Saturday, 07 May 2011 17:45

Tip #34: The Quality Certification Project (Part 2 of 3)

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The Teaching Tips will focus on the topic of The Quality Certification Project for the next three weeks.

Week 1: Introducing the Quality Certification Project
Week 2: Specific Portfolio Requirements
Week 3: The Benefits of the Quality Certification Project

Specific Portfolio Requirements

Last week I introduced The Quality Certification Project, an endeavor loosely modeled on the National Board Certification process I completed several years ago.  This week I share the specific portfolio requirements I ask my students to satisfy in order to earn full certification.  Though the project technically occurs over the last few months of our school year, it is more accurate to say that the project represents the culmination of a full year’s worth of learning.

At a time of year when student focus can easily drift from academic matters (especially after the conclusion of state testing), this project keeps kids engaged, provides worthwhile goals, and encourages students to dig deep, embrace challenges, and go the extra mile to achieve high levels of academic work.  

Though the project is voluntary, I tell my 3rd graders from the outset that I fully expect everyone to choose to participate, and, thus far, every student has.  I strongly emphasize to my students that whether you satisfy all six requirements to earn full certification or satisfy two or three requirements to earn partial certification, the project is really all about your effort, your attitude, your perseverance, your dedication, and your determination.  If you give your best effort and satisfy four of the six requirements, then be proud of that.  There is no such thing as failure when you care about something and give it your very best shot.

Let’s move on to the requirements.  Two parts of the portfolio relate to math, two to reading, and two to writing.  Within each of these subject areas, one part addresses basic skills and the other addresses a higher level thinking challenge.  Here’s the complete list, along with a brief description of each part.

1) Pass all math facts quizzes from all four operations: My students take timed quizzes each week to learn their addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts.  I divide the facts from each operation into three or four smaller groups so students can master a different group every few weeks.  The kids progress throught the quizzes at their own pace.  Some students may need six weeks to pass a given level, while others may need one or two.  Like the Certification Project as a whole, this part is all about effort, perseverance, and consistent hard work.

2) Complete all 9 Math Problem Solving Menus or complete 2 more menus from where you are now: Over the years, I have gathered, adapted, and created a few dozen open-ended math problem solving questions that call for students to employ a variety of strategies.  I have grouped these challenges into 9 sheets (called “menus”) that usually consist of 4 questions.  Throughout the year, any time students finish their daily math work early, they work on the menus and proceed at their own pace.  I differentiated this part of the project so that kids who are still on menu #3 on May 20th, for example, don’t get discouraged.  If a student isn’t able to finish menu #9, that student can still satisfy this part of the project by completing two menus from the time we initiate the project.

3) Earn a passing score (8 out of 10 or higher) on an Accelerated Reader reading quiz either 1) on a level 4.5 book
(roughly 4th grade, 5 months) or higher or 2) on a book that is two tenths of a level higher than where you started at the outset of the project: Our school uses the Accelerated Reader computer program that provides comprehension quizzes that the kids take after finishing a silent reading book.  The quizzes ensure that the students are reading books that are appropriately challenging.  That way, nobody sits for two weeks with a book that’s way too difficult and ends up getting 2 out of 10 on the quiz.  The program includes many additional measures and features, but I focus only on the book level.  The kids progress at their own pace.  At the beginning of the year, I keep a close eye on the levels of the books the kids read, but as the year progresses and as the kids demonstrate greater reading proficiency, I give them greater freedom in choosing their books.  This part of the Certification Project is also differentiated so that students who may not be able to reach level 4.5 by the end of the year can still satisfy this requirement.

4) Write a Literary Essay that earns a score of “3” or “4” on our 4-point Literary Essay Rubric during our Author Study Unit: Each Spring, as the culmination of our Author Study Unit in Reading Workshop, students write essays presenting a theory about how their group’s chosen author writes.  In those essays students must create a theory, support that theory with evidence from their books, and elaborate on that evidence to show how it supports the theory.  Students whose initial essays fall short of a score of “3” go back and work on their essays before re-submitting them.

5) Spell correctly the first 220 words on our high frequency list: We focus on these words throughout the year, and during the Certification Project, I select 30 or so of the most difficult ones and give the class a quiz.  Students who miss words on this quiz practice the words they spelled incorrectly and take a follow-up quiz.

6) On your “Edge-of-your-Seat” Fiction Story in Writing Workshop, earn a score of 3 or 4 in all of the writing traits we include on the class rubrics: Our class incorporates the well-known six traits approach into our Writing Workshop so that students can learn the characteristics of quality writing.  Students whose initial stories fall short of a score of “3” go back and work on their essays before re-submitting them.

Though this list may initially appear daunting (I know it did to me as I was typing it), these requirements grow naturally out of our daily work.  As a result, there’s not that much extra work for most of the students or for me during the final months of the year.  The part that requires the most time for a majority of the students is the re-work on their fiction stories.  Other than that, students might need to put in a little more time reading, studying their math facts, and practicing their spelling words.  If the students are only completing 1 or 2 parts of the project, it’s most likely due to the fact they hadn’t been doing these things consistently throughout the year, and this extra practice is simply making up for lost time.

New Teaching Tips appear every Sunday of the school year.