By Claire Pentecost

Final exams are all that remain of my first school year. Well, final exams, packing up, and end-of-year rituals and rites are left. This year I taught seventh-grade language arts in a Title I school. My Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test results finally came in, and I am impressed with my students’ progress to improve test scores. They really have grown and learned this year, and I was so worried that it might not happen! Ninety-five percent of my students passed the writing test, and 83% passed the reading test. I am excited about structuring my year from the beginning, knowing what the big picture is now, for next year’s students. Following are my thoughts related to this big picture.

My teaching was too disjointed this year. There was no larger picture that all the pieces fit into for the students. Skills were too isolated instead of relating to the basic task of understanding an author and comprehending his message or writing to communicate your message to a specific audience for a specific reason. Now that I understand how everything fits together with my state’s standards, I can address this much more effectively for the students.

I didn’t tie the concepts I was teaching to things the students already knew about. I felt at a loss many times to make some concepts relevant to the students. I want to have students make connections with their lives and share these in class more next year.

I would like my students to have a broader experience with literature than I gave them this year. We did cover many genres and types of writing, but I still feel that this could be stronger. Our textbook is good, and I wasn’t able to work enough of the variety in because of preset units that the whole department would jump into. I’m pondering how to balance and go about making more of my own decisions next year.

Last, I want writing to become much more of an everyday experience for my students next year. Instead of writing an essay being some huge event, I want to incorporate writing frequently so that it’s something the students are used to doing as a matter of course in my class. This will allow us to go much further with expanding ideas and presenting a message in different ways. This year too much time was taken up with student bellyaching about having to write.

How do you assess yourself at the end of each school year? Leave a comment and let me know how many years you have been teaching, which subject, and what changes you plan to make this year. I welcome your advice as well!