Once upon a new school year, I received a position which required me to take over a 4th grade class ten weeks into the year. I was teaching in a new district which was one of the lowest performing districts in my state. I had discovered that my predecessor had decided not to teach any content with the goal to focus solely on creating a positive culture (believe me, it wasn’t positive!) through team building exercises. Additionally, I had the lowest performing and most poorly behaved students in the grade and throughout that year, I received four transfers all of whom had learning disabilities or severe behavioral problems.
Unfortunately, I was also in a school that wanted to maintain its academic reputation and therefore the culture didn't actually celebrate improvement but proficiency on a standardized test. Within this environment, the expectation for me was to have everyone proficient in all subjects in less than four months with my students already ten weeks behind. I was also told to forget about the special needs students who would just decrease my overall class scores. I felt like I was already set to fail. What was I going to do? While not everyone was "proficient" according to the seventeen standardized tests my students had taken by the end of the school year, 100% of them were proficient readers on or above grade level.
So how did I do it? It wasn't easy, however, there were strategies and practices I built into the school day that allowed me to enhance the reading skills of all my students, even those who I suspected had undiagnosed learning disabilities. My first approach was fixing my own attitude as a teacher. I had to adopt a solution oriented mindset and find ways to be creative with limited time and resources. I thought to myself, “Students can and WILL learn!” Second, I had to look realistically at the students in front of me. I went through my list of students and identified the skills in which they struggled the most. Third, I decided that I was going to celebrate improvement with my students by announcing weekly/bi-weekly those who had improved. Students would also track their progress with goal setting binders. Fourth, the students needed to have fun reading and I needed to create a culture of engagement. Fifth and finally, I employed my plan that I call the "Octopus" or 8 tier plan for ensuring sound literacy instruction.
By mid-June, all of my students were “proficient readers” meaning they were reading on grade level. On MAP reading tests, all of my students had increased their scores significantly. Though not everyone scored proficient on the school wide interim assessment based on the state test, I noticed that students did improve on the reading skills that I had targeted. I was able to get a few students assessed for learning disabilities and even found that my lowest readers were able to accurately pick up on context clues and use critical thinking strategies. Additionally, my advanced readers had also moved levels some of them reading at a sixth grade level. As a teacher, I realized that tests did not necessarily indicate the success of my students and that the changes that had occurred were significant even if they weren’t perfect. Change is often slow and I had realized that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. What was most important was that my students were ready for 5th grade and they were able to celebrate and revel in this reality.
I am an education coach and consultant as well as an executive functioning coach for children struggling with ADD/ADHD. You can also check out this blog at aquinaseducationcoaching.wordpress.com and