The secret to Adams’ success in her eighth-grade language arts class lies in her pursuit to individualize learning.
“I have to look at each kid and what they bring. What abilities and skills do they have? What do I need to do to reach that student? If they’ve always struggled in reading, then I need to figure out how to keep them on the eighth-grade level and still make the content accessible. I look at past CRCT scores and last year’s writing folders to see what areas need improvement.”
Adams believes in each class students possess a variation of strengths and it is important to identify ways to meet the students where they are in the learning spectrum.
“In my inclusion class, I use a lot of graphic organizers and group work. I model everything. If they are writing an essay, I write an essay and post it around the room,” she said as she pointed to a large poster displayed on the wall. “I do everything I ask them to do. I model it because, if they see it, they can produce it on their own.”
She employs a variety of tactics to transform language arts into a visual learning experience. While teaching sentence structure she uses the analogy of marriage to help the students understand the concept.
“I am an independent woman, or a simple sentence. If I marry an independent man, or another a simple sentence, together we become a compound sentence. We are two independent people who joined to make a compound,” Adams said.
She made the gesture of holding a baby as she asked the students, “What is this?”
They responded, “It looks like a baby.”
“Exactly! The baby is dependent on me and now together we are a complex sentence.”
Through the application of everyday concepts, Adams makes learning attainable.
In the ever-changing landscape of technology, she sees marvelous opportunities in the classroom.
“I love the access to instant information that technology brings. It enables us to pull up examples of ideas we are exploring on the spot.” However, she understands the added pressures it brings to the students. “One of my biggest desires with technology is that it is used to enhance not to enable. Also, social media has changed their lives so much. If we had a disagreement when we were in middle school, we dealt with it face to face but now they hurt each other on social media. It’s like anything else — it has great aspects but also not so positive ones.”
While technology has changed various facets of social interaction, some phases of adolescence never change. “At this age, they are still trying to figure out who they are and where they fit. Everything about the kids is changing, their bodies, their hormones, and so you have to be changing, too. I think that is why I like it. I like rolling with the fluctuations every day. I like that it is always completely opposite from the day before.”
Flexibility and middle school are practically synonymous to Adams, who, along with many educators, is unsure of what next year’s standardized testing will involve. The tests associated with Common Core Standards will be markedly different from that of the current CRCT.
“To meet Common Core requirements the students have to be able to write, but also identify distinct characteristics of a passage and use the information. They have to be able to think critically and analyze, which will be good,” she said. “It is going to make them apply what they know. I am excited about where we are moving to; it will be challenging but it’s exciting. It will involve experimenting and identifying what techniques work and the ones that don’t.”
She attributed some of her success to her administrators. “You don’t find anyone better to work for than Jeff Hogan. All the administrators, Ms. Malone and Dr. Word, they all support you. I could walk into any of their offices and ask for help. That kind of support is invaluable.”
Her advice to teachers entering the field is do not give up. “As with any job, the fist year is hard but it stick with it.”
“The most fulfilling aspect of what I do is watching the kids succeed. It may sound cliche but it is absolutely true. Seeing a student grasp a concept that they have struggled to understand is good. It happens every day and it makes me feel good,” Adams said.