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Is your department communicating? It seems like common sense, however, too many times teachers in the same subjects are not communicating from one level to the next. Students shouldn't have to fill in gaps when they progress within a subject. Teachers need to move beyond the possessive view of students and begin to collaborate across levels to help students succeed. How do we avoid a disjointed department or grade level?
1. Communication. Departments and grade levels have to meet at least monthly. Set a department goal. For example, student learning goals, yearly and by graduation. We are all subject matter experts. Each one of us has something to contribute. It is completely unfair for one grade level to shoulder the burden of a state exam, and the rest of the department is allowed to assume the mentality that the test is the 10th grade teacher’s problem or the Algebra teachers’ issue. If you teach 9th grade, the 10th grade teacher’s score reflects on you. You have to help prepare the kids so she doesn’t have to shoulder the burden alone. Not just 12th grade teachers are accountable for a graduation rate. What can the 9th-11th grade teachers do to help those rates? We all have to work together. If a 9th grade teacher is great at teaching poetry, then the 10th grade teacher will not have to spend such an in-depth unit on poetry and focus on weaker areas. Explore what you are good at within your department and share that with each other.
2. Follow the standards. The standards scaffold material for you. All you have to do is follow it. Look at standards and see what they expect from students at the end of the year in 9-10th grade and what they need to do in 11-12th grade.
This is a standard for research for 9-10th grade: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8 - "Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation."
This is a standard for research in 11-12th grade: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8 - "Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and over reliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation."
The differences in the standards are clear. The 11-12th grade standard expects students to gather information, but to assess the strengths and weaknesses looking at audiences and purposes. If the 9th and 10th grade, teachers focus on their standard, the 11th grade teacher does not have to spend as much time explain how to find digital sources or even assessing them, she can focus on teaching WHY a source works for a certain audience.
3. Share student work and be consistent. I will never understand why a teacher would not want to bring student work into a meeting. If a 9th grade teacher brings in an essay, then the 10th grade teacher can see where the students are coming from. Or, the 9th grade teacher might look at a 10th grade essay and realize she needs increase expectations. Working together is the only way to make sure everyone succeeds. Scaffold your essays. Every teacher has a different style of teaching, but working together ensures the students succeed. Teach grammar the same way, use the same formula to teach writing, even consider laying out the binder the same way. When the students know what to expect when they walk into a social studies classroom or math classroom, have the battle is won. Remember the students deserve and need consistency.
4. Observe. There is no right way to teach, but there is a wrong way. Observing each other can increase trust with in a department. It helps us expand our “teaching box,” by learning different strategies and helps us decide what is best for our kids. If we are weak in teaching writing, and go see how another teacher does it, it helps the entire department. If we need fresh idea, what better way than to go right next door?
By working together and building relationships between grade levels and school will not only grow, but thrive. Happy collaborating!