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The Blessings of a Catch-Up Day

Yesterday, my students took a Context Clues test.  I’ve revamped my tests this year so they will resemble the format of the new reading test that Florida students will take in April.

As such, my tests take awhile to complete.  It’s often difficult to lesson plan for such days because I am never quite sure how long it will take for all of my students to finish.

Today, many students finished much earlier than I’d expected.  We’ve been working on context clues for nearly two months, and I test them on this skill every couple of weeks.

Thankfully, now that I’ve got some experience under my belt, I was able to quickly improvise.

First, I asked students to finish the 2-Column Notes graphic organizer they had begun the day before.  We are working on gathering evidence from two articles to use in an essay we will write in class.  My students need to be walked through each step very methodically, so everything takes A VERY LONG TIME to finish.

On Monday, I had modeled, and they had completed (with much assistance), one side of the graphic organizer with a one-page article.

Tuesday’s task involved reading a two-page article and completing the second side of the graphic organizer.

As usual, I’d over-planned, so most students had not finished.

It was the perfect thing for them to do while some students were still working on their tests.

The second thing I gave students to complete was their weekly Text Connections sheets.  These are, in effect, their reading logs.

I gave them the freedom to manage themselves, and I periodically walked around to make sure students knew what to do.

They assured me that they did.

This was major progress, you see, because I often feel like a traffic cop directing the ebb and flow of action in my classroom.  It can be exhausting at times.

Every single student was engaged in a task, which allowed me time to work with students who are usually off-task.

A little secret I’ve learned over the years is that this behavior is usually a sign that students are overwhelmed by the tasks laid before them.  In my students’ cases, they often do not understand the directions or need them broken down into itsy bitsy steps…like one paragraph at a time steps.

That’s what I did today.

I had to walk away a couple of times and was shocked when I turned to look at the students I’d been helping.

They were working quietly.

They completed the entire graphic organizer.

Because they’d had one-on-one help while the rest of the class was quiet and, hence, not interrupting me.

:::jumping on my soapbox:::

This is why class sizes need to be very small…especially for remedial reading classes like the ones I teach.

:::stepping off my soapbox now:::

I really had no idea how much of an impact today had until one young man, very energetic and talkative…and opinionated…told me, “Mrs. AuburnChick, today was good.  There was a good vibe today.”

There was.

I wasn’t stressed with a too-full agenda, and students actually had all of the time they needed along with an environment they could focus in.

This is something they aren’t always used to, I hate to admit.

The new standards…the new test…the STUPID teacher evaluation system (i.e. VAM)…are making teachers like myself rush through class periods, running helter-skelter to pack everything in.

I’m pretty good about breaking down tasks and taking things slowly, but I’ll admit that I am guilty of allowing my own pressures to seep out onto the kids.

My student’s reflection reminded me that it’s okay…it’s actually very important…that we have catch-up days.  I don’t need to justify them, because as the teacher, I know what’s best for my classroom.

My students’ spirits were buoyed, as was mine.

Days like that energize me.

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