Contributions to The Improvement of Academic Performance
of All Students on Campus

Section II*
The data requested in Sections II and III must be provided to the principal at least two weeks before the annual summative conference. Limit all responses to one-half page per response.

3. Describe a specific instructional adjustment (e.g., materials, sequencing, etc.), which you have made based on the needs assessment of your students.

Last summer, I conducted significant research on the needs of my student population. Academic English serves students with a wide range of reading levels. This year, my lowest readers are competent at the 4th grade level. Most understand at the 7th or 8th grade level, while more than a few read at college level or above. I have therefore instituted a Sustained Silent Reading program that allows students to select books they find interesting, at grade levels they feel comfortable with. To hold them accountable while ensuring that they use the reading strategies that research shows will improve comprehension, I’ve devised a Reader’s Response Log that requires them to ask questions, made connections, draw conclusions, visualize, argue with, and find something they love about every day’s reading. They’ve been doing these all year. Now, in the final semester, they have graduated to teacher-assigned books, and they take tests that cover the above strategies.

Combining this information with research that suggests that “less is more,” I’ve concluded that my students will benefit more from thorough and deep knowledge of a few pieces of literature than from superficial understanding of a larger quantity. I have therefore greatly reduced the amount of independent reading of “great literature.” For example, a knowledge of To Kill a Mockingbird is critical to cultural literacy, but few of my students have the vocabulary or ability to decode complex sentence structures that this book requires. So this year my students, read one chapter from To Kill a Mockingbird and watch the movie, pausing to discuss the great cultural issues the story addresses.

4. Describe the approaches you have used to monitor classroom performance and to provide feedback to students regarding their progress in academic skills (TEKS/TAKS objectives).

This year, I’ve created useful additions to standard tests. In collaboration with Rebecca Meadows (whose room is next to mine), I’ve created Metacognitive Analysis sheets that help students learn test-taking skills. They must not only know the right answer, they must be able to explain why the right answer is right. And not only that - they must be able to explain why each wrong answer is wrong. This latter strategy not only helps students improve comprehension skills, it’s worked wonders on the Revising and Editing portions of the TAKS test. As they see their test scores rise, they learn more and more test-taking skills by analyzing the answers of the test they’ve just taken.

Also in collaboration with professionals like Mrs. Meadows and budding professionals like Texas State Intern Summer Trahan, I’ve instituted artistic projects to test student understanding. Ms. Trahan’s idea was to test student understanding of characterization by having students choose the Halloween costume “their” character would wear, explaining which character traits suggested the costume choice. To test understanding of plot and story structure, students must create a storyboard that shows the significant events of a novel using both pictures and words. This is a very revealing project and allows me to specifically target one-on-one instruction and ensure that each student understands the critical plot elements and how they lead to the literary climax and resolution.

5. Describe how you assisted your students who were experiencing serious attendance problems.

Student “X” was consistently late to first period. Her situation was simply solved with a telephone call to Mom, who made sure X’s ride left earlier in the morning. Student “Y” is more difficult. She is in quite a bit of legal trouble and attendance is a requirement of her probation. She was non-compliant until I began calling her mother if she wasn’t present at roll-call. Happily, Y is now attending regularly. Finally, student “Z” presented quite a challenge. She missed so much school that we took her to court. When she returned, she angrily told me that she was too sick to attend class. I explained that extremely ill students are placed on “homebound” status. Z’s friend came to me after class and said that Z had just been diagnosed with cancer. I called Mom and offered to give Z extra time to complete assignments in light of Z’s extreme illness. Z’s mother informed me that the “diagnosis” was greatly exaggerated, that Z only had dysplastic cells (a condition that can develop into cancer). I’m not sure what Mom said to Z that evening, but since then, Z has consistently attended class with a changed, positive attitude and now often stops to chat in the hallway between classes.

6. Describe your approach in working with students who were failing or in danger of failing.

Few of my students fail because they simply don’t understand. In such cases, I tutor and allow them to retest. (In addition to morning tutorials, I am available every day after school.) The much more difficult challenge is that my students don’t turn in homework or make up tests. Each grading period, students receive three “McDonald’s Tickets” which they may exchange for a hall pass or save to exchange for and excused daily assignment.

I try to prevent problems by providing my students with lots of choice, an especially important strategy for my “Academic” students who often feel discouraged by the need to read a book they’re not interested in or write a paper they find boring. Most excel when they care about an assignment, so providing lots of choice (choose one of three books to read, answer question A, B, or C) is often enough to motivate them to participate.

When failure does occur, I go to the parents first. I ask if there’s anything going on in a child’s life that mitigates a failing grade, and I also ask what the child is interested in. If possible, I change the parameters of an assignment to accommodate student-interests.

I am restricted by departmental policy from accepting late assignments, so instead I give students opportunities for extra credit. Standard extra credit encourages students to participate in volunteer work and write about the experience (they may volunteer in my classroom before or after school if necessary). To help those who are struggling to pass the class, I offer extra extra-credit test during the last grading period. This includes an optional test they can substitute for their lowest test grade, the opportunity to add points to their lowest test grade by submitting their homework electronically (they have access to computers in my classroom and class-time is provided).

Occasionally, an assignment’s requirement proves difficult for a child to master. In such cases, I’ve allowed students to take oral tests, turn in hand-written instead of word-processed essays, or even present their ideas in cartoon format.

Section III**

7. List or describe, in the space provided below, your professional development activities for the past year related to campus/district goals, assigned subject/content, needs of students, or prior appraisal performance in the following areas: inservice, team planning, mentoring, collaboration with colleagues, self-study, video coursework or distance learning, university-level coursework, professional conferences, and other non-traditional activities.

Summer, 2003: Attended Region XIII’s Struggling Reader Workshop. Self-studied selected books on struggling readers. Developed new curriculum based on my research (especially Reading Apprenticeship). Conferenced with Elizabeth S??? at Texas State and discovered that there is no body of research addressing writing disabilities. Combed through my files to find samples of student-writing that illustrate certain writing deficiencies I’m interested in.

Fall 2003 - Spring 2004: Volunteered for Vertical Team. Mentored Texas State Interns Summer Trahan, Youlander Ford, and Shalom Hennigan. Conferenced with Tammy Guenther, Gerald Hawes, and Lisa Howard to learn technology skills and programs. Developed innovative approaches to essay revision using Microsoft Word and Athena dropboxes. Frequent discussions with teacher-colleagues and with Dr. Cynthia Peterson (Texas State University) regarding how best to teach certain concepts and strategies.

Spring 2004: Attended TCEA and AP conferences. Developed interactive website for my classroom, complete with daily agendas linked to handouts. Guided students through self-written WebQuest, updating assignments and links based on student feedback.

Summer 2004: plan to attend New Jersey Writing course offered by AISD.

8. As a result of your professional development activities described above, what have you been able to use in your classroom that has positively impacted the learning of students?

My entire curriculum is based on last summer’s research, and I’m delighted with their progress. My reading comprehension program has been particularly effective. The approach to essay revision that I developed this Spring is also excellent - student essay averages went from the 0.5 range to the 2.0 range - quite an improvement. I am also quite pleased with the Metacognitive Analysis exercises I’ve developed with Rebecca Meadows.

The technology skills I've gained this year had wonderful results. My students love working with computers, even to write essays (which they generally hate). And our research unit, the WebQuest I wrote, involved all the students and produced enthusiastic participation, especially in the last segment which brought all the research together in a creative presentation.

Although my website is too new to require my students to use it extensively at this point in the year (20 days until finals), I expect it to be very helpful next year when each day’s agenda will contain links to additional resources.

9. Be prepared to discuss three target areas for continued professional growth. In order to organize your thoughts, you may wish to make notes below, but it is not required.

#1) Continue development of website so that each day’s agenda is linked to explanatory material, a body of self-tests, and opportunities for further exploration and so that agendas are posted in advance so students can look ahead if desired.

#2) Develop my AP skills. This summer I plan to attend the New Jersey Writing Project workshop offered by AISD, which will give me 12 GT hours. If selected to teach Pre-AP next year, I only need one more day’s training, which AP rules allow to occur during the fall semester.

#3) Curriculum Improvement for 2004-2005.