Throughout history, schools have always been the vessel for change, whether it be to meet the demands of curriculum, to meet the world standards of education or for the needs of students. We here at Taylor Mill Elementary introduced a big change for our students during the 2017/18 school year. We introduced “WIN”—a daily time set aside for ‘what I need’ as a way to meet specific needs of all students in reading and math.
In helping students begin the journey, I purposefully focused on developing a strong sense of connection within my school family—the WIN reading classroom. I wanted all of my students to know they are loved, valued and respected. For my students, knowing they belong and that we are all in this together, has motivated them to keep trying. They now trust that the strategies that the programs and I are teaching them will work.
To further connect to them on a personal level, I discuss with them about how I am learning new skills and programs. I set goals with them about my role as Title 1 teacher. I modeled how to set goals, to readjust goals, and to brainstorm ways that I can reach my goals. I tell them how I am accountable for the goals I make. All in hopes that they will realize that we are in this together!
As for as setting high expectations, I talk about Learning Targets, setting goals, monitoring goals, and celebrating success— all necessary for effective intentional learning and accomplishing high expectations. Learning targets allow students to know what the intended learning should be. At times, the targets are general for reading overall. Other times, my students have to complete a daily ‘log of learning’ about the skill they learned that day, how they felt about it, and whether or not they need help. I talk with them the next day if they needed help and all students are open when I reteach the skill that they didn’t get. I believe that using these daily logs of learning help all of them to take ownership of their learning. This also increases their self-esteem in the fact that now I get it—look how far I have come! They even remind me if I forget to pass the logs out!
Continuing the plan of learning, students set and monitor goals. The way I do this is that I conference with them individually by having a truthful conversation. I give them their scores and talk about the reasons for being in this particular WIN group. We talk about goals and how they can try to reach them. Students set goals before every MAP, Reading Inventory and Phonics Inventory assessments. After the new assessment scores are calculated, the students and I have another discussion about their results, feelings and a new plan to continue growing. And, of course, we have celebrations—even for small accomplishments. We may have treats, a free day to read or a day to just talk with each other. However we do it, we decide together and continue building the connections in our ‘family’.
I continue to remind them daily that they can do it by showing my commitment to them. I give them pats on the back, words of encouragement and at times candy. Even when they leave the room, there is an intentional sign that reads: “I care! Do you?” That’s the last thing they see as they walk out the door. I try to say it aloud just so I can strengthen that feeling of someone else does care. I’m wanting them to internalize the fact that they can do it. Whenever students say they can’t get it, I reinforce that if they work hard and believe in themselves that they can get it! Boosting their morale and self-worth is essential to developing a can-do attitude and a way to help them achieve high expectations.
Although it’s not always possible in WIN time, I try to show how it relates to their world. We discuss all the ways why being a better reader is important. I try to connect to the things they encounter in everyday life. Here are some of the examples: magazines, food labels, menus, road signs, shirts, posters, e-mails, Apps on phones, texts and other social media sites.
Just to make sure I was on target with what I thought my students felt about WIN time, I had them complete a brief questionnaire:
- What does “WIN” time mean to you?
- Do you think “WIN” time is the best way to help you learn?
- Give any suggestions how to best use “WIN” time.
To my amazement, here’s what most of my 8, 9 and 10 year-old students wrote: They stated they learned new skills; practiced things they are struggling with; improved their reading skills; and learned how to spell bigger/hard words. Some even wanted more group work and a longer amount of time in WIN. One student even stated that she gets more help with less students in the room and that she can focus more during “WIN” time. The biggest portion of my students said ‘yes’ that WIN time is the best way for them to learn.
They are finally grasping the big plan—that their learning is in their hands. And as time changes, so too will curriculums, world standards of education, and the needs of students. So, if we as teachers can continue to make connections and set high expectations, students will accomplish the big plan.
Janice Banks, Leader, Title 1 Teacher, Taylor Mill Elementary