Staff Book Club: Closing the Achievement Gap

I was thinking it would be nice to start some discussions for faculty via a summer reading opportunity. As we move forward, it is important to have collegial discussions about pertinent topics related to our ongoing school improvement efforts for all students.

Here is our first book…Closing the Achievement Gap: Reaching and Teaching High Poverty Learner: 101 Top Strategies to Help High Poverty Learners Succeed by Tiffany Anderson.

Prompts to consider:

  • What strategies might be useful to try with our SMHS students and why do you think so?
  • What support would SMHS staff need to incorporate any of the suggested strategies?

Please add your replies to our blog.



Book Description (via Amazon): Tiffany Anderson provides practical strategies that will empower any educator in addressing the black white achievement gap in schools. Anderson recognizes the racial and economic disparities in education and highlights current statistical trends that illustrate the effects of the achievement gap. Anderson emphasizes powerful practical strategies and tips in educating high poverty learners that educators can implement immediately in the classroom. Anderson’s book on closing the achievement gap is a must read for educators who face the daily challenge of reaching and teaching high poverty students who are often left behind


6 thoughts on “Staff Book Club: Closing the Achievement Gap

  1. I’ve just finished reading Chapter 1, strategies 1-15. I’ve starred three of them that I hope to focus on next year. The first is incorporating more culturally relevant material into the curriculum. Last January, while roaming the textbook shelves in the library for something that my English 10 SDAIE students hadn’t already read because they had already had English 10 in the fall, I came across 28 copies of Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. Helen borrowed enough for a class set from SBHS and my students gobbled them up. Many said it was the best book they’d ever read, and several said it was the only book they’d ever finished. They related to the book in ways that I couldn’t because they had a cultural knowledge that I didn’t. It was powerful!

    The second strategy I hope to incorporate into my instruction is more discussion of current events. I plan to use this as an opportunity for writing summary and argumentation.

    Finally, the most important strategy that I plan to reintroduce is conferencing with students. I used to do this all of the time. Each semester I met with students one-on-one to discuss the draft of one of their papers. It was so effective and helped me get to know my students better. Over time, as class sizes increased, I stopped doing this with every student. I’d like to figure out some way to make this work again. Most conferences lasted at least 20 minutes, and I held them during lunch, during class, during my prep. period and after school. It was exhausting! Part of the problem was that I met with every student for the same assignment. I’m thinking that I could divide the class into thirds and meet with 1/3 on the first paper, the next 1/3 on the second paper, and so on. That’s still hectic, but it might work. If anyone has any ideas for effective conferencing, especially about students’ writing, then I’d love to hear them.

    One final note. Strategy #8 says that departments should go on retreats. When I was teaching at Napa High School, the English Dept. did a weekend retreat every October. Two years we went to Lake Tahoe, one year we went to Monterey, another we went to a rustic B&B north of Calistoga. The district paid for accommodations, we paid for the food. These were incredibly productive working weekends that were also super fun.

  2. Nice Post Susan! I really like the conferencing with students strategy. It ties in well with building strong teacher/student Relationships as part of the Rigor, Relevance and Relationships framework. Additionally, I am hoping teachers will be interested in doing some home visits next year. I believe this will be powerful way to connect with students and their families.

  3. Chapter 3: Teaching Listening Skills

    I’m struck by how often this chapter emphasizes summarizing main ideas. Many of us in the English Department have been actively working on teaching written academic summarization a la LeMaster, and I have noticed a real improvement in my students’ ability to paraphrase others’ ideas using precise academic vocabulary. However, summarizing after listening has been a real challenge for my students. Kate Kinsella uses a strategy for practicing this very thing. After reading an article, students write down a one-sentence statement of their perspective on the issue at hand. They read their statement to a partner, then they say the statement again without reading it. Their partner then has to orally paraphrase it. If they paraphrase the perspective correctly, their partner might say, “Yes, that’s correct,” the record their partner’s idea in their notebook. If they get it wrong, then they might say, “No, what I meant was…” and then restate their perspective. The partners work together until both are able to state one another’s perspectives accurately and with ease.

    While trying to get students to use this strategy, I noticed that they only read their perspective to their partner, but skipped saying it again without reading. This made it hard for their partners to process and paraphrase the idea. As a result, some students wanted to look at their partner’s written statement, which was a no-no. I asked a student to model the process with me, which helped a little, but it wasn’t until I started purposely stating their perspectives incorrectly that I noticed an improvement in their active listening. The first time I modeled an incorrect statement, my partner said I was correct, then stopped himself as he realized that he hadn’t actually heard his idea. On other occasions, I had to ask my partners to repeat their ideas, because I wasn’t able to process their whole thing the first time through. I talked about how stressful I found the task, which perked them right up! They were expecting me (and their partner) to be correct.

    At first I thought this routine was a bit tedious, but as I became more comfortable with it, I noticed that the students were really working hard at listening to one another, and they really remembered what their classmates thought about the issues we were discussing. We also had some great discussions about how important listening is not only in academic settings, but in career settings as well.

    I hadn’t spent a lot of time working with students on listening skills until this year. It’s hard work and requires a lot circulating and eavesdropping to make sure it’s happening, but I see where Anderson is coming from. Still, it takes a lot of class time and persistence. This isn’t a task that comes naturally to struggling students.

  4. As the poverty gap widens, implementing Anderson’s strategies across the curriculum will help our staff insure that economically disadvantaged students have access to a rigorous curriculum. Anderson’s book was a “quick read” and every staff member could get a list of the strategies and select a couple to try this year. Many of the ideas are just good teaching methods but we need to remind ourselves to use these methods on a daily basis.
    I selected one strategy from each chapter to incorporate this year. Anderson suggests building relationships through current events and personal experiences while also allowing time to let students question and solve current issues. This year my students will build an in-class library about a current issue and then work together through discussion, research, & writing to determine solutions. During the time of the State Street stabbing, I had students collect and examine information on gang violence. They wrote essays that provided solutions. It helped students feel powerful about solving a current issue.
    Anderson also suggests listening, reading, & writing ideas that can easily work with across the curriculum. One way we could collaborate is to create common “Do Now” warm-up activities within departments. This would take little PLC time and insure we are all closing the achievement gap on a daily basis.
    Perhaps the most important suggestion Anderson shares, though, is that we need to create warm, personal classroom cultures. The most successful way to provide access to education is to provide personal & positive feedback to students. Teachers need to get to know all their students. When students know a teacher genuinely cares about their needs, they will succeed.

  5. Four comments that I would like to contribute after reading Anderson’s book are the following:

    1) In numerous cases, teachers at San Marcos and Ed’s leadership align with the book’s teaching: greet learners at the door #60, make parent contacts, have lunch dates with learners #66, read to students daily #52, practice writing on demand #44, read a variety of literature #47, listen to books on tape #48, etc. This speaks positively about our direction with closing the achievement gap.

    2) Although a couple strategy/documents in the book are tailored for the “elementary” – with a little rewriting and high school curriculum/application, Anderson’s “Parent Letter for At-Home Skills” on p.39 and her “Taking a Look at My Own Work” form on pg. 46 would be valuable for us to incorporate.

    3) Anderson begins her book, “First and foremost, I thank God for blessing me with the talent to teach, as my steps are ordered by the Lord.” She continues, “teaching is a ministry….” and weaves in a biblical quote and analogy. Stimulated by this on several levels, I’m truly interested to ask colleagues if they view teaching as a “talent” and/or teaching as a “ministry.”
    Then as a critical reader, I can’t help but wonder, does this first impression of the author help or hinder, contribute a positive or negative, preconceived notion of the author?

    4) The book contains concrete details/statistics about African Americans, but it lacks any such info. about Hispanics, which is pertinent to our school’s population. While I found value in my reading, highlighting, and note-making in my book (gifted by our Principal- thank you, Ed), the bull’s eye, target reader for Anderson’s text probably would be an administrator, working in an elementary school, with a high population of African-American learners.

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