Miss Bennett in the Bay

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 06 2009

Significant Academic Gains, Round Two

We are in the final stretch. For all intents and purposes, school is already over; I just have to keep my students occupied for the next 5 days.

Coming into the final stretch, my students were this close to meeting the Big Goal. We only had a few standards that they hadn’t quite mastered yet, so I created this intense re-teach and re-take schedule to get them where they needed to be. Every time the class average moved above 80% for a standard, I would change the yellow or red sticker on our class tracking chart to a green. Every time, we would applaud our hard work and our ability to grow our brains.

And every time, the applause got a little bit rowdier. As the students could see their progress, their excitement at reaching the Big Goal grew. (Some of them were motivated by the fact they had learned a lot; others were motivated by the pizza party I promised them. Either way works for me.)

Finally, on Friday, we only had one more yellow sticker to change to green. My students were exhausted; we had been pushing ourselves harder than we ever had all year. An incredible thing happened: whenever a student even looked like they were going to give up, another student would jump in to motivate them. “We’re so close to our Big Goal! You can do it!” The struggling student would take a deep breath and dive in again.

Before the last quiz re-take (over multiple meaning words, in case anyone is interested), I gave my students one last motivational speech.

This is it, guys. Our last goal quiz in second grade. I know we’re tired. I know we want school to be over. But don’t give up now. We are so close to our Big Goal! You all have grown so much this year and made such incredible progress. I will not let you go to third grade without meeting this Goal! So, who’s going to pass this quiz?

They worked so hard. And they passed the quiz, of course. So, final data: overall math average: 87%! Overall language arts average: 89%! Class average reading growth: 1.5 years! (Some students grew 2.5 years in reading! Wow!)

As I got the class’s attention to change the last yellow sticker to green, I had such a swell of pride that I was almost overcome. My students got so excited that they started cheering and dancing. Then, spontaneously, they all ran to me and gave me a huge group hug. We were all giddy with excitement. It took us several minutes to calm down, but that’s ok. Meeting a Big Goal like ours warrants such a celebration. I will never forget that moment.

9 Responses

  1. Elizabeth

    Wow. Coming to the end of my first year of TFA teaching 4th grade, I have NO experiences even remotely similar to this one. I’ve been reflecting a lot lately and I am so determined to somehow make next year better. I want to do whatever it takes to feel like THAT instead of like this…. (would you mind telling me more about what your big goals were? the standard 80% mastery? how did you present it to them so that they knew what that meant and cared??)

  2. chrisb

    I’d be happy to share! I set my reading growth goal at 1.5 years, and my standards mastery goal at an 80% average for each key standard in language arts and math. I created (with another CM) a chart with kid-friendly language and pictures for each key standard. I had this blown up to poster-size at Kinko’s and it hung up on my wall all year. Every time we took a quiz, I would put up a color-coded construction paper square with the test average. 80% and above was green, 60-79 was yellow, below 59 was red. I talked to the kids extensively about how each of them contributed to the class average and how we all had to work together to get to the class goal.

    In addition, I had a sticker chart for language arts and math data for the individual kids. It was also color-coded like the chart above. So the kids could look at the chart and see how they were doing on each individual standard. (Now, the kids are annoyed that I don’t change the stickers every day. Since they are re-taking quizzes like crazy, I’d literally have to do it every day to keep up with it. I told them to give me a break.)

    I would also talk to the kids about how they worked hard to get to mastery. Even if a kid moved from red to yellow, I’d tell them they were still helping the class get to their big goal.

    Not all the kids made the connection that a green sticker meant they had learned something. Some of them just thought that it meant we’d get to have a pizza party. I talk to them a lot about growing their brains and so forth, but some kids are just extrinsically motivated at this age.

    In my next post, I’ll go ahead and post pictures of these things so you can see. If you have any other questions, please let me know!

  3. Ms. Math

    Wow. That’s so exciting. I never had an experience quite like that. I never got my high school students so invested in the big goal or my tracking quite so instant and transparent. It’s really impressive-nice work.

  4. Congratulations. Your success hinges very much on your own enthusiasm for learning. It is contagious with the students, as you have attested here in your blog. Just as you encourage your kids to feel good about their hard work and success, you too should be feeling pretty good. We need more teachers like you.

  5. Liz

    I’ve been reading your blog for more than a year, and *I* got teary-eyed reading this post! Wonderful job, on both your and your students’ parts.

  6. Ms. NYC


    Every morning I shall rub your blog across my forehead in hopes of absorbing some of your sig gains mojo, Ms. Bennett!

  7. chrisb

    @ Ms. NYC: Ha ha ha! It’s like head-on, the instant cure for headaches! Just rub it on!

  8. wearepennstate

    Goosebumps here too. You’ve done amazing work with your students. Congrats, you should be proud.

  9. Jerry Bennett

    I’m proud, too. You’ve really come a long way.


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"All that is gold does not glitter, not all who wander are lost." -J. R. R. Tolkien

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