A few weeks ago, I sat puzzling over my students’ recent test scores. Three times a year, my students take the STAR assessment, which enables me to see their growth from the beginning of the year, and areas on which to focus, and where the students are right now.
What confounded me most was their lack of growth. Usually by this time of year, my students have grown at least a half a year on average.
But not this year! Instead, my students grew much less than usual. I felt like an epic failure. I pride myself on my ability to grow my students—all of them, through research-based strategies–but my students weren’t growing leaps and bounds.
As an introverted teacher, I reflect a lot about my students, my teaching, and pedagogy. What was I doing wrong? Was it the students? Was it me? I stewed over it less than a day—I’m also a problem solver, not complainer by nature. (Another typical introvert quality!)
Here’s what I know for sure: 1) I am a good teacher, 2) my students are growing and becoming thinkers, 3) my students are smart, and 4) we can accomplish anything together.
But how did I turn it around? I took the information to my students. We puzzled over it together. Because we have a good relationship (built through morning meetings, a growth mindset, and our classroom culture), they trust me and I trust them.
I told them the facts—not pointing to anyone in particular—and asked them to share ideas. I already knew exactly which ones had grown, those that stayed the same, and those that were falling behind.
The single factor we discovered TOGETHER? Reading time! The ones who were successful read a lot at home, and those that weren’t—or that grew a very small amount—only read at school—if at all.
In the words of Junie B. Jones, “Wowwie, wow, wow.”
Fortunately, I am familiar with kids not wanting to read or not loving to read. I have a child at home who began that way. Some children are intrinsically motivated to read—others, not so much. They need some incentives.
Adults get paid for their jobs, so why not students? Motivating students is essential. We have some stiff competition out there: YouTube, phones, and video game systems.
My strategy to grow my students extrinsically in reading involves 3 simple steps.
- Allow 15 minutes each day for the students to read—I call it the “Free 15”.
- Give class cash (which they spend in my class store) for each AR test they pass.
- Provide the most engaging books and series available.
Thanks to our school librarian—and a grant—I will soon have all the students’ favorite series (usually difficult to come by) in my classroom! I also took a trip to our local second-hand book store to pick up other options—they provide in-store credit to teachers every year.
Realistically, I’m really not sure what the end of the year will bring. But I know that my students will grow and it’s not just the extra reading they’ll do. I know, because I will put them first, learn from my mistakes, and trust myself to be the best teacher for the students right in front of me this year.
Mistakes and failures are our learning tools. We must embrace them. Epic failures become epic wins because in the end, learning and growth is what matters. That’s balance.