Updated: Dec 11, 2018
It's that time of the year again - back to school. If you have only been teaching for a short time or even if you have many years of experience, both excitement and anxiety probably rule your mind. Kicking off the school year right is crucial to student success in the classroom. So, get started on the right foot with 3 key strategies every ELAR classroom needs to increase student success and eliminate teacher frustration.
It wasn't until I became an ELAR (English, Language Arts, Reading) teacher that I truly understood the difficulty of integrating those subjects all into one hour-and-a-half period (and that's with no interruptions - which you know rarely happens). In the beginning, I remember thumbing through teaching books and pulling an English skills worksheet, finding a reading passage with ten questions, locating a textbook story or novel to read, and incorporating a writing or spelling lesson into each day's lesson plans. And, that didn't even come close to covering the seemingly endless skills I had a limited amount of time to teach before the dreaded test at the end of the year. To make things worse, my students weren't engaged in the content I was teaching at all, and they didn't love to read or write. I felt like a failure. Talk about frustration!
After struggling and grasping at straws for a few years, I began attending teaching conferences, reading books, and researching online to try to find the solution to my problem. I tried different methods, tossed out what didn't work, and slowly developed some key strategies that my students responded to and finally helped me feel successful as a teacher.
As teachers, we need to expose our students to every skill throughout the year and do it as often as possible. JOURNALING is the first key. Each day, I ask my students to quickly journal about two or three ideas or skills we have covered recently. I choose something I want them to be able to recall that we haven't discussed in a few days. By journaling every day, my students develop their style as writers, gain fluency, practice writing complete sentences, and incorporate important grammar and spelling skills. It keeps them focused on what we're learning and helps them retain knowledge.
Next, I began using EXIT TICKETS to check for understanding. Exit tickets help students reflect on what they have learned and allow them to express their thoughts on a topic; as the teacher, I am able to quickly assess what they have understood and what I need to reteach. You can search online and find lots of free exit tickets to use, but a quick, easy, and low-prep strategy I use is to have each student take out a piece of notebook paper and write the answer to a specific key question I write on the board. I then check them as they leave the classroom for accuracy and reteach on the spot.
Daily Spiral Review
During my years as a self-contained second-grade teacher, we used a DAILY SPIRAL REVIEW for math skills, and it worked like nothing else. The students reviewed the content every day and were able to retain what they were learning. I quickly discovered this was the missing piece in my ELAR classroom. I knew I couldn't jump all over the place teaching reading comprehension here, parts of speech there, how to write an essay, revising/editing, spelling, etc., and expect my students to remember what they were learning by the end of the school year or even the next week. What I was doing wasn't working. The problem was that I couldn't find what I needed for sale anywhere. I searched the local teaching store shelves and perused the Internet, and there were some semi-decent spiral reviews for language and reading comprehension out there, but they didn't match my state's standards, and they weren't to the level of difficulty or rigor that I needed to really prepare my students.
That's when my teaching partner, Heather, and I decided our only option was to create our own daily spiral review for reading and writing. We made sure to align it to all our state standards and include quick, high-interest daily skill reviews, daily exit tickets, and an assessment at the end of each week. Once I began incorporating the program in my classroom, the results were DRASTIC!! Students began retaining what they were learning, and now they actually look forward to doing them every day! With the spiral reviews, they review key reading and writing skills in short workable parts. This keeps them engaged and feeling successful, keeps them from becoming overwhelmed, and helps reduce frustration (for them and me).
Using the daily spiral reviews also helped eliminate so many of the pointless worksheets we were doing, freeing up time in class for us to read more, write more, and do fun creative projects (something I never had time to do before). And what's more, I now have confidence and peace that my students are learning everything they need to learn in my class.
Each year of my teaching career, I have learned new ideas and techniques to help my students become more successful. But, doing too many good things at once doesn't usually yield good results. By focusing the majority of my time on these 3 strategies - journaling, exit tickets, and daily spiral reviews - from the beginning of the school year, I am able to see improvement in my students' reading and writing skills earlier in the school year, and now, they actually love my ELAR class! To make it even better, their grades improved in class, and I started seeing significant increases on our district common assessments and benchmarks, as well as the state assessment! Additionally, my stress level decreased as I was no longer struggling to get it all in before the test.
I want to encourage you to TAKE A DEEP BREATH! Don't become overwhelmed with the important task ahead of you. It is doable. Remember - teachers are human, and we can't do it all, but we can make improvements each year along with our students. Begin integrating new strategies and love teaching while your students learn!
Do you have any other successful strategies you use in your ELAR classroom? We'd love to hear about them! Please tell us in the comment section below.
Do you have Chromebooks in your classroom? If so, try using Google Forms to do your exit tickets digitally! Not only will this save you time and paper, but you'll also have all of your students' responses in one place! You can view them easily from your smart phone, tablet, or computer! Watch this helpful video by Kevin Zahner to learn how.
5th Grade Daily Reading Ready coming soon!