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Pick Your (Academic) Battles

by Kelly Mikesell

In any career you have to pick your battles wisely. In teaching, you can't 'do it all' - or you will do it all poorly. You have to decide where you need to go with your students and, more importantly, why you're going there.

The biggest struggle many teachers have it trying to teach everything, all the time. High quality, realistic assessments often are much better tools to drive your instruction rather than "what’s cute for the month". At the beginning of each unit of study I decide on my "focus" skills for reading, math, writing and other areas, I then assess, and plan from there.

For example, if my focus skill in phonemic awareness is beginning sounds, I would then do a beginning sounds assessment with the students to see who knows them and who hasn't gotten "on the boat" yet. This can be something simple like a flash card game or elaborate as a "Smart Board" game. The objective is to see who knows beginning sounds, who doesn’t, and what "gaps" they might have in skills. Do all the children know /b/ but not /t/? Does everyone need help with /w/? Find patterns or similarities so you can focus on "groups" of children within skills.

I maintain a class list spreadsheet that I can document my findings on. I put the student’s name, date assessed, skill assessed, method of assessment, and score. From there I can decide how many minutes / hours / days / weeks of instructional time will be needed to get the students where they need to be. I will assess again at the end of the "teaching timeline" and go from there.

I do this frequently in reading, writing, math, science, and any other area that can be assessed. By doing this if a parent, administrator, social worker, or resource teacher wants to know where my students are academically I have records on many core skills.

To help myself plan and pick my battles I have extremely detailed lesson plans that I look at all the time. My plans state what I'm teaching, what skills are covered, and what expectations / state standards each lesson is tied to. I think a huge part of quality teaching is quality planning. The more your plans reflect your teaching, the more your teaching will reflect your plans.

My plans are in a template saved in Word that I print weekly and fill out. I have one page per day so I have enough room to document everything needed. With my plan set up this way I can "pick my battles" easier because I can see what I have taught recently, and what needs to be focused on further.

In having detailed assessments and plans I can also work in my Professional Learning Community with ease and confidence. When asked about where "Kindergarten is going" – I know where I have been, where I’m working now and where I need to be. This has made my confidence grow as a teacher, as a professional and as a team player!

So, remember to pick your "battle", assess, plan, teach, reassess and succeed!

About the Author:
Kelly is a Kindergarten Teacher in Tampa, Florida with 10 years experience and the creator of www.elementary-teacher-resources.com, where Kindergarten Teachers can find great ideas that are fun, fast and fabulous! She was born and raised north of Chicago, and went to Illinois State University for a B.S. in Elementary Education and has taught K - 8 Technology, Kindergarten, First Grade, Pre-K, and VE K - 3.



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