Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Teacher of the Year's Perspective on Student Achievement Best Practices

 Student Achievement Best Practices


By Dorothy Mendiola, BS in Multidisciplinary Studies, 3rd Grade Teacher

Teaching is about making connections and making the lessons meaningful to students.  Facts and skills are important for students to learn.  But before a student chooses to learn these facts and skills, they need to have an understanding of why they need to learn them. With these student achievement best practices in mind both the teacher and students can accomplish so much in the classroom.

image courtesy of kmbeing.com
As a 3rd grade teacher there are high expectations for my students because of the statewide assessments they have to take at the end of the year.  These assessments test their knowledge and skills of the core subjects.  I can easily teach my students facts and skills through rote memorization.  But so long as students do not understand the ‘why’ behind each lesson, they will have a difficult time as they pass through the next level.  I always explain to my students why they are learning certain things in my class.  I create scenarios where they can apply what they learned in their daily life.  I provide opportunities for them to reflect on what they learned and how they can use that skill at home, at school, and in the community.  When students are able to make that connection between content knowledge and their personal life, the lessons are much more meaningful and everlasting. I created a classroom economy where students are expected to add items, count money, read labels, and go shopping in my class.  This excites them and motivates them to learn math because they too like to go shopping with their parents and families.  They soon realize the importance to shop for food or necessities and the need to learn math.

 I am a strong supporter of cooperative and collaborative groups.  I love to see students work together and apply problem-solving strategies.  To learn from their peers and teach each other in groups is one of the most powerful strategies I use in my classroom.  I have my students work in cooperative groups a lot.  I explain to them that when they grow up and enter the workforce, they will be expected to work in teams and know how to be a team player in order to succeed.

I encourage students to become independent thinkers.  Knowing the answer is half the battle.  Being able to explain the reasoning behind the answer is a powerful way to have students begin thinking critically and independently.  It’s never too early for students to learn how to be responsible for their education and learning process.  I create a positive environment where students can feel successful.  I have my students create goals in class and they monitor their goals.  My students are more motivated when they can visually see their progress as they work towards meeting their goals.

At W.S.R., we have a 2-week Read-a-Thon competition twice a year.  The class that reads the highest number of words (based on the Accelerated Reader from the Renaissance program) wins a prize.  At first, I was just reading out the numbers to my class.  “Oh great job class, you’ve read 37,468 words so far.  Way to go!”   I get a couple “Wow’s” and others just gave me confused looks.  There was very minimal effort and participation for the rest of the week.  Monday comes and this time before I read the number of words out loud, I posted a thermometer the size of a chart paper on the board.  The thermometer had increments of 10,000.  I suggested we create a goal for the Read-a-Thon and use the thermometer to monitor the class progress.  Next, I announced the number of words they read so far, which was 38, 941.  I asked a volunteer to color the thermometer and they were stunned to see how far below their progression was from the week before.

At the end of each day, we checked how many words they’ve read and colored the thermometer.  There were a lot more effort and participation throughout the rest of the week.  After the contest, students asked if they can get a thermometer of their own to monitor their own individual word count.  They visually saw and monitored their progress, their success, and even their lack of effort.  They reflected, we discussed areas of improvements, and revised their goals when needed. This is one great way to let students take responsibility for their learning.

Sometime it’s not enough to tell a student “I believe in you!  You can do it!”  They need to experience and feel that success themselves.  I provide opportunities for students to test their skills and succeed in the classroom.  Once they see and feel that they can do it, the possibilities are endless.  When levels of self-esteem are increased, it’s like lighting a Christmas tree.  When children start feeling positive about them, academics are improved, behavior issues are resolved, and they become respectful and peaceful social contributors.  They become bright stars at the top of the tree!

I am a 3rd grade teacher at William S. Reyes Elementary School in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands.  I’ve been with the CNMI Public School System for 9 years.  I am currently the 2012 Teacher of the Year at William S. Reyes Elem. School.  

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