Entergy MST Reflection 2013

This school year has brought many changes to our teaching priorities and practices. Integrating the Common Core ELA standards into my science instruction has been the focus of the Entergy MST project work this school year. I have two classes of 9th grade students who are considered academically at-risk and have low performance numbers on their 8th grade state assessments, particularly ELA. While the 'data' is not in yet in terms of performance on an end of the year assessment, it is hoped that many of my students will show improvements related to ELA skills in science/technical reading and writing.

The school year began and continued with daily journaling by all students in my RSP9 classes. I supplied hardbound composition books for each student to be used for this year long activity. Many students arrived from 8th grade totally adverse to participating in their learning. Science was not an area where they felt confidence or connection. After a few rough early weeks, most students arrived in the classroom, grabbed their journals and 'got busy' before the bell rang- writing responses to bell-ringer prompts projected on the screen. Several students have remained reluctant writers, but there has been nearly 100% compliance each day which is remarkable. The writing prompts have been across a range of topics: career thoughts, reflections on the previous day's lesson, reading and writing from science news articles, interpreting graphs/data, writing directions, etc. The journaling has given me a much better picture of where EACH student is at in terms of their ability to write and what they have learned related to our class activities. Each month or so the journals have been reviewed and feedback provided for the students.

The effort to integrate selected Common Core ELA/Literacy standards took me out of my comfort zone with regard to teaching, coaching, and growing writing skills in my students. The daily journaling was an integral activity that was worth persevering with as a class opening activity despite days of great frustration to move the reluctant students forward while managing classroom behaviors.

To assess growth in writing, the journals have had a few repeated prompts over the year. Using Scholastic's Science World news magazine as a resource, students have been asked to pick two news stories and write details, summaries, and then opt to share in a class discussion. The participation level is high and the discussions quite rich. I have found that providing a structure to record details and then construct summaries (a table projected on the screen) has been helpful for many of the lower performing students and prompted them to write more complete responses in their journals.
Student Daily Journals

Overall, the journals have provided a good structure to start class each day, tie cleanly into the Common Core ELA efforts related to science instruction, and have created a picture over time of students' writing performance. I plan on continuing this daily activity next year and hopefully find students as compliant as I have this year.

Connecting MST and Common Core ELA standards was a challenge in terms of bringing a new unit and project to my classroom. After much thought, my co-teacher (resource teacher) and I decided to focus on procedural thinking and communicating as that is a deficit observed across all science classrooms. Lego Mindstorms robotics provided a motivational culminating project for the students to work toward this spring. Scaffolding students from beginning skills to complex procedural thinking skills required for robotics posed a special challenge. To address this wide range of abilities in our classes as well as the development of skills, foundation skill by foundation skill, we planned a wide range of activities requiring verbal and/or written communication, incorporated programming computers, and finally a series of increasingly difficult Lego robotics activities.

Students responded well overall to this unit, although there was some anxiety related to team work, building skills, writing skills, and dealing with frustration in others. It became clear that some kids were struggling with persevering through challenge. Self-prescribed '5 minute time-outs' were used as a management strategy that worked for almost all students needing to simply step away for a period. Unfortunately, one class had more difficulty dealing with frustration than the other which was a result of the class interactions directly before our class (gym) that overflowed into our room.

Monitoring the degree of detail, number of steps, clearer language used, and length of responses provided information related to student growth in procedural thinking. Successful completion of LOGO programming activities and Lego robotics tasks also provided feedback on student growth as the programming and robotics activities were planned in increasing challenge and required thinking skill.

Attendance had been a factor to consider in evaluating this unit, but for this year's RSP9 group, attendance was based much more on behaviors in other classes and conflicts among the larger group. Discipline-related absences from our class were fairly common throughout the entire year and make attendance data fairly useless to infer anything from.

Analysis of Data on Teacher Learning Related to Incorporating CCLS:

We examined our reflections on the 6 shifts, and CCLS and found the following:

Shift 1: Balancing Informational & Literary Texts (N/A) No fiction/literaturewas used in class this year

Shift 2: Knowledge in the Disciplines Students in RSP9 used many different sources for information that ranged from Scholastic Science World, science texts, news stories from the internet, daily weather blogs from 9WSYR, and other sources. After reading information, students typically wrote responses and/or discussed what they read with the class. (Daily journaling prompts – see file on this page linked above under photo)

Utilizing many more resources, requiring students to read and discuss brought the class to a new level of learning from my past practices. The “shift” is empowering for the teacher and puts more of the sharing of info in the control of the students.

Shift 3: Staircase of Complexity Increasing the difficulty, length, and details put into evidence in writing steadily increased the challenge for the students. My co-teacher focused on developing active note taking skills whenever possible and how to read to extract details and construct meaning. Seeing her provide this aspect of instruction helped inform my own practice. (Example: longer reading passages were projected on a smartboard as students worked through sections. Vocab words were identified by students, meanings were derived from context when possible, all vocab was restated in students’ own words, summary sentences of paragraphs were written by students to create notes on their readings.)

Shift 4: Text based answers Students consistently were prompted to provide evidence from readings, experiments, observations, and any other situation where details (facts) were included in discussion or writing. As a science teacher, focusing on evidence, details, facts is not a shift in practice at all.

Shift 5: Writing from Sources This year changed the emphasis on the level of writing (details, depth, length) required by my RSP9 students. It has turned out to be a very positive change in my classroom and a change that I was nervous about working on. Consistency in the expectations with students, predictable tasks (journaling daily), and firm positive coaching for reluctant writers proved to be a successful set of strategies to incorporate this shift. (Example: daily journaling using many sources and varied prompts provided many different sources of information for students to pull from when completing writing tasks. The best writing examples were prompts asking students to state opinions or create from within, which was surprising to me as a teacher)

Shift 6: Academic Vocabulary Incorporating technical vocabulary in a science classroom is not a shift in practice. We rely on very specific language to understand the concepts, processes, and phenomena that occur related to science.