A Return to My SBA Class

  • High School
Jennifer Hargrave

As I enter October, after what has felt like the longest September I have been through as a teacher, I feel it is important to return to reflecting on my SBA support course.  It is, after all, where I spend 75% of my teaching energy.  In March of 2017 during my second year of the class, I wrote Reflections on My SBA Class. Now, entering my fourth year in the course I can reflect on the successes of the previous years and share lessons learned.

The Successes

Every student who has taken this course has passed the Smarter Balance Assessment with at least a 2.5.  Most have earned a 3.  Last spring all the sophomores passed with at least a 3 on their first attempt.  The first class of SBA students walked across the stage last year receiving a diploma.  Every one of them.

I emphasize this not to brag--although, I think a little bragging is in order.  I emphasize this because it is possible for students to make significant (2-3 years growth in one year) but it takes:

A school-wide system that is focused on the success of students

Rebuilding the course each and every year to support the needs of students

Truly believing in the power of yet, even when students do not

The Students

Not much has changed in regards to students' resistance to being in the course, despite them knowing it has meant success for other students.  I spend the first several weeks, or months, convincing them they need to have a second English course.  Convincing students they need the SBA class involves a lot of uncomfortable real-talk.  I show them their test scores (SBA and MAP) from the last three years and writing samples of where they need to be by the end of their sophomore year. Many have never passed an SBA at any level. Getting them to admit they need help in English is an important  step though. Most know on some level that they need help, but do not want to admit it.  And really, who wants to double-up on a course in which he or she is already not successful? Only students who know they will get something out of it.

The course is still mainly composed of young men, but this year there are several young women.  That has changed the dynamics some.  Just like any class, a personality develops and I adjust accordingly.

A System-Wide Approach

Supports throughout grades 6-12 include: SBA classes, RTI time, cross-curricular PLC focuses on writing and reading, and closely tracking each student's growth.  These are just a few school-wide approaches initiated by the principal to help promote student success.  Additionally this year, several teachers of elective classes have been flexible by allowing students to attend SBA two times a week.  This way students still participate in classes like choir, but receive the needed academic help.  This is the first year we have students splitting time between classes, but I'm hopeful we will see gains in achievement.  If we see significant gains, we will most likely change the model to allow students some elective time.

The Changing Content

Everything about the course changes each year and I do mean everything--materials (there is no curriculum), strategies, approach to discipline. The constant: students come in, I assess, we get to work.  The first two years I took a career focused approach. Last year we painfully and slowly went through stories, books and various forms of writing. This year I am trying out a daily structure because these students need more than reading and writing. Monday is for study skills, Tuesday is reading and response, Wednesday is silent sustained reading and games, Thursday is for writing in essay form, Friday is watching TedTalks to practice listening and short written response.  We also put the study skill from Monday (currently focused on organized and effective note-taking) into practice during the TedTalk.

I learned on the second day of the school year that these student are engaged best through games.  I bought Story Cubes for writing exercises, and we play Bring Your Own Book.  Kahoot reinforces grammar lessons from the general English classroom or allows them to create their own reading quiz.  (If you know of other reading and writing focused games, please share!)  The students are not necessarily competitive; they just like to feel as though they are having fun rather than working.

One book that has become a permanent piece is The Boys Who Challenged Hitler.  Three things make it good for the course: most agree it is interesting or at least tolerable, the reading level is at the class average, and it is non-fiction.

They Can and Will

No matter what students walk through the door, a teacher has to believe they can and will learn.  This particular part of teaching remedial language arts classes never gets easier.  I fight the same battles every year when they have given up, wear apathy like a badge of honor or are too scared to admit they need help.  The more students believe they can't, I have to believe they can--and the staff at my school have a pretty amazing capacity for this eternal optimism.  My number one goal in the first few weeks is to give students a sense of success on even the smallest level in order to for them to see themselves as people who could be "good" at reading and writing.  I often do this by pre-teaching a skill or grammar lesson to the remedial course that I have not yet covered in general English.  When we do reach the topic in general English, my remedial students are the experts and are proud to have the answers.

The Key to Success

My students want to be better readers and writers overnight.  They rarely like it when I tell them the best way to be a better reader is to read more.  I wish there was some easy self-help program to speed up the process, but it is  a process filled with long, hard work. Some educators would also like an easy answer for helping remedial students, but it is not a one-size fits all curriculum.  It should not be a surprise to anyone that at the core of the course is patience, trust and relationships.  Without those, learning will not happen, especially in a remedial course.  It is not the answer people want, but it is certainly working for us.

  • Smarter Balanced Assessments
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