How do I teach to improve test scores in 4th and 5th grade
June 10, 2008 8:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm interviewing tomorrow for two positions, 4th and 5th grade teaching. Reading, writing and math scores have all gone done in the past year at this district and they are all about 10% or more lower then the state average. What strategies would you suggest I propose that I would use to bring these scores up. Especially reading.
posted by jeffreyclong to Education (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'd propose looking into why they have gone down. You can't find a cure till you know what's wrong. Perhaps the demographics totally changed or funding was cut. Maybe the curriculum changed. Perhaps math scores went down because children struggle to read word problems. Perhaps the teachers themselves struggle with literacy issues and have gaps in knowledge. (Not that you should say that aloud.)

But no one wants someone who just plans. So you need to start on some grassroot initiatives. People with more knowledge than I have will give concrete examples.

Plus spellcheck.
posted by acoutu at 8:13 PM on June 10, 2008

Writing: Kids write every frickin' day, in journals or some such, for the first few minutes of class. Pick a subject or interesting hypothetical, put it on the board. Helps them to settle down right away, too. With older kids, I would find the Book of Questions was a great resource for this, but with younger ones you will want other sources.

Reading: Assign 20 minutes of reading a night as homework. Let the kids pick what they want to read, but ask parents to set a time and have the children read. Most parents will welcome this kind of homework over busy work, anyway, and we found this worked at our elementary school (aside: I am usually against 'forced' reading, as I love to read, but for some reason all my reading to him, suggesting books and the like did not do as much for my son as this regular routine of 20 minutes a night, which usually turned into over an hour by his own choice).

Math: You can do something similar to writing, with a few problems on the board every morning that review the math lesson from the day before, helps them to keep up.
posted by misha at 8:16 PM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Definitely find reading materials the kids will actually enjoy or be enthused by; I had a friend who found pretty great material for 7th graders having to do with subjects such as Al Capone - the "original gangster" (or at least that's how she introduced him) and a means by which she could discuss things such as the Constitution, Prohibition, life in an earlier era and so on. Kids loved it, even though it was actually very kid-friendly. That's only one example. She did a similar lesson on "How are you going to pay for life?," which introduced budgeting to kids more interested in obtaining the latest cell phones or Wii games than in paying the mortgage. In line with this, she had them read short stories dealing both with people in poverty and people who'd become very successful. She had them read a Horatio Alger book then and discuss whether what the protagonist did to achieve success in the story they read would work today. The kids loved it, because generally it wouldn't work (shining shoes won't pay the mortgage, probably!), but it led them to a great discussion about how to be successful, and many of them felt compelled to argue *for* Alger's hero, as he did embody many traits that would still work today. Much of her work dealt with problem-solving and was open-ended enough that the kids could debate it and work their minds without realizing it. She kept them busy, captivated and worked at their energy level.

But you've got to watch it yourself. Your own question contains many grammatical errors (particularly in punctuation) and lacks the clarity I'd expect of high school students, even though it's not a lengthy bit of writing. Don't think kids can't smell that sort of thing!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 8:54 PM on June 10, 2008

I agree with Misha: Reinforce lessons daily.

The following is extremely condensed advice gleaned from being a student and is likely going to be slightly harder than it sounds to put into practice.

In addition to reinforcing lessons daily, provide non-vapid encouragement: Treat all your students like they're hard-working and wonderful and let them know, whenever they succeed, that they deserved the success. Don't put them down when they fail. Even where a failure is obvious to you, don't point it out. Allow the students to fail, but let their own knowledge of having failed push them to succeed and always let them know that they're valued.

In one sentence, treat all your students as learners, because people tend to change to fit the mold that they're cast into.
posted by LSK at 8:56 PM on June 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have them write and illustrate a picture book, and read it to the kindergarteners. My children loved this exercise -- as did the kindergarteners.
posted by Methylviolet at 12:13 AM on June 11, 2008

Also, it might be a good idea to determine if the test was altered in any way, which may be responsible for some or all of the discrepancy.
posted by kirstk at 12:22 AM on June 11, 2008

Teach them how to use question marks? And to eliminate sentence fragments.
posted by MrMoonPie at 5:40 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm a PhD student in reading development/psychology. It's true that engagement with text (e.g., getting kids to enjoy books on their own, connecting with literature) is crucial for children making the switch from "learning to read" to "reading to learn" in 4th grade. However, reading is not a biological endowment and some kids still need direct instruction to be fluent, comprehending readers. It's well-recognized in reading research that students who have not developed strong decoding skills by 4th grade fall into a rut where they lack sufficient comprehension to learn new information through text, thus affecting their academics across the board, as well as self-esteem.

Quantitative measures (like the DIBELS, which has both strengths and weaknesses) and response-to-intervention frameworks are all the rage these days. I would suggest that you discuss how you will balance giving your students a love of reading with systematic, evidence-based instruction.

You could check out The Reading Teacher; while you can't access the articles without a subscription online, it will give you a good idea of what's going on in the field.
posted by supramarginal at 6:25 AM on June 11, 2008

I was just listening a few weeks ago to an interview with a D.C. public schools teacher who had single-handedly raised her classes' reading scores way above the median of the rest of the school.

I'm sorry I can't be more clear, but I believe her plan was very simple. I seem to remember her including a half hour or so set aside for reading, and then another 1/2 hour for writing about what they had read or anything else they wanted. I think they could even bring in their own books, as long as they were at the correct level. She did this every single day, without fail. At first the kids were resistant, but after a while it became habit and the kids even liked it and said it was relaxing.

I believe she was teaching 6-8th graders, so you might want to lower the time limit to 20 minutes or so.

Good luck!
posted by GardenGal at 8:23 AM on June 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

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