dramatizations, murals, student publications and more.
• Math projects include making 3-D shapes from nets and decorating them, writing and designing board games based on formulas of probability, creating amazing clock faces that tell time, cutting out patterns of paper baby chicks and putting them in nests to show the multiplication tables.
• Writing projects can be content based or style-based, including poetry and prose, fiction and non-fiction, persuasive, argumentative, informative, or for entertainment. This process begins in Grade 1 and spirals upward to the doctorate level!
STEP 8: TECHNOLOGY
Keep a balance! Obviously, technology is all around us at this point. Screen time absolutely must be limited. Guidelines are available to the public. As part of the educational experience, look for curriculum material that is engaging, interactive, keeps challenging the student to higher levels, has a blend of fiction and non-fiction, and does not become addicting. The moment your child thinks he/she cannot get along without it and is whining to get it back, is the very moment the electronic devise is to be put off limits. To be emotionally caught up in the technology is not good. Each student is unique. Some students make strides in their educational growth online and others do not.
The next step is for the student to be writing their own curriculum and posting for other kids. Go into production! It is a creative adventure that is incredibly exciting!
This guide is a valuable tool for judging the progress of your child. Everything listed here can be done at home, using library books and art supplies. We can provide support, do basic tried and true testing to figure out what level your student is really working at, and provide tutoring if that is what would be best. Our schedule keep growing and we are building our capacity to reach more students! Feel free to contact us. We are ready to be part of your team!