Raising Expectations: Finishing Off Strong

By Justin Lim on May 23, 2010

As June approaches, I can always sense the restlessness and anticipation that often creeps up on my students around this time of the year. I always demand the very best effort from my kids and I frequently stress that sometimes the best time to step on the gas is when everybody else is relaxing. In the past, I've been wary of the end of the year drop-off in concentration, so this year, I decided to try something a little different.

I decided to raise expectations and introduce a completely new learning strategy the last month of school in order to keep my kids locked in and focused. This has been my experience:

The Strategy - I decided to introduce Reciprocal Teaching, a teaching strategy designed to hone higher-level thinking skills by essentially having students teach sections of the text. The idea is that learning how to teach a text forces students to think critically. Reciprocal Teaching requires students to predict, summarize, question, and clarify while leading a group discussion as a teacher would. My plan was to have students be responsible for "teaching" short sections of our text in pre-assigned small groups.

My Doubts - I'll be honest, I knew that this was going to be a challenge for my reading intervention students and I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Because so many of them are struggling readers, it's often tough just to get them to comprehend main ideas, let alone trying to get them to teach critical thinking. Even with copious scaffolding, I still wasn't sure if all of them could come up with good "teacher" questions that would spur intellectual discussion. I also knew that many of them were shy when it came to discussing in class and I was afraid that some of them would have problems being group leaders.

The Results - So far, Reciprocal Teaching has been a huge success. My reading intervention students are focused and they're conversing at a level of thought that you would expect to find in an honors class. The end of the year drop-off in concentration is gone and my kids are more engaged than ever. When reflecting, many students admitted that initially, they were not happy that the class was getting harder, but they all agreed that in the end, it was a powerful learning experience. They pointed out that they felt empowered by the fact that they were leading intellectual conversations. They commented that teaching and generating thought provoking questions is much more difficult than just participating. Still, many of them asked if we could continue to use the strategy through the remainder of the year!

Conclusions - I know that it makes the most sense to introduce new strategies earlier in the year, but I'm glad that I was able to make a change and increase the rigor of the class at a time when it's most tempting to get complacent. I'm also reminded to always challenge my students. If you're feeling the end of the year drop-off like I was, then don't be afraid to raise expectations and to introduce a new strategy. Just because it's the end of the year doesn't mean that it's too late to increase rigor!

What are some of your favorite year-end teaching strategies?

Warm regards,

Justin Lim

Rosemead High School

El Monte Union High School District

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