Team Swordfish earned cheers from the other Survivor tribes - Cheetahs, Warthogs and Gorillas - as they dropped a clothespin from their nose into a glass bottle, the challenge of the day. These tribes aren't from ''Survivor'' the television show, but ''Survivor: Lobo Island.'' The tribes were Washington Middle School eighth-graders preparing for the NYS 8th Grade English Language Arts test.
Teacher Jason Williams begins each class with a normal vocabulary word warm-up. Then, students individually complete a mini quiz consisting of one story/article/poem from a past ELA exam and the questions that go with it. The 10-minute quizzes prepare students for the time constraints of the NYS ELA test. Each tribe earns points based on their quiz scores.
Williams also discusses a specific skill and strategies to improve it. For example, the tribes work on inferencing by completing five-minute mysteries and solving the cases using clues given by the short story writers. The tribes are assigned a weekly group project that have included writing the perfect Part 3 essay and creating a Great Depression journal using the terms and lessons learned in Social Studies. Mistakes in a tribe's weekly project results in Survivor point deductions.
Washington Middle School eighth-grader Selena Martinez reacts to barely missing her clothespin drop during a Survivor:?Lobo Island physical challenge.
Finally, the fun part happens - the Freaky Tiki Challenges.
''All work and no play makes the students resent the test and the preparation leading up to it even more, so we take a brain break,'' Williams said. ''On Fridays, we have a physical challenge where students balance golf balls on their faces or have a cotton ball relay race. Survivor has worked because students hold each other accountable for their quizzes and group projects as both affect the tribe's point total. I have created each tribe with a range of skill levels so students are learning from each other, as well as from me.''
The students love the Survivor concept.
''It is fun to work together to figure out difficult English concepts that we will see on the test and in life,'' said Washington Middle School eighth-grader Peyton Butts. ''I might not know the answer to a question, but someone in my group will and I can learn from them. Each week the project is something different, poetry or multiple choice questions, so we see all the various parts of the state test. But it's also just fun and you're learning at the same time.''
Williams' Survivor ELA project is one of many ways teachers and students work throughout the school year to develop new concepts, skills and strategies at each grade level. As teachers help students to improve their knowledge of literacy and mathematics, they are always mindful of the expectations of the NYS assessments, which annually measure student achievement in literacy and mathematics in grades 3 through 8, and science in grades 4 and 8.
Teachers often support learning beyond the school day to improve students' skills in preparation for state assessments. Bush Elementary School teachers Tiffany MacCallum and Amy Vezina meet twice a week after school with a group of third-grade students to review key skills and strategies expected on NYS ELA and math exams. Students recently created a snack mix where they wrote a recipe card, read and followed directions, weighed each ingredient and wrote their own questions about the recipe.
''I like doing the afterschool projects because it's a different way to learn what I need to know,'' said Bush Elementary School fourth-grader Jovan Lopez. ''I never worked on a recipe before but I learned that you have to read it step-by-step and follow the direction exactly or it doesn't work out right. It will help in tests because now I know how to read and follow directions.''
Teachers use student data to determine where they are having challenges and work on giving students strategies to improve those skills. ''You don't teach to the test,'' said Mrs. Vezina. ''Everything we do during the school day is to make sure the students are building the skills necessary to succeed in their education. We do spend some time to familiarize students on the format of the test as it is easy for the students to get tripped up on the format and not be able to answer the question even if they know the answer.''
''Our students need to be better and deductive readers so they can think and answer through whether it is for the NYS exam or not,'' said Mrs. MacCallum. ''We only have so much time during the day and we decided to create an after school group to give more practice but in a fun environment.''
Learning also continues beyond the classroom in Jamestown's after-school programs. The Love Terrific Kids (LTK) program has made a deliberate effort to connect the school curriculum to all program activities.
''Mr. Bruce, I'll take Tick Tock for $25,'' said Love Elementary School third-grader Avante Hicks to Chautauqua Striders coordinator Bruce Larson.
''What is 45 minutes before this time?'' Larson asked as he held a clock face, which showed 2:35.
''What is 1:50?'' Avante said, in the classic Jeopardy format. Students play Striders Jeopardy, choosing from 60 categories such as Describe Me, Multiplication Madness, What a Capital Idea (capitalization) and Do You Measure Up? (science measurements). The game is one way that the Love Terrific Kids (LTK) afterschool program extends academic instruction beyond the school day.
''We follow the curriculum maps for each grade and work with classroom teachers to include core content in as much of our after school programming as possible,'' Larson said. ''Our goal is to guide students to want to learn instead of following the path of 'I have to learn.'''
Chautauqua Striders offers traditional homework help and tutoring after school but the LTK program also adds activities that reinforce skills and strategies needed for success in ELA, math and science. For example, kindergartners and first-graders use literature and puppets in Act It Out & Puppetry classes. First- and second-graders recently participated in Poem Palooza where they read a variety of poems, then wrote and discussed their own poems. Third- and fourth-graders participate in Mad Scientists with experiments.
"The after school environment is hands-on. Smaller groups allow us to give more individualized attention to each student and work on specific skills and strategies," said Ronda Piazza, LTK Site Coordinator/Child Care Executive for Jamestown Family YMCA. "We work very hard to coordinate with the classroom teachers and parents to provide aid in areas where a student may need additional help."
''When we are working on something like reading a paragraph and we don't understand, they give us clues that might help us figure out the answer without giving us the answer,'' said Love fourth-grader Boston Thomas. ''Maybe to look at the passage again, re-read it and think about what we are looking for. This is something we have to do in school and in the tests. It really helps.''