As another school year is almost at a close, it is time for end-of-year reflections – for both students and teachers alike.
At the beginning of each school year, my students set goals for their language learning. They begin by assessing where they see their strengths and weaknesses, then selecting one or two specific areas to focus on, e.g., “Figuring out new vocabulary I read”, or “Organizing my writing more clearly”. They then make a plan of action – what specific strategies they will use to help them reach their goals, as well as what support they would like from me as their teacher and from their families at home. Mid-year we do a ‘where we are now’ check-in, which involves reflecting on their progress to date, and either renewing or setting new goals for the rest of the year. Now that the school year is coming to a close, we spend time in class for students to reflect on the progress they made, identify strategies that helped them, and look ahead to where they want to focus their goals next year.
As teachers, we find ourselves following a similar process – aside from the mandated professional goal-setting and reflections set by administration, teachers are naturally reflecting on their year, their successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses, and thinking ahead to what we plan to do the same and differently next year.
I personally usually end the year with promises to myself to be better organized the next year – files (both paper and electronic) will be set up right from the start, papers will all be filed away properly as soon as they appear, binders will be organized and labelled, and so forth. Of course, these goals resurface every year as it all falls apart sometime around … January? November? September 1st?
This year, however, as I am collecting, grading and recording final assessment pieces and making recommendations for next year’s EAL support, I’ve been reflecting on our organizational systems on a
wider scale – not just my own filing system, but as a department. How are we recording student data? Are we all recording the same data in the same way? How do we share it with other teachers that also work with the student? How do we pass it on to their future teachers, the next year and beyond? And is our system really working? Are teachers receiving all the information they need to have a complete picture of students’ learning needs?
How are we tracking student progress, not only from the beginning to end of the school year, but also year to year? How do we know that our language support is really helping these students in the long-term? What evidence do we have? Where do we find it?
How are we monitoring students after they have exited our support program? Are they successful 3 years down the road? If it’s true that bilingualism increases brain functioning, we should see some
evidence that our bilingual students are more successful than their monolingual peers by the end of their education, shouldn’t we? Where is our data on that? Are they getting the best marks in their final
classes or final set of exams? Are they going on to the top educational institutions? Are they more successful in life? And who is keeping track?
Perhaps I need to rein it in a bit and get my head out of the clouds, but the fundamental questions remain: What student data are we recording, how are we sharing it, and how are we tracking progress in the long term? Next year’s goals, for me at least, will be focused there.
Jane Russell Valezy teaches EAL to grade 4-5 students at an American International School in Budapest, Hungary. Previously she has been both a homeroom teacher and EAL teacher for children and adults in language schools, international schools, and colleges in Canada, Japan, and Germany. As a parent of bilingual children and a teacher in the field of second language education for the past 16 years, she loves to carefully nudge her students to think beyond themselves and use their language skills for meaningful learning.