Monday, April 13, 2015

April 13 - Telling vs Figuring It Out

Today was the first day back from Spring Break. I love this time of year as an itinerant teacher. I can enjoy the warm weather as I walk to and from my car while traveling to the different schools around the district. I can take students outside to sit on a bench and teach. The winter woes are disappearing and everyone' spirits are uplifted as the flowers begin to bloom and baby robins make their nests by classroom windows.

This is also the time when testing begins. The state assessment may be several weeks away, but schools are already administering the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test to determine how much students have grown since they took the test in the fall. Many districts have set guidelines for Student Growth Goals (SGG) for teachers to follow that encompass an increase in MAP scores. Because of my unique situation, my SGG is based on an increase in the vocabulary strand of MAP.

Since January when my SGG was set, I have included time each day for direct instruction that focused on the RIT band skills in vocabulary. Much of that instruction focused on providing my students strategies for determining unknown words. As teachers, it is impossible to teach students the thousands of words in English; therefore we must provide students with various strategies to decipher the meaning of new words they come across. Whether it is sounding out the word, determining the part of speech, using context clues, breaking words apart by affixes and root words, or using resources, students must have tricks up their sleeves when they come across a new word.

Today, as I was talking to one of my students about the upcoming MAP test, trying to get him motivated, he says to me, "You were supposed to teach me vocabulary, but you haven't taught me any vocabulary." What a punch in the gut! Then I shared that my goal for the past few months was to teach him what to do when he gets to a word that he doesn't know and that was more important than doing any daily or weekly vocabulary lists. I then rattled off all the strategies I taught him. He was quiet. I then asked him, "Would you rather I tell you everything or you figure things out yourself?" He pondered that for a few seconds then said, "Figure them out myself." YES!

After he started to understand, I pulled out some context clues cards I had ready for him to tackle. Each card included several sentences with one vocabulary word underlined. We have done simpler ones in the past that had multiple choice answers for the meaning of the word, but these had none and I knew all the vocabulary were new to him.

I challenged him to read each sentence, figure out the meaning of the word then defend his answer with proof from the context AND tell me which strategy he used. Low and behold, he answered them correctly one after the other. After a few, I did gloat a bit by sarcastically saying, "Oh sure, I didn't teach you anything!" He cracked a smile then waved his hand at me.

Productive struggle is so important for our students to learn and grown. As educators we cannot stand in front of the class and tell our students. We need to give them the tools they need to learn!


The results are in: the students I targeted for my Student Growth Goal SHATTERED their goals! The goal was for them to increase their vocabulary MAP score by 5 points from winter to spring. They each increased their score by almost 3 TIMES the goal! Their overall MAP reading scores went up just as significantly.

I share this news because, even though this is only one test, it validates the growth that I have observed in these students since beginning the SGG process.  The strategies I have taught, the adjustments to lessons, providing students opportunities to struggle, and the frequent formative assessments I have conducted along the way are instrumental to the achievement of my students.

As educators, we set goals for students all the time. However, in order to achieve these goals we must have intentional focus on them. We must ensure that we are dedicating time addressing the skills, content, and strategies needed to achieve the goals. They should not be mere wall decorations.

Be intentional with every minute you spend with children and the results will speak for themselves.


  1. What I love about your discussion with this kiddo, Heidi, is your concentration on the learning (not just the score) and on the process (student driven learning through productive struggle). I'm glad the score ultimately validated what you already knew about your vocabulary work with your students! Loving your blog and still admire your commitment to blog a day - WOW!

  2. Hi Jennifer! I was bad and didn't pay attention that people actually leave comments on my blog so I'm catching up now! You are right that it is more important to concentrate on the learning and the process. When you do that, the scores will come!