As we round up our No. 2 pencils, tweak schedules, bag snacks, and count test booklets, we reflect on another academic year. We ask ourselves, "What growth have our students made? How will they do in reading, math, and science? Did we do everything we could do to help them learn?"
It's that last question that we dwell on...
We wrestle with the thoughts on system changes since the previous year. Adjusted our tutoring strategies to focus on Reading, Math, and Science. In our labs, students receive focused tutoring to ensure success in class. After school, for three hours a week, we have core content teachers available for extra support. This, coupled with busing to the nearest feeder school, allowed for no excuses.
However, we also know that "we can't intervene our way to success." We need to re-tool what we are doing to meet the needs of our students who have changed.
This year, we focused on building the foundation of high school literacy. This led us to work on infusing literacy into the daily operation of our teaching. Historically, our teachers have been very good at focusing on content and know what needs to be taught to prepare students for the next level. This year, we added the element of "how" students will engage with literacy (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) to show that they have learned the content. Through posting and referring to both content and language targets, teachers deliberately focused on supporting our school's two largest subgroups - English Language Learners (21%) and Low-Socio Economic Status (70%) students. We knew that was just one step.
The second involved writing. With "Literacy" being the focus, we knew it would have to be very deliberate - we must write and write daily. A major contributor to the thought was Hattie's work on making thinking visible. When we look at the four elements of literacy, two make that happen - speaking and writing. Knowing that we will one day depart Iowa Assessments and move toward Smarter Balanced Assessments, writing will be even more critical to show our students learning. Our students must write and they must speak.
That hasn't been easy. Our students wrote more this year than they have ever written. Seeing students provide written explanations of thought is exciting. It truly makes learning visible. However, some teachers struggle with daily writing and our administrative team struggled monitoring it. We could easily see the results (we requested samples every 3-4 weeks. However, we still need to foster a way to "see" it happening daily in classes.
I am excited for our students to take the state test tomorrow. We aren't about hyping the test anymore. We have done that every year with little to show for it. This year, we focused on being good at a few strategies that should support the learning of our students. A pep rally, pre-test pancakes, fruit snacks, or shaving a teachers head can't take the place of solid academic shifts focused at supporting and improving student learning.
This year, we focused on the right things. Did we do everything we could to help students learn? We did more of the right things and that's the start.
Ryan Dumkrieger is the principal of Sioux City North High School.