I taught fifth grade language arts for the 2014-2015 school year in a departmentalized middle-school setting.

Units of Study

I taught four units this year (links to PDFs of our unit plans):

1) Unit 1: Learning Perspective Through Culture and Exploration — Strug Unit 1, this unit covers some of the same concepts as my 7th grade social studies unit;

2) Unit 2: Making Meaning Through Questioning and Inferring — Strug Unit 2;

3) Unit 3: What’s in a Theme Anyway — Strug Unit 3; and

4) Unit 4: Exploring How Interactions and Structures Work Together — Strug Unit 4.

Collaboration & Planning

I worked with our literacy coach Ms. Lempke, our fifth grade diverse learners pull-out teacher Mr. Goldstein, and our ELL/bilingual pull-out teacher Mr Azcarate, to develop our language arts units this year.  All of our diverse learners were pulled out for language arts, while our ELL students were in the classroom (they received their pull-out services at a separate time).

We planned our units using backwards design: starting from the standards and what students need to know, asking ourselves what that would look like (“How would a student show mastery of that concept?”) and planning what our assessments would be. Then working backwards from there: in order to complete that assessment, what does a student need to learn, in what order, and how do we get there step by step.  With only 90 minutes (total) for language arts this year (versus 90 reading and 45 writing the previous year in self-contained classrooms)), we had to make some adjustments to our plans. Generally we taught reading M/W/F and writing Tu/Th, although sometimes our schedules changed due to days off, testing, etc.

 Workshop format

I taught in a reader’s workshop format. Every reading day’s format followed this pattern: 1) vocabulary, word work, or network-required skill focus; 2) a combined read aloud and strategy mini lesson (including modeling and guided practice); 3) independent practice where students both a) used the strategy from the day’s mini lesson in an exit ticket and b) independently read and responded to their reading, hopefully using any of the strategies we have worked on to make meaning; 4) guided reading, where I met with students in flexible small groupings to differentiate instructions based on their needs. I would meet with a group for roughly 15 minutes; then do a quick review of exit tickets and drop by a few students who need to clarification or call the whole class together briefly to discuss trends I’m noticing or quicky address an overall misconception; then meet with a second group for roughly 15 minutes. Then 5) the last five minutes of class were a quick debrief of today’s lesson or sharing some of our independent work with each other.

Writing days were similar: 1) students doing their choice of independent reading or partner wordwork while I met with one guided reading group; 2) writing mini lesson with guided practice and partner discussion; 3) guided and independent work with one group meeting with me while other students worked independently or in partners depending on where they were in the writing process; 4) if time, we would wind up our writing days with a read aloud, often from our class novel, and guided practice on a previously learned skill and 5) we would end up with a brief wrap up and sharing.

Flexible groupings: I grouped students in many different ways:  1) DRA reading level; 2) NWEA RIT bands (using the DesCartes Continuum); 3) student performance on diagnostic and formative assessments, particularly the previous day’s exit tickets; and 4) student interest. I met with my struggling students (many of whom were also my ELL students) 3x-4x a week with at least one session targeted on building vocabulary and word awareness.


I use assessment daily in my teaching practice.

Diagnostic: I used diagnostic assessments such as anticipation guides and pretests to determine where my students were as we began units or work on particular strategies/skills.

In some cases, I assessed students’ prior content knowledge: Strug Anticipation Guide 1.  In other cases, I assessed both their prior content knowledge and their prior literacy skills: Strug Anticipation Guide 2

Formative: I used formative assessments, such as exit tickets, daily to determine whether my students had understood the specific focus of that day’s mini lesson. Sometimes I wrote a question or prompt on the white board and students responded to it on post-it notes. Sometimes I gave graphic organizers to use in their response. I would provide differentiation for some students with specific language frames and sentence starters. For several students, I pulled them aside to quickly review what we had discussed during guided practice before they wrote their exit tickets. These exit tickets helped me determine which students needed further work with the concept or skill, and I would pull them as one of my small groups the following day; or in some cases the results of the exit tickets would be that I needed to readdress with the entire class.

Here are some exit tickets from a lesson in Unit 4 where we were looking comparing and contrasting images to determine the author’s purpose. Strug Images-Persuasion The prompt was: What does the author of image #2 want to persuade you to believe? Here are some students’ responses. Strug Exit Tkts – Persuasion

I also used students’ responses in their reading journals, student contributions to paired, small group or large group conversations, and verbal conferences as formative assessments.

Summative: I used summative assessments at the end of each unit to determine students’ mastery of the unit’s overall concepts. I differentiated my assessments in different ways depending on the skill/strategy being assessed. For example, for unit 3 on Theme, what I wanted students to show me was that they could identify a theme and defend their choice. I knew that for my ELL students, one of their struggles is finding the right English word. So while I asked my GenEd students to identify the theme (among other things) and defend their choice, for my ELL students I asked them to identify the theme from a list of choices, and then to also defend their choice.

Here is my GenEd assessment for that unit Strug THEME assessment, and here is my accommodated assessment for that unit Strug THEME assessment ACCOM.


I shared rubrics with my students at the beginning of each unit to establish expectations and provide a common ground for our discussions. I also used these rubrics in meetings with parents who had questions about their child’s performance. Here are some examples of rubrics I used this year.

This is the rubric I used to evaluate exit tickets throughout all our units. Strug Exit Ticket Rubric

I used a summative assessment rubric in every unit. This version is the rubric for unit 3 on Theme. Strug Summative Rubric THEME

Students self-assessed their writing this year, by reviewing it against a collaboratively created rubric that I then also used to evaluate it, and we held conferences to compare and contrast our thoughts. This is the rubric from their narrative writing piece. Strug Narrative Self Assessment


It is very important to me that grades be a fair evaluation of each student’s progress and a place where students could show and see progress as they continue to strive toward mastery.  Therefore any student receiving less than a B on something (anything: exit ticket, assessment, etc.) was free to request to redo it, and any student receiving less than 75% automatically received a redo. You can see examples of changed grades and my brief anecdotal notes in these screenshots of my grade book: Strught Gradebook Screenshot 1,  Strug Gradebook Screenshot 2.

Student-Led Progress Tracking & Parent Communication

 Every two weeks throughout the year, I gave students a communication sheet that listed all our graded assignments for that time period. I then passed back their work and students looked it over and recorded their grades on the sheet. In this way students were empowered by tracking their own progress as well as sharing that progress with their parents. The sheet also gave parents and myself a form for regular communication, for those parents with whom I was not already regularly exchanging phone calls and texts.

Here is a sample from May. Strug Communication Sheet

In addition to sharing their specific progress, I wanted students to have a more significant role in communicating with parents the kinds of things we were working on in our classroom. I suggested to my fellow fifth grade teachers that students should be the ones sharing our work with parents through our monthly newsletter and they agreed. Every month students wrote a one-paragraph description of what they were learning in all content areas and the teaching team chose two students’ submissions to use as the text of our newsletter.

Here is a sample from May. Fifth Grade Newsletter May 2015