Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 19 2011

End of Institute!

It’s pretty weird to be back in the real world again. For so long I haven’t had to think about meals or housing or even entertainment. It was all about the kids, lesson planning and data. It’s odd to be thinking about my house in Gallup (which, by the way, my awesome roommate picked out for us yesterday) and what I’m having for dinner tonight, which seem somewhat inconsequential compared to the academic futures of my 1st graders.

I suppose the end of Institute deserves an update on how far my kids came. If you are not a TFAer, you might not know what our concrete goals for our kids were: to grow an entire reading level (basically, a book they needed help with at the beginning of the summer should be an independent read at the end) and to reach a specific math growth goal. The math goal was calculated based on their initial math test, and then was set to be as much growth in math as the top quartile of students could make in the amount of time we had. Simply put, we were trying to get all our kids to a level that typically the top 25% of kids can achieve.

In reading, our kids did fantastically. All but 3 of them moved up an entire reading level. Partly this makes me really excited, because for the kids I was working with most, with the level they have now they can read to themselves to get better at reading. This is so important because of the very real possibility that neither parents nor their 1st grade teacher, who may have 36 students to teach, will be able to focus a ton of one-on-one attention on them. But I’m also really sad for the 3 who didn’t make the goals. Two of them I don’t worry about: they missed their goals for things I know they can do but the test format didn’t really allow them to do, such as being able to point to each word as they read from left to right, when the book has text bubbles in a non-linear mishmash.

One of them I am really sad about. This girl was the second-best reader in our class, way too good to read with the lower level kids but not on the same level as our best reader. Nevertheless, we had to put her with our best reader for reading groups because it was the only place possible. Our best reader grew 2 whole levels this summer and completely blossomed. Our second-best reader didn’t grow even one level. I realize, too little too late, that she never really got reading instruction at her level. Because she was so good, I didn’t worry about her. But because she was only being instructed at a level that was too hard for her, she didn’t learn like she should have. I never would have put a lower level reader with a book that was two levels too hard for her, but because this girl was so advanced, I somehow thought it was OK? That was my fault. I own that.

In math, our kids didn’t do so well on the test, but as I said in an earlier post, it’s somewhat because test-taking is a really hard skill for them. It’s still an important skill, but between learning the math concept and learning how to show it on a test, I’m glad they at least learned the math concept. On the last day of school we played math games with adding and subtracting, and watching kids say out loud, “I put 8 in my head and count up 4,” or “I put 6 in my head and 3 on my fingers and count down,” just made my day.

Except for two. Two of our kids learned almost nothing this summer. I’m realizing that it’s the same thing as my second-best reader: everything was always too hard for them. But in this case it’s because, as we never really figured out until the last day of school, one of them doesn’t actually know her numbers from 1-10 (this is a pre-K skill), and the other doesn’t know the symbols for numbers (though she does well with models). They faked it really well, using our body language and cheating off their peers. But both of my lowest achieving math students were at so low a level that I didn’t even know where to start, and on top of that, my estimate of their low level was actually too high.

So overall, my kids did really well this summer and learned a lot in both reading and math. But there are still 3 kids I know I didn’t do enough for. Assessment scores and amount learned should never really be a surprise–you should always know from data where your kids are. But for these three kids, the worst part is that I didn’t really know how much I didn’t do until the end.

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    In which I muse about New Mexico, teaching, and life in general.

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