It is May, and the end of the school year is fast approaching. As the weather begins to warm up, so do the temperatures of everyone. We see a wide variety of changes happening as the end of school closes in on all of us.
Many teachers face life changes as some are retiring, some are taking on leadership roles, and others are moving to different locations. These are life changes that spark genuine emotions even if we do not feel like they impact us in any way.
Our students are feeling the stress of the timeline as well. Many will be heading off to start a new life journey with college or careers. Some will be facing issues of what they feel like is a safe place for them being removed, or ending a structured time with friends, a regular time of receiving meals, and knowing they will not have others to be with each day they can trust and count on daily.
These emotions still do not distract us from our purpose of teaching and learning. We have until the last bell rings to engage in and be flexible in our teaching and learning. It takes some out-of-the-box thinking, but the creativity we all have can capture the moments we have with amazing things.
Helping our students to engage in learning is essential to reaching the academic goals we establish and meeting the needs for their learning. Our expectations can offer significant benefits to the learning environment but not eliminate the high expectations. I am referring to the need for choices, providing students with a clear understanding of the “how” and “why” the expectations relate to them and “what” they can do.
Reflecting on my own teaching experiences, I can recall being transferred to another building with a principal who did not know my teaching style. The first time he walked into my classroom, the look on his face was priceless. He did not find the desks in a row with students all sitting quietly with me at the front of the room giving an instructional lesson. Instead, he found: A group of students in the back of the room with one of my volunteers reading, three students at computers, a student with me at my desk, and students with books and folders at their desks. Some students took papers to trays to turn in, and others selected new books.
I excused the student I was working with and told him he was ready to move forward. I walked over to speak to the principal. “Good Morning!”
“This classroom looks very busy, and everyone looks like they know what they are doing. I have never seen anything like this before.”
“Oh, I am sorry. This is how I teach and work. I can provide you with a more detailed plan for organizing our time. Each student has a mailbox. Inside their mailbox, they have folders for their subject areas color-coded. Right now, we are working on Language Arts and our Reading Logs. Students are working through the stations. We have a reading station with our volunteer today, Mr. Lucas; three students come back to take a test on their book and record it on their log, others are working through their assignments, and I individually call up students to do a progress check. The clothespins on the daily assignments bag indicate to everyone what station they are at. When a task is completed, the students change their clothespin to the station they will be in so others can see the openings.”
“I can see they know what they are doing. It seems like it is working.”
“Please feel free to check in on any of them to ask them about what they are doing and the goals they are working on.”
My teaching was many years ago, but I knew the choice formstudents was a big part of allowing students to take ownership. I need to mention at this time in the ’90s, grouping by abilities was a “thing.” I was the “new teacher” on the block, so my students were at risk primarily, but my Homeroom students were a mixture of students. It did not influence how I approached teaching and learning. I had high standards, and we worked the same way and accomplished goals.
At the end of the year, we still had lots to cover in our social studies books. I decided to let the kids take control. I put the subjects/topics on the board. Students wrote down what they were interested in learning or teaching to give to me. Then we talked about a unique group project to end our year.
I divided the students up into teams based on their interest levels. Then they worked together on the chapters to develop the vocabulary list, discussion questions, answers, vital information to know, and a short assessment.
Finally, we would turn this information into a History Rocks at RidgeFarm Elementary Radio Show. We would watch a couple of episodes of the Schoolhouse Rocks videos to get an idea of how the format could be and how to make a design set.
The kids were engaged, we were flexible, and we could show it to our grade level. Then we even showed it to the 4th graders to prepare them for 5th grade.
We took the assessments that the students made, we learned the vocabulary and everyone learned so much at the end of the year!