We would like to welcome Jonathan Dillon as a guest blogger. He is currently a first-grade teacher in upstate New York. He is a passionate educator that always puts the needs of his students first!
What a difference a year makes….
As my 7th year in education comes to a close, I have the opportunity to sit back and reflect about how I ended up in this chair.
It all started this year with a graduate level class. Truth be told, I was at 27 masters credits and needed another class to get to 30. A quick recap of my road to teaching. I took the scenic route to an education degree. It was a masters certification program. Once I graduated and completed my student teaching, it was December. I started subbing and continued to pursue a literacy certification. I completed the certification the following year. There I was, 25 years old, confident and I knew everything there ever could be to know about teaching literacy….(to be young and foolish.)
That was 8 years ago.
Now, I teach first grade in South Glens Falls. I have been fortunate to spend 5 of my 7 years in the primary levels, K and 1, where my literacy knowledge is used daily. I am also incredibly fortunate to have a mother who was a retired AIS teacher. My mentor and friend in first grade, also happened to be the literacy coach in the district. Both women have been incredible sounding boards for me to ask questions and gain knowledge in regards to my literacy instruction.
I am now in my 3rd year in first grade and in the SGF district. I finally became comfortable enough with the curriculum, to where I felt there was more. This was pivotal. I was always asking for ways to move students along. Picking brains and stealing ideas. Having resources like mine, I had an endless supply of answers, or so I thought…
All of a sudden, my questions started getting answered with questions; “What do their running records show you?” What areas are your students struggling? Where are they succeeding?
These questions were slightly foreign. All my students had achieved benchmark. They were hitting their marks. I am a decent reading teacher! You mean there is more?
Before this year, running records were, just I said, a benchmark, a report card grade, something teachers had to assess to make sure the students were growing. My students hit their “marks”
What a difference a year makes…
I embarked on improving myself. It had been a while since my assessment class in graduate school and I figured, why not? I needed another class like I stated before, and why not make it beneficial? I enrolled in a classroom literacy class, where I knew we would look at running record assessments in depth.
The class became much more than just one focus area. It was a rebirth of ideas and practices that can be used to teach literacy but also foster a love for literacy. The learning spanned all areas of instruction; group work, read alouds, fiction, nonfiction, running records, technology and more.
I started reading content area texts. I enrolled in book clubs. I began exploring the titles my students were reading. I found a benefit to everything. Even if it was a small piece or part of a larger picture, I could customize it to fit my needs or my students needs. I started listening to podcasts, reading blogs, contributing to google groups. I found a passion for literacy. It was always a priority for me, but the deeper I dug, the more exciting it became.
I applied for and received an entire classroom library makeover! We created a space dedicated to fostering the love for reading. Providing students with an array of titles and genres. It grew to an entire classroom makeover. A new area where learning is combined with comfort. Failure is a word synonymous with success and probably the most admirable feature, the classroom is somewhere my students want to be. It was not just my second home, but OUR second home.
Last June, if I wrote the same piece, I would be proud to say most of my students hit the benchmark. I had a good class. Strong in literacy. As I type now, benchmark is a boring word. It means what exactly? Instead, I am going to tell you how beautifully fluent and expressive my students read. How they can engulf themselves in a book and retell the who, where, what, problem and solution. They can sell me a book for all the reasons they loved it, or persuade me to choose another title if a particular topic was not more for me. They can compare two books based on similar plots or characters that remind them of others. Benchmark is not a word I would use to describe the pure elation and joy when a box of new books came the last week of school. I had 6 and 7-year-old children fighting over titles. Debating who got to read what book in what series and why. Tell me about your student’s accuracy, fluency, comprehension, vocabulary or connection. If you ask me, my students aren’t benchmark, they are readers.
What a difference a year can make!