Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Making Use of My Time for Student Achievement

A Post on Student Achievement Best Practices

By Milissa Meyer-Hanna, 4th Grade Reading Teacher

One of the most effective student achievement best practices is one-on-one time with a student, as described in this post.
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Education is my 2nd career. Previously, I was a graphic artist and had the pleasure of working with a variety of businesses and clients. Some clients’ needs were relatively straight forward, while others presented unique challenges. From time to time, a specific set of criteria was set up by the client that seemed highly improbable to achieve. But no matter what was needed, the goal was to ALWAYS find what worked for that client – giving up was not an option. Early on in that career, I had the great luck to be mentored by a sage advertising rep/artist with many years of experience. He shared one nugget of wisdom which he admonished my to care enough to always apply to every person I came in contact – to anyone, anywhere, at any time: Treat the person you are with as if they are the most important person in your life at that moment in time.

Now, 14+ years into the education field, as a teacher, that adage is even more apropos. A core strategy and one of my student achievement best practices that I strive to use in each of my classes is to make time to have individual student conferences with as many children as possible on a daily basis. During the time I meet with each child, I stress the point that the conference time we are having is all about them – NOT the class, NOT the student sitting next to them, but about THAT specific student. During those few moments, I tell students that I am THEIR individual tutor – this time belongs to them exclusively.

So, how are this many conferences organized in a way that provides “equal time” to all students? Students don’t sign up for conferences, and conferences are not a prescribed amount of time. Instead, students earn conference time – these conferences are a privilege of one-to-one tutoring earned as the result of their on-going work effort. As students are working, either independently or cooperatively, I fit in few moments here and there to interact with them individually. I always start by asking that child to point out a specific success pattern that they are having for a specific skill (what they’re doing right), and we both ponder a specific error pattern (a bug-a-boo skill area that presents difficulty for them), then set a mini goal which we’ll discuss the very next time we meet. Do I always have time to speak with each child individually every day in a conference? Sometimes yes, other times no – it all depends on what each child needs. Whichever child I end with today, I start with the next one tomorrow. And after meeting with everyone, we begin a new round of conferences. Some days I can meet with many students twice - if it’s a quick conference venue. The amount of time isn’t of key significance. Whether or not that student feels like the most important person in the room during their individual conference - & we are working together to meet their specific needs as fully as possible - is my primary objective.

And what about the student who chooses to be off-task? Or who hasn’t met his/her goal from our previous individual conference time? I teach students that our time together in the classroom is valuable to everyone in the room. If a child is not prepared for his/her conference (ie: has not had time to finish a certain portion of an activity, or has chosen not to attempt an activity, or maybe has demonstrated negative behavior that required my intervention, etc.), then they will be able to have a conference with me at a later time when they are more prepared. For this conference time to be as productive as possible for them – and to allow everyone to have the maximum amount of time with me, conference time is not spent coaxing students to work. Rather, it’s to be spent discussing work accomplished, or setting future mini-goals. I guarantee them my undivided attention (with the understanding that they will receive as much of my attention as possible, while I’m monitoring the rest of the class), and they are responsible for bringing their best effort/work to the table for us to discuss. Students are also taught to be respectful of others’ individual tutoring time with me – if someone has a question while I’m conferencing/tutoring, they can either ask another student in their group (if work is being done cooperatively), or they can put a “dot” next to a question they’re having difficulty with, and we’ll discuss it when I meet with them.

The value these conferences add to students’ experiences in the classroom is measurable & highly necessary. This time allows me to monitor progress continually, addressing needs as they come up, rather than waiting for a test to measure student growth individually or collectively.

The best measure of success for incorporating daily tutoring conferences? Student responses – their comments either to me, or as retold by their parents when we speak together about their student’s progress, about the one-to-one instruction their child frequently receives. Every child receives this same opportunity, and is required to share responsibility for his/her own learning.

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