On a sunny Saturday morning in October, about 100 teachers from 25 schools on probation have gathered for a monthly workshop at DePaul University’s Center for Urban Education, the schools’ external partner.

The workshops are aimed at introducing teachers to new methods of instruction and helping schools learn from each other through teachers designated as “connectors.”

Accordingly, center director Barbara Radner gets the October workshop going by asking the teachers to talk about progress they’ve seen in the first quarter of the school year. “One way we all learn,” she says, “is when you tell us what’s happening.”

One upper-grade teacher relates how she has had her students make books describing the parts of speech. “I’m sure they understand it very well now,” she says.

Another talks about her students keeping math journals, in which they describe in words the process they used to find their answers. Marybeth Rand, a primary-grade connector from Beidler Elementary School, had just started using math journals with her own students and is encouraged by her colleague’s success.

In addition to sharing experiences, the connectors also receive samples of the reading and math portions of new state achievement tests, called ISAT for Illinois Standards Achievement Tests, which students will take for the first time in February. They also receive samples of lesson plan calendars for the second quarter and several strategies for teaching math and writing.

Rand notes that through the ISAT math sample, she learned that students will be asked to explain how they arrived at their answers. “I was really glad I went and found that out because I’m unfamiliar with the ISAT,” she adds.

Jessie Hudson, a special needs teacher at Beidler, says she was taking several good ideas back to Beidler, including using big books not just as literature lessons but also to teach things like word families and rhyming words.

“I’ll tell the other special needs teachers about these things,” she says the day after the workshop, “and I’ll try to incorporate them into my class.”

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