Students Aim High Through Self-Reflection

Students Aim High Through Self-Reflection

Every morning my Chaparral, NM, students stand and wait for their school bus on unpaved dusty road sides that border the narrow fractured streets; careful to avoid street cars, getting pinched by looming cactus, or running into unleashed aggressive dogs. The earliest school bus arrives at Desert Trail Elementary by 7:30 am.  “Will we have schedule X?” students immediately ask as they step off the bus and see that the winds begin to pick up and a gray curtain of dust is seen on the horizon.  My 5th graders walk through the main building to the side doors, once again stepping outside to walk towards their classroom portable.

As soon as students step into the portable, they drop off their backpacks on their desks. Each group of tables is aligned using the 2 inch wide worn out tears that run across the brown Berber carpet.  Students quickly set up the 3 classroom computers. Until recently, we had four before one of them became a permanent freeze frame.  “It’s too windy, we probably will not be able to use the internet today,” the students remind me as I keep clicking on the district website and receive the notice to check my network connection.

Another group of students take the plastic colored baskets to begin handing out their composition notebooks that are essential in our Balanced Literacy classroom. These notebooks help us with crucial organization because as a true, self contained Dual Language setting, students do all their work in both English and Spanish.  The mismatched donated metal shelves, refurbished wood stand, and black plastic containers hold our partial classroom materials.  We might not have new furniture or complete resources; however we have a positive learning environment and strong initiative to improve.

From day one, I inform my students that they will grow both academically and as individuals, despite the dismal setting. They’re smiles turned into squinting eyes of concern when I mentioned they would need to work to the best of their abilities and that they would be required to present in front of small and large crowds. “I have volunteered you to present at the first district board meeting taking place in a couple of weeks,” I enthusiastically mentioned to my students on the first day of their 5th grade school year. They immediately knew that I was going to set high-expectations for them, every day, all year long.

As soon as I receive students’ data, even before I meet them, I see the possibilities within. My students’ academic levels are diverse; on top of learning a second language they face many hurdles. For this reason, it is my goal to show my students that their education represents much more that just academics; it represents self worth and advocacy.  By being active participants in our education, collecting, documenting, and analyzing our own data we learn to self reflect and create goals that can support overall growth.

My students, colleagues, and I work hard to see positive outcomes, and we know that collaboration is an important part of success. As a partner teacher of the Game Plan for Success Aim High Fellowship Educators for High Standards, I received additional support to help my students aim high, coach them to listen and practice, and teach them the value of testing themselves.

“You are not a number, but we need to use these numbers to monitor our growth. We need to use data to study what we are doing and what we can do to improve as learners,” I make sure to reinforce to my students.  During our first Student/Parent/Teacher Conference, as parents and students walked into our classroom to have a conversation about academic gains and needs, the importance to set educational goals and for students to know and reflect on their own learning is reinforced. Only a small percentage of students’ parents may be able to understand and analyze their child’s data. “Usted sabe maestra, yo nunca fui buena estudiante, así que yo quiero que ella sea mejor,” the majority of the parents comment on how they were never good students and want their child to be better. Parents place this desire of their children improving in the hands of the teachers. Parents need to be students’ best educational advocates, but with limited understanding this advocacy can be diminished. My plan as part of the Aim High Teacher Fellowship is to instill the importance of setting high standard goals and prepare ourselves to accomplish them.

Teaching students to be self advocates takes time and perseverance, to help your students reach their highest potential. For me, as well as for many teachers, time is an obstacle, for this reason I create a schedule that helps smooth transitions and allows for effective student learning, collaboration, and time for self reflection. When my students are given the initiative to provide feedback on classroom management and instruction, it promotes self awareness and ownership. “My behavior during class time is getting  better, because I don’t talk loud like if I have a microphone,” Leslie explains in her data folder after acknowledging that when she speaks loudly it can affect the learning of others.  Providing students with tools to be responsible for their own data and learn how analyze it, will create self advocates.

Watching my students explain their own learning process and goals to their parents, I could see how impressed and proud their parents felt knowing their children could read their own information.   My own mother only had a second grade education in Mexico.    I relate to how parents may not understand the data being presented to them concerning their child because this was my own experience.

“Mrs. Rios did you already check on my reading test. Did I complete the next level?” asked Keera during our conference. Mom quickly looked at her with a slight tilt of her head and low tone reprimanded, “Keera…”  “It’s okay. I teach my students to ask questions and check with me on grades, assignments, assessments…after all they are the ones who do the work,” I quickly replied.  I need for my students to know that I will do the best I can to support them, but they too need to apply themselves and work to make our efforts worthwhile.

To make sure my students’ academic efforts demonstrate results, I consider all aspects of their learning. I have to keep in mind their proficiency level as English Language Learners and consider that assessments are becoming more rigorous.  My students and I use data and relevant information to redirect instruction if needed, allowing for an opportunity to modify problem-solving strategies.  As teachers, the availability of data prompts us to reflect on our instruction and should do the same for our students.  Reflection can promote and help develop higher level thinking.

Throughout the school year, proficiency levels need to be reviewed, recorded, analyzed, and reflected upon. In order for students to properly reflect on their own data, I guide them through the process of purposeful reflection. It is crucial to promote a supportive, safe, and encouraging classroom environment.  “I went up another level on my Reading test.  This time I made sure to not get distracted,” Mari proudly commented as her classmates gave her a round of applause.   This year I intentionally provide time for students to reflect and form inquiries regarding their learning style, instruction and/or learning needs, instruction and/or learning strengths, and reasons or evidence of results.

Student reflection can be challenging due to time, availability of data (limited or overload), different academic levels, different learning styles, and limited parent availability and/or understanding of educational standards. In order to accomplish the challenge of generating a reflective student environment I had to:

  • Identify data sets for students to analyze.
  • Become flexible with time or schedule time for student data self analysis. (Use district Scope and Sequence dates.)
  • Differentiate for students to understand how data can support their academic gains.
  • Promote an environment of inquiry and peer support.
  • Create reflective journal, data collection sheets, and provide guiding questions to ensure students’ self-reflections stay focused on achieving educational gains.
  • Students set goals that encourage high standards.
  • Provide opportunities and options for parents to participate in data analysis and learn how to support their child.

 AIMING HIGH TOGETHER

The Aim High Fellowship challenged me to use data intentionally and teach my students how to use it to set goals and also made it possible to partner with a professional athlete who knows how important it is to set and achieve goals. My students could not believe their mentor for their 5th grade school year would be former NFL record breaking wide receiver Rocket Ismail who played for the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys.  Being a part of the Aim High Fellowship helped me as I created a game plan for success that gave us that extra push that many of my students needed.

The partnership with an NFL player was a motivating factor for my students, but the personal connection I developed with my students through the goal setting and practice was even more of a catalyst for academic momentum. “I feel better knowing you are her teacher,” were the words Maria’s mother gave me on the first day of school.  Maria came into my 5th grade Dual Language classroom reading at a beginning 3rd grade level in English and beginning 4th grade level in Spanish.  Figuring out what was the piece missing in order to make academic gains was a challenging task. I quickly learned that Maria does best when working at her own pace and is open to new strategies, and resources. .  Her motivation and sense of responsibility helps her keep track of her work and pace how far she can go.  I also make sure I am ready to go to the next level when she feels she is ready. Being in a Dual Language classroom means that there is double assessments and this can be overwhelming for a child.  Knowing how to monitor this is essential to have the best outcomes.  Maria’s willingness to work has become her signature move.  I am proud to say Maria’s online assessment states she is “Performing as an average 6th grade student who took this test in July.”  She is also demonstrating 5th grade level competency in math.  In our classroom book, Maria included a dedication to our Aim High partner athlete Rocket Ismail: “I want to dedicate this story to Rocket Ismail who inspired me to not give up on the hardest moments or to not get nervous when something happens.”

Maria’s note to Mr. Ismail: “Mr. Rocket, remember the first time some of our classmates asked you questions? I was one of the students that asked you a question.  I asked how I could not be nervous and shy because I was shy.  Our class was planning to compete in a Literacy Festival and I was so shy that I said ‘NO’ on the permission paper, but Mrs. Rios told me to take the paper back home and think about it.  I thought about it and finally said ‘YES’.  The days passed, and finally it was time to compete.  Three of my classmates and I presented Spanish Choral Reading.  We all came out with first place medals.  I want to thank you Mrs. Rocket and Mrs. Rios for inspiring me and helping me.  I want to thank you both for that.”

“I am the light, I am the answer, I am the solution, and I am the remedy!” Students chanted in unison as Rocket Ismail delivered his motivational speech to a cafeteria full of wide-eyed elementary students during his visit to our school. This statement empowers students to reflect on their potential.  It embodies our classroom challenge to develop self reflection skills that enhance our listening, planning and implementation of strategies that can help us see that academic struggles can aid us in measuring and supporting our growth as learners. “I felt myself trembling and holding back tears. I wanted to cry because I felt so happy”, students nodded in agreement as Javier shared his experience from listening to the speech.

As I looked out during this assembly, I saw my future, past, and current students mesmerized by the strong reassuring voice that delivered a message of optimism and strength. My mind went back to my childhood years where just like many of my students I was an English Language Learner that came from a struggling, single-parent family and had overwhelming responsibilities for a child. I know firsthand that education is a way out of economic and/or home life insufficiencies. So, as we begin to experience accomplishments, we don’t remember the decrepit computers and the brown carpet, but we rejoice in the students’ success.

In a teacher’s life there are many stories of success as well as scenarios where weakness can become part of our thoughts. The feeling of weakness can come when the curriculum we need to follow is not well understood, or it does not provide the sufficient resources we need to search, create, and/or purchase. Weakness creeps in when our students’ home life is a struggle, and we feel we have not done enough when our students do not perform to the standards they are required. This feeling takes hold when students’ parents are not well-informed or involved in their child’s life. The feeling of weakness can come when our colleagues lose motivation in our profession, and we do not find the words and/or actions to improve these feelings.  Many things throughout our lives can be a challenge, but striving to improve is the driving force to create life-changing goals and outcomes.  We have to AIM HIGH!

 

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