This semester, I have been surprised by the literacy levels of my students. At first, I underestimated my students' reading and writing proficiency levels. After analyzing my student surveys, most of my students admitted that they rarely, or never, read outside of school. In addition, most of them dislike reading. However, surprisingly, my students write at a higher level than I anticipated. After evaluating my students' short essays in response to several writing prompt questions, I realized my students are able to demonstrate their knowledge through writing more effectively than I previously thought. Specifically, they are able to write simple paragraphs that begins with an introductory statement, is followed by 2 or 3 sentences to add detail and support, and concludes with an ending sentence. The advantage to this skill for me as a teacher is that I can incorporate short writing assignments into my lessons to help students develop a deeper understanding of new content. Writing requires higher-order thinking. Writing new ideas in the student's own words helps her understand if more fully. Despite this, my students still dislike reading and do very little in their free-time. In addition, most of my students still need support with grammar and proper use of content-specific and academic vocabulary.
In the future, my overall goal will be to show students how exciting and engaging reading can be. My literacy-rich classroom will be full of textbooks so that each student can use the textbook as a reference. The classroom will also be equipped with dictionaries. A word wall will showcase the new content-specific vocabulary for each unit. Posters that illustrate complex biological concepts in simple terms will hang from the walls. Students will be seated in groups around the classroom to facilitate collaborative groupwork, which will be used daily. My students will be engaged in the content through several different ways, including interactive group labs, discussion and debate, hands-on activities, projects, and computer simulations. Each new lesson will begin with an anticipatory set that relates new content to students' interests and real-world applications. My students will have frequent, short reading assignments that relates the content they are learning to real-world issues, such as science new articles. They will practice writing short (1 page) reflections on what they've read with specific, guided questions. Students will be given choices about what they read and how they demonstrate their knowledge. For instance, students may write an essay, draw a picture, or perform a short oral presentation in order to complete a given assignment.
As the year progresses, I want my students to become more independent with their assignments and readings. I will begin taking away supports for students who are ready by giving them more open-ended choices in completing their assignments. For instance, I might not provide a student with a list of topics to choose from, challenging students to come up with their own content-related topic. Students often are challenged with making these decisions. Practice with decision-making not only gives students ownership with the material they are learning (allowing them to be more engaged) but it also helps develop higher-order thinking skills, such as problem-solving. In addition, by the middle of the year, students should be more advanced in writing a laboratory report. I will also begin taking away supports to challenge students to be more independent in completing these lab reports. For instance, students will be provided with a template, student model, and rubric to guide their lab reports at the beginning of the year, and these will be later removed. Finally, students will become more comfortable conducting inquiry-based laboratory projects.
By the end of the year, my students will solidfy the skills described above, becoming more independent, self-advocates for their learning. In addition to being able to compose more advanced writing responses that includes more concrete detail, academic language, and content-specific vocabulary, they will also be able to write a well-organized laboratory report, based on their lab experiments. This report will include thoughtful, detailed discussions that explains the students' findings and includes a reflection on errors that occurred during the experiment, and how the experiment could be improved for next time. Finally, students will submit a final research paper on a topic of their choice. They will be offered with support on this large and intimidating project throughout the year. My hope is that my students will be interested but challenged with my classes. In addition, the assignments, although difficult, will be broken into supported steps so that they are doable. Then, I will remove the steps and supports so that students will become independent and gain a sense of satisfaction and confidence through their sense of accomplishment on their successes in class. As a teacher, it's important for me to explicitly celebrate and highlight my students' achievements throughout the year to help continue motivating them to reach higher and higher.