Helping Students Make Gains in Middle School ELA


Get several practical tips for increasing your middle school students learning gains

As we all know, school districts are consumed with standardized test statistics.  They use these statistics to charge teachers with ensuring that all students reach the achievement level set forth by the state.

It's a completely reasonable goal to want your students to reach a level of achievement that sets them up for success at every level.  However, it's not realistic.

Students in 2022 have many gaps.  

And it's not a simple thing to close those gaps.  It's not as if I just taught "this" or "that" differently then everyone would be caught up.  Some students are missing entire YEARS of concepts - as in they have no idea what it means to write a paragraph.  Some are struggling with social interactions.  Some are struggling with reading at grade level.  Some have all three issues. 

So to expect them to reach the standard Achievement Level for their grade seems like a tall order.  So, I like to focus on making gains - and the focus is on progress, not perfection.

This is how I help Students Make Gains

1.  First, I recognize that I can't fix everything.  

I tell folks that "I'm doing the best I can with what I have."  To me, that means I'll give the students everything I've got, and I expect that they will make progress, but may not meet that achievement level goal.  And that's ok, at least in my book, because I do not have a magic wand.

2.  Next I look for ways to break things down.

When I asked my students who knew what the theme of a text was, all students raised their hands.  But when I asked each one to explain how to find it in a text, they couldn't do it.  All they knew is that was the main idea - kinda.

So I thought about how a person would go about finding the theme of a text (sort of a metacognition thing) and then wrote them down,

What I had created was a kind of recipe or formula to follow to get the theme:

    1,  Read the story and pay attention to the story elements.
    2.  Ask yourself: "What does the reader learn from reading this story?"  (The answer is the theme!)
    3.  Turn the theme into a question.
    4.  The answers to the question in #3 are the supporting details.

Once we began to apply this formula, the lights were on and it was as if a fog had lifted.  Get a FREE copy of the theme notes (and the rest of the unit) by clicking here.

So naturally, I set about breaking all the standards down much in the same way.  This definitely contributed to my students making learning gains because now they had a plan to follow to use with any text.

3.  Lastly,  I created opportunities for differentiation through centers and "labs".

Centers (or Stations) can be a pretty effective tool to help students make gains if they are created with specific activities in mind. By this I mean, since I know my students are - let's say very active - students, then I know the centers cannot be worksheets.  They have to be involving students in creating something.

  • A trick to keep this managed - the centers rotate instead of the students.  I just put all the materials into some kind of bin and the bins move from group to group.

Centers can help students to make gains because you can group students that have similar needs and then deliver an activity that is specific to those needs. What can be difficult about centers, is that generally, you are creating the lessons which can take a lot of time.  I am currently working on creating centers for each of the first 8 reading standards.  Sign up here to get the first center for theme for free as soon as it's finished.

When I say "labs" do you think of Science?  I am not talking about experiments here - I'm talking about an opportunity for a student to work independently at his/her own level. 

To achieve this, I've used things like Boom cards, Scholastic magazines, and programs like Lexia.  I even created my own Leveled Writing Lab.  This involves students taking a diagnostic and then being placed at a color level where they work on skills that they show challenges with and gradually move up levels all the way through essay writing.  

The Leveled Writing Lab works to help students make gains because each student gets what they need and then they gradually build their skills to meet grade-level standards.  What's more, this is totally motivating because everyone likes to level up!  Click here to learn more about this product on Teachers Pay Teachers

I'm currently working on a Lab that focuses on each of the 8 reading standards.  It will work much in the same way as the Leveled Writing Lab but instead of writing skills, it will be focused on theme, central idea, citing evidence, point of view, text structure, interpreting words and phrases, media literacy, argument analysis, and character/ideas development.  Click here to sign up to be the first to know when it is finished and get a free sample.

I hope that this helps you help your students to make gains.  Just remember that doing the best you can means you'll work to incorporate things that will move the needle but that you have a life too.  :)

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Find some great Middle School Reading and Writing Intervention Ideas here!