It is important for teachers to reflect – and they do reflect every single day. I know I am constantly reflecting after every lesson. What I should do differently tomorrow or even next year I teach the lesson? It’s honestly hard to turn the reflections off! However, it is just as important to reflect on your year as a whole. Each group of students is different and each group teaches you something new. I offer you my reflections from this year and I encourage you to make your own reflections!
This group was quick to learn their letters and sounds – as a whole group it was definitely the quickest that everyone learned all of their letters and sounds. That meant that I could move on to other phonics and literacy skills. Or so I thought. Midway through the year, after a grade-level literacy assessment, I found out that many of my students were struggling with fluency of identifying letters and their sounds. I was shocked and definitely questioned my teaching. I learned something critical from this group of students – you can’t just abandon the key foundational skills simply because they have learned them. You can find ways to do quick practices to maintain these skills, as well as build on these skills to practice new skills.
I decided to do warm-ups or closing activities with all my reading groups to practice their fluency. So, I made a ring of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, and high-frequency words. I had the students say the letter name and sound, and the high-frequency word, as quickly as possible and then we counted how many they could do in a minute. I never compared their work to other groups, but rather encouraged them to beat their own record each time we worked together. We also did more fluency whole group with some PowerPoints I created. I definitely saw improvements in their reading and writing from these activities.
In addition to these activities, I also used these foundational skills to strengthen and support learning new phonics skills. When practicing CVC words, I had students say out loud the letter and sound that they were writing down. When working on word families, I did a rhyming warm-up activity to practice the phonological awareness foundational skill. I tried, and will continue to try, to embed these early foundational skills in the rest of the learning throughout the year. If you are interested in learning more about my phonics instruction, check out this blog post.
This group struggled with teen numbers originally and so I did a lot of counting to 20 and work with them on those numbers (check out what activities I used here). Later in the year, I realized that those same students struggled with knowing one less – being able to go backwards one number. I’ve said it before, but I realized I need to say it again to myself, students need just as much practice counting forwards as they do backwards. All that work with counting to 20? I should have done just as much work counting from 20 to 0. Next year I want to do include more counting backwards earlier in the year.
Something that I really liked this year in math was my ability to flexibly pull groups. I got really good at writing down the skills I observed my students needed to work on and then pulling a group by a skill need. We worked on that skill every couple of math sessions until they no longer needed it. I made sure that each time I pulled a group it had a purpose and I wasn’t just doing it to check a box.
If I didn’t have a purpose for pulling a group, then I would sit with my students as they completed the stations. Then I would confer with them on their work and note any observations of skills they needed to work on for future math groups. This also helped my students because they always knew the skill they were working on in groups, and it wasn’t always the same kids in the same groups for the whole year. They had a chance to work with many different students over the course of the year.
I don’t know about you, but every year I need to remind myself to keep stating and noting all the good things that I am seeing. I always feel like I do a great job of this at the beginning of the year when I am trying to establish routines and classroom promises and expectations. However, as the year goes on, I get frustrated when I am not seeing the behavior that I was seeing all the time in the beginning of the year. When this happens, I remember that I am not doing enough positive reinforcement of all the good things I am seeing. And this happens every year. So, again I am going to set a goal for myself to continue this reinforcement beyond the first six weeks of school. For more about teacher language, see this previous blog post.
Whole Body Listening
I do think that I did a better job this year with things I reflected on in previous years. I used my control spot (you can learn more about it here) more effectively by sending students their for a quick reset at the first sign of restlessness on the rug (calling out, being silly, having a side conversation) and not just letting those behaviors slide. This definitely helped my students follow the expectations for whole body listening.
Also, for the first time ever, I gave my students rug spots from the first day of school. And this really did help them to learn whole-body listening and to follow through with it. It also helped them because they knew exactly where to sit each time – they didn’t have to worry about where they will sit or who they would have to sit next to. Although I didn’t expect that consequence to happen, I was pleased to see it! So, I will definitely do this again!
Also, I feel like I did a nice job of partnering up my students in their play or for snack time whenever it was needed. We had a small class this year – only 16 students – and more than ever they needed encouragement to play or talk with different students. This time usually ended up resulting in new friendships, new interests, or supporting their language development in how to have conversations. You can learn more about how I teach cooperation here.
I also really tried this year to pause what the class was doing when I saw unexpected behavior from a majority of the class to debrief and reflect with the students. I didn’t just handle it in a small group or wait until our social-emotional block of time. I used it as a learning opportunity for everyone, and it really paid off!
Every group of students is different. This is part of the reason why teachers come back to teaching every year – every year is a fresh new start! It is important to reflect on each year and remember the lessons that we learn with each different group of students and let the students teach the teacher!