Teacher’s View: From Reading ‘Power Hours’ to Spaghetti Dinners, How to Get Kids — and Their Families — Ready for Test Day
Having grown up in the southern part of the country, I always cherished the time I spent with my grandparents in their garden. There was nothing that brought me greater joy than tending to plants and observing them flourish. I felt a sense of pride when the seeds I had planted finally blossomed.
Reflecting on my past, it’s no surprise that I ultimately chose a career in teaching. I deliberately decided to work at a high-needs school, where many students come from low-income households. As an instructional mentor for elementary school students, I have found that a significant portion of my success stems from nurturing the individual needs of my students and supporting their academic growth. This requires a substantial amount of effort and an understanding of where each student stands in relation to their peers.
This is where annual assessments come into play. In Mississippi, third-graders undertake an English Language Arts test that evaluates their reading proficiency based on the state’s rigorous academic standards. These assessments serve as a crucial tool for educators to identify areas where students are struggling, uncover learning gaps, and gauge whether students are performing below, at, or above their grade level.
Any elementary school teacher will tell you that third grade is a pivotal year in a child’s education. Prior to third grade, we focus on teaching children how to read. After this point, reading becomes integrated into other subjects. Therefore, it is essential for students to establish a strong foundation in reading by third grade, as it sets the stage for their future education.
Without the insights provided by these exams, we would be unable to track students’ progress over time or evaluate how well our school is equipping them with the necessary skills for their future.
Consequently, a significant portion of my work revolves around preparing and supporting our students. It’s important to remember that this support extends far beyond the confines of the classroom. While assessments play a vital role, a student’s educational success is influenced by various other factors outside of school. Many of the students I work with face significant challenges outside of school, which deeply impact their academic performance.
To offer our third-graders the support they need, my colleagues and I continually brainstorm ideas for what we can do outside of regular lessons and what strategies we can employ to cultivate a positive mindset leading up to the test. Just like gardening involves more than simply watering plants, nurturing students to help them reach their full potential requires a diverse range of approaches. For instance, this year we organized a spaghetti dinner for our third-grade families on the night before the test in mid-April. This event aimed to foster camaraderie among students, their families, and us, while also discussing the importance of the assessment and encouraging our students to give their best effort and demonstrate the knowledge they have acquired throughout the year.
Within the classroom, we introduced new nonfiction materials into our lessons to stimulate the curiosity of students who needed extra help in becoming proficient readers. Additionally, we implemented a "power hour" of reading each week, during which students were grouped with peers of similar proficiency levels and received personalized attention focused on the specific skills they were working on.
It’s important to recognize that this assessment does not solely determine a student’s ability to read, regardless of their performance on test day. However, it does provide an opportunity to celebrate the hard work of both students and teachers throughout the year and obtain detailed information on what else our students require to reach their full potential. Most importantly, here in Gulfport, this assessment has presented us with another chance to connect with our students and their families, emphasizing the significance of learning and discussing ways in which we can prepare students for whatever lies ahead.
Trish Stoll serves as an instructional coach in the Gulfport School District in Mississippi.