Monday, November 09, 2009

Rising to the Occasion

(This was passed along to me a while ago by Mrs. Dunham, Jr.-Sr. High School Principal. Ms. Chandler teaches some of our special needs students. Ms. Cohen is the districts academic coach for AVID -- Advancement Via Individual Determination.)

As a teacher you want to believe that if you put your students in a challenging situation they will rise to your expectations. You think of various ways you can make an impact and hopefully they will “get it!” A few weeks back my students did “get it,” and they surprised me!

It started when I was finishing my paperwork during a prep and I had the privilege of watching Mrs. Cohen teach AVID Strategies to Ms. O’Donnell’s Study Skills Class. The strategies she was teaching the students were intriguing and sparked my interest. I was trying to pay attention to my work, but instead, I found myself drifting to hear -- then look – then believe that she could come to my class and work with my students.

Why would I have to believe that she could work with my students? My class struggles with reading, writing, and language in general. Many of the basic skills that students acquire by 5th grade for various reasons elude my students. So, I take a different approach to establishing academic goals to be accomplished by the end of the year. I shoot for the big idea and hopefully they “get it.” Here, I was thinking I could put my students in a position that could frustrate them because the work level is geared to help students who will most likely go to college. As I continued to listen to Mrs. Cohen, she had such a passion that I became more of a believer; I began to wonder if she would come to my class. Well, she must have been thinking the same thing, and we began talking to set up a time for her to visit with my students.

When she came to my class, I prepared my students about her arrival, and they were ready. Mrs. Cohen brought an article about “text messaging.” The goal for students was to realize that writers use various sources to gain information to make an article. As she began the lesson, Mrs. Cohen was getting their minds prepared through discussion and gathering their background knowledge on texting. The ideas they had and higher thinking skills they were using through questioning were wonderful. They were “getting it.” Then, we moved to the text. Most of my students are non-readers. However, that did not stop them. We used grouping to pair non-readers with readers and it worked! Here were my students reading a higher level text, discussing sources, and making inferences from this reading. I was so proud of them! I was so pleased to see that they rose to the occasion. I know that in the past I have put my students in situations where I would challenge them to meet my expectations. This time I pushed myself to raise my expectations, and they taught me to never stop raising the bar! I am grateful for such a wonderful learning experience.

Thilana Chandler (HS Self-Contained Teacher)

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