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Follow-Up: Risk and the Power of Reflection

Sarah Henchey
In my first post, I described the process that my 6th grade English Language Arts PLC used to establish a strong foundation of knowledge and skills this year. Namely, we began our planning with a focus on how to best assess and achieve student learning.

Commenter Megan Allen asked, "How did your PLC decide on these particular steps? What advice do you have for other PLCs to 'get their legs' and get started on this journey?"

The evolution of my PLC has been a process. This is only our second year working together, but each year has strengthened our instruction.

Last year, we created essential learning outcomes for our content based on our state's curriculum. To establish these, we asked ourselves, "What does a 6th grader need to know and be able to do by the end of the year?" We started out with quite a wish list but finally decided on 10 skills and abilities students needed to take away from our classes.

We referred back to these outcomes as we designed daily learning goals and created lessons. This was our first step in determining how we would assess student success.

Through our reflections, we identified obstacles that prevented students from achieving mastery. Key trends included lack of proficiency in academic vocabulary, limited exposure to texts, and lack of opportunities to practice skills. We then addressed these challenges through logical, authentic means. For example, we adapted and implemented Donalyn Miller's 40 Book Challenge to increase students' familiarity with and exposure to a variety of texts.

As we reflected on students' needs, we discovered how to better plan for and assess student learning.

I recommend PLCs start to have reflective conversations about what they want students to take away from their course—what's truly essential? Then, move those conversations toward mini-steps: What skill(s) can be integrated into this current unit? What will students need to know and be able to do? How will you assess mastery?

As you build a shared vision, you will be forced to become more vulnerable and transparent about your practice. My PLC found our dialogue naturally shifted, with student learning becoming the true focus of every conversation.

My PLC knows we're taking a risk with our approach. We anticipate that we'll "cover" less material this year. As a result, students may encounter a less familiar phrase or skill on the end-of-year tests. But we've devoted ourselves to assessing students based off what we know is essential to their success. We're confident in our choices and will continue to prioritize the data we gain from students every day, not just at the end of the year.

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