Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Focal Student

This past week we had the opportunity to hear many different passionate speakers at The Summit for Courageous Conversations on Race. A couple of them talked about the idea of Focal Students, including a school right here in Minnesota. Connected to the idea of a focal student from PLCs last week, here’s a couple thoughts to highlight.

  • It’s less about another thing to do and more about a different perspective to consider.
  • It can help make a larger task “helping underserved students” more local, immediate, manageable.
  • It can help us focus on results above just trying something new (the whole “if at first you don’t succeed try, try, again” idea we learned in kindergarden).
  • It can help give a window into the factors beyond the four classroom walls that influence our students’ education and success.
  • It’s a continual process of exploring, trying, assessing, trying again.

A reminder from our article of potential criteria for selecting Focal Students:

  • students we can learn from (which is everyone)
  • student not showing adequate progress
  • students currently not being served by our school
  • students present enough to track progress
  • students representative of a larger group of students with similar skill gap challenges

We have one final idea to leave you with that really challenged us. A speaker talked about how often we seek strategies. She reminded us start with student before strategy. The central idea around a focal student is just that. Consider the individual, not a formula. Ask yourself,  she said, “What does this student respond to?” “If I choose a strategy that is not best for the student, how do I prepare them for that?” “Who needs this instructional practice the most?”

If you want a sounding board of who to select for a focal student, we’re more than willing to listen, ask questions, and brainstorm with you! Let us know.

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Strategies we are seeing…

Over our first month we have seen many outstanding strategies and wanted to share some of them for you to use:

  • Creating note cards with student information and test scores (teacher can review weekly to assist in instruction)
  • Writing letters to students and having students write back
  • Transitional questions to develop community while students are forming groups
  • Writing daily learning outcomes on the whiteboard
  • Asking students “Did you learn it?” to reflect on daily learning outcome at the end of class
  • Passing a beach ball with grammar prompts as a warm up
  • Grouping students so teacher can work with most high-risk student(s)
  • Giving challenging students a responsible role in the classroom
  • Adjusting lesson when students haven’t met the learning outcome
  •  As an informal assessment, teacher has students tally their understanding of the day’s lesson 1-3
  • Having students draw a representation of big-concept ideas and explain it to their group


Keep the ideas coming!

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Positive Parent Connection Ideas


It is October.  If you haven’t made any connections with parents, this week would be a great time to reach out.  Here are some ideas for you.

Positive Parent Contact/Connection Ideas

  • Write a letter to parents about yourself, your teaching style and procedures (give to students to take home, give to parents personally at open house or conferences)

  • Make a phone call home early in the year that is positive.  This helps in case you need to do the opposite call down the road.

  • Send postcards home to each parent with a compliment for his/her child.

  • Start a blog

  • Send a weekly email update

  • Weekly or monthly folders of student work sent home for parent review and comment

  • Parent newsletters

  • Keep a file of ready-to-use notes and pre-addressed envelopes handy, such as:

  • Thank-you!

  • Get Well

  • Birthday

  • Updates

  • Did you know…?

  • Good job!

  • Invite Parents to Share – Distribute a survey at the beginning of the year (if parents don’t read/write in English, students can interview them and relay their answers). Find out what parents know about and what skills they have. Invite them in especially if it connects the curriculum and content. Let them share with you their cultural traditions, interests, passions, skills, knowledge.

  • Invite Parents to Celebrate and Break Bread Together

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