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May 27, 2010 Reflecting on the School Year By Victoria Jasztal

    At the end of the school year, most teachers reflect about what their students' have learned and what they can change to improve instruction the next time around. Every year, I sit down for a while and think about what I want to do differently in the coming year.

    Next year will bring many interesting changes and challenges that I plan to share in a new weblog,, in July. Today, as I reflect with you, I encourage you to reflect as well.

    1. Determine what was successful. 


    Authors abound in Jasztalville! The book publishing project has been a HUGE accomplishment for my students this year.

    What was successful for me? I felt my students emerged as authors this year. At the beginning of the year, their use of skills such as onomatopoeia, quotations, and even rich vocabulary was quite limited. As the year progressed, my students were more willing to take risks. They learned how to chose more challenging books to read after they were taught how to do the five-finger test. Where students struggled to write two pages at the beginning of the year, most have exceeded my expectations, writing stories several pages long now. The complexity of their written responses in reading has improved drastically. They are able to write essays with more details and have become successful at pinpointing the important details. Students content knowledge in social studies has grown significantly. They studied state history, the Renaissance, and learned about incredible innovators such as Leonardo DaVinci. When they visited St. Augustine, they were able to experience history firsthand. My students completed several hands-on math and science assignments and real-world word problems that deepened their content knowledge. They are more confident about their work with fractions, complex mathematical computations, and understanding of volume. They also showed lots of progress in the computer lab this month.

    Another event that was successful was our recent class performance about the history of St. Augustine. Five years ago, I wrote a play about the history of St. Augustine that introduces important individuals such as; Ponce de Leon, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, Sir Francis Drake, Henry Morrison Flagler, and Thomas Alva Edison. Some of my students had INCREDIBLE prosody (use of rhythmic and poetic intonation), which emerged over the course of the year. They exuded confidence, got into their roles and some, even memorized their lines. The audience of families and friends were entertained. We will be performing an encore performance on the third to last day of school in front of all the grades 3-5 students at our school. This will be challenge for everyone, but I learned so much by directing this particular group of students.


    A "Timucuan Indian" gives Ponce de Leon the hand during "The Not So Late Show" in the first scene. 


    In the fourth scene, Sir Francis Drake (left) and his British troops (right) plotted to loot and burn St. Augustine to the ground.


    Of course, I taught my students how to bow together. The class posed for pictures afterward.

    2. Does anything concern you?

    What caused great concern for me? The FCAT concerned me a great deal. I felt I prepared my students well, but worry about how they felt when testing determines so much for the coming year. As the advanced fourth grade teacher at my school, students' third grade FCAT scores help determine placement in my class. During the first morning of the reading test, my students wrote as many as fifteen strategies they would use during the test, such as checking over answers multiple times, underlining key words in questions, and checking every text feature before reading the fiction or non-fiction selections. As I put away their lists before the test, I hoped they would continue to exert superior effort. I felt they did exceptionally well because they seemed confident, but I will not know how they did until I see their test scores. I still wonder if there was something different I should have emphasized before the testing that would help improve their performance.

    Expectations also shift as I have to prepare my fourth graders to move on to fifth grade. This year, my students wrote more reports and put together more projects than in previous years. For example, I had students sketch, build models and complete written reports for our human body project. I explained what plagiarism is and taught them about the importance of revision strategies.

    3. What would you like to try differently next year?

    What am I going to do?
    I will definitely push my students farther in computer lab in the coming year. They used SuccessMaker, software to help track their daily levels progress as they complete problems in reading and math. They must maintain acceptable levels of performance. I also plan to be more concise about my expectations regarding the FAIR assessment, which is a reading comprehension test administered on the computer three times a year from the state of Florida.

    Reading: This will be a huge focus for me, as well as, continue to improve teaching mini-lessons about reading strategies. Last year was the first year I really emphasized various mini-lessons, athough my efforts were inconsistent. I am going to watch lessons on to examine how the teachers instruct their students and how they emphasize higher-order thinking skills in their classrooms. I consider myself average at getting students to discuss their reading in partners or small groups, which is something I hope to improve upon next year. Additionally, I plan to encourage daily journal writing during reading class, focusing on several different areas. Over the summer I will create writing journals by gluing 140 short prompts inside a 70-page notebook. I will write some of the prompts and get others from sources like, Scholastic Storyworks, which offers the amazing Word Nerd feature that focuses on vocabulary. I will also provide a second notebook to focus on the TIME for Kids selections read as well as students' own reading choices. My program will revolve around leveled books they choose to read from a variety of different genres.

    Classroom Design: I made a video tour of my classroom at the beginning of the school year. I have always wanted a black or brown leather-like couch, and I think I may hang pictures of my students from this year as well as pictures from the third grade advanced teacher on the walls. Since the fourth- and fifth-grade classes interact often, I want this year's students to care about the furniture in our classroom and to feel at home when they are in my classroom.

    Student Expectations: Something that will be huge is the relaying of expectations as well. I would like my students to understand the consequences of not putting forth optimal effort on classwork or not turning in work on time. I want to have consequences that are more logical and immediate. I do not want to make spur-of-the-moment decisions. I plan to help my parents understand consequences from the very beginning as well. My parents and students will see examples and work that meets standards and work that does not. I will create a display of journal entries for reading, a sheet where I will respond to comprehension questions, and vocabulary in sentences. I have never used visuals of exemplary work as examples to show my students what my expectations are at the beginning of the year, but I feel it will be highly beneficial this coming year.

    Lastly, I will scour websites to find more tremendous resources. Here are some sites I will visit this summer to help guide and inform my instruction:

    I would love your input as the summer progresses as well. I invite you to visit and read my weblog in July. I will continue to post here at Scholastic for a few more weeks and I encourage you to keep in touch. I am willing to answer any questions you have, whether you are a beginning teacher wondering how to implement something new or a seasoned teacher willing to take a risk!

    As you know I have two more weeks of school, some districts are ending this week or next; have a wonderful end to the school year.


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