Thursday, April 12, 2012

Targeting Student Achievement: Putting Students Behind the Trigger, Not the Barrel

Student Achievement Best Practices

By Jon Moore,  English Teacher

An English teacher writes an essay about student achievement best practices
I swear I have read this exact same essay ten times.  Twenty.  Thirty.  The same errors, the same comments, endlessly on and on.  Bang.  The gun goes off at the students in my class.  They know the drill-receive a paper, check the grade, put it away.  Move on. 

After engaging in the same dance for years I had had enough.  How do I put the students back in charge of their own achievement?  How do I make them care?  Why don’t they care now?  At least the last question I was able to answer with ease-too much information.  I score essays using a modified 6 trait scoring system, as do most teachers in my school; however, those traits had become abstract letters with no meaning.  Looking at it from a student perspective-I see 6 traits, 6 numbers-what do I do now?

Shortly after identifying (with the aid of my students) one of the issues, I devised a solution: targeted weaknesses.  The next essay I picked one of the traits for each student to work on-their “weak trait”.  I chose the trait based on which trait scored the lowest, and also which ones I deemed most important (i.e. ideas before voice).  The target was now back in front of my students, not on their chest; yet how to make them responsible for attacking that trait and improving achievement?  Let’s be honest, achievement to most student means grades--that is their target.  Therefore, as one of my student achievement best practices, I instituted a reward system based on their ability to hit the target.

After each essay students have a weak trait to target: let’s say "ideas."  I have several resources available to help them see what good ideas are, and why the score is low.  I also offer one-on-one help during our tutorial period.  The student can focus on improving Ideas on their next essay.   When they receive the second essay, that focus should improve achievement simply by improving the essay’s scores.   However, I also offer extra incentive.   If the trait improves by 2 points (a significant jump on a 5 point scale) I award them a 5 percent increase on the new-and-improved paper. 

I feel the system puts students in charge of their achievement in two ways.  First, they have a target to improve and focus on, rather than several abstract moving targets.  Second, they are responsible for tracking their scores and turning in improvements.  They monitor their weak trait from paper to paper and work to reach that 2 point increase. 

I swear I have read this exact same essay. . . .Wait--this one is different: more detail, stronger examples.  The next has better organization-something they have been working on.  Bang.  Another student pulls the trigger and achieves success.

Jon Moore is an English teacher in Shepherd, Montana. He has 15 years of classroom experience and is passionate about improving not only his students, but himself as well.

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