Ready, Set, Learn
Keeping up with changing state standards can be tough. They usually stay the same for a time, but when the state overhauls them, it usually means teachers need to start rewriting or retooling their curriculum. Though I’ve been teaching for 20 years, I’m too ADD to be one of those teachers who is entrenched in their curriculum and teaches the same thing every year. I like to do new lessons because I get sick of hearing myself repeat the same thing over and over. If I’m sick of me, I can guarantee the kids will be too.
When our curriculum director offered us a chance to attend a two-day training looking at the new state standards for 6-8 ELAR, I knew I needed to go. I’m the type of teacher that starts thinking about the next school year as soon as the second semester starts. I think about the things that didn’t quite work or didn’t get the kids engaged, and I make sure that I mix it up for the next group. Since I’m such a planner, it would cause me MAJOR anxiety to be out of the loop on what was changing for the next year.
Days Two and Three- A Deep Dive into the New ELAR TEKS
Our service center hosted this session, so it was a familiar setting. A valued colleague of mine attended with me, so it was nice to be able to debrief with her and make sure we were on the same page with what we had learned each day.
The first day was spent going over the introduction and the first three strands in the new document. Texas breaks ELAR up into the following strands of learning:
- Foundational Language Skills
- Comprehension Skills
- Response Skills
- Multiple Genres
- Author’s Purpose and Craft
- Composition Skills
- Inquiry and Research
So we covered foundational language, comprehension, and response.
The first thing we all noticed was that there are students expectations in the new document that used to fall under the speech/communication bubble. Things like presenting in front of peers, communicating in different modes, listen to, summarize, question, and comment, and advocating a position using eye contact, speaking rate, volume, enunciation, a variety of natural gestures, and conventions of language.
Sounds great, huh?
One problem- you can’t test this.
In my school, we are not supposed to be teaching to the test, so I am not bound by any textbook or set curriculum. Heck, I don’t even have to collaborate with colleagues that teach the same grade level. That being said, there are certain things we like to focus on that will improve the students’ chances of passing when they attend the high school and college they choose. Buuuutttt, all these are valuable skills that translate into real-world knowledge our kids need. I felt sorry for the teachers in that room that have to do STAAR worksheets and benchmarks because I could see the panic on their faces. How do we do this and teach them to pass the test at the same time?
Moving through comprehension and response was a little easier because this was familiar territory- understanding and responding. The biggest takeaway was that kids need to start formulating their own questions, and our questions need to be higher level. Sounds good and duh, right?
The second day was kind of a nightmare because our overpasses on the highways iced over. This does not happen in Texas. Like EVER. So people don’t know how to drive (even though it is really just common sense- slow down and don’t be stupid). It took everyone much longer to get there, so we started a bit late. Luckily, we still had the momentum from the previous day going for us, and we muscled through.
For the last four strands it was much more about “What does this look like?”. We shared lesson ideas, both formative and summative, and talked about how this would change our year. All of us were grade 6-8 educators, so it was nice that we were all on the same page. Sometimes working with elementary teachers is a bit frustrating on both sides of the street. What we do isn’t what they do and vice versa.
After it was all said and done, I felt very encouraged. We already do many of the things that are in the new standards, they just regrouped and relabeled many of our skills. I feel that the new document is a bit more cohesive in terms of the skills working together, and that makes it easier to incorporate them into an engaging lesson that doesn’t feel fractured and rushed. Two of our ELAR colleagues elected not to attend, and I feel they might be starting at a disadvantage even though we will share what we’ve learned. I need to learn things first-hand to really be able to dig in, ask questions, and synthesize them into thoughts I can use.
All in all, I think Region XI took a very dry topic and made it as interesting and engaging as they could. Two thumbs up!
Coming up Saturday- The TALE Conference! Stay tuned for part three. 🙂