So if you came to my classroom this week or next would you see a typical day in Elementaryhistoryteacher’s classroom?
Unfortunately you would miss out. It simply wouldn’t happen. My school has entered the realm of CRAZY SCHOOL which is a parallel universe created by all of the education stakeholders across America. CRAZY SCHOOL is where you take a smooth running machine that has been in operation for some five weeks and throw it to the four winds. The result is a faculty and staff that are so incredibly flexible they can be described as Gumby look-alikes along with a slightly bewildered student body that from one day to the next has a completely different schedule.
It’s not normal for my nine year olds to sit still for three hours while they show me what they know or don’t know compared to other students across our fair nation. It’s not normal for me to be in my office, (yes, that’s how I think of it) for three hours as the designated time keeper and gopher for Kleenex, sharpened pencils, and plastic baggies for that stubborn tooth that decides to pop out between answer bubbles. The burden of test security and protocols alone is extremely daunting and psychologically exhausting to my colleagues and me. Gee, one wrong move and I might as well tear up my certificate.
Once the testing period is over we begin an abbreviated schedule so that we can still have the majority of our day for academics. Remember academics? The reason why we’re there in the first place……In twenty-first century education, however, an abbreviated schedule for some 5-600 kids is easier said than done when a large majority of them have individual needs and requirements and are tracked more ways than Atlanta has Peachtree Streets. An abbreviated schedule means you’re going to end up with a few kids you aren’t supposed have that class period, you’re going to not have some kids you need, and somehow or another your personal potty break doesn’t happen until 4:30 p.m. You figure out it’s lunch time but you don’t have the normal group you take to lunch so you take the group you’re with, but then someone forgets and picks up the group they always pick up which means a group gets left behind. The result? CRAZY SCHOOL!
Keep smiling, stay flexible and tread that water! Testing time is almost half over.
So, let’s pretend it’s not CRAZY SCHOOL time. Let’s pretend you have come to visit when it’s a normal, routine school day. What would you see? Well, first of all you would see students sitting in mixed gender and ability groups. Students would be busy completing several different planned activities based on content we would have gone over a day or two before.
Generally my fourth grade students receive new American History content through one to two days of teacher-directed instruction heavily infused with questioning strategies, opportunities for predictions, and discussion. Yes, you can discuss history with a nine year old. Since this is the first opportunity for most of my students to learn about American History and since they are still developing their non-fiction reading skills I rely on the text, teacher-prepared notes, short trade books, videos, and teacher-created power point presentations to deliver content. A few “oh-by-the-way” type stories don’t hurt either. During our study of World War I, my fifth graders always perked up when I discussed the nastiness of trench foot. Ick!
Once students have content in a holding pattern in their dear little heads I follow up with three to four days of intense individual and group work where students rotate through a series of activities to hone textbook skills locating and recalling information, reproducing diagrams and maps, and writing creatively. Students also create vocabulary flashcards with the definition on the front and an illustration on the back. Students keep their flashcards on a metal ring and consider it a symbol of honor when they can show off a full ring of cards at the end of the year. I guess you could call it a ring of history.
Student extend the content by reading a related set of Accelerated Reader titles, reviewing a list of web sites I have created, or a selection of Kids Discover magazines that I have grouped together for the unit. Groups also work on a reading skill for each text lesson and have opportunities to work with content through crossword puzzles, cloze activities, and various graphic organizers.
I generally move around the room from group to group checking for understanding, asking more questions, and observing any holes I might have in my instruction. I also identify core skill weaknesses students might have. The noise level can get out of hand and off task behavior is a risk, but I have found that by being among the children I can help students by re-directing them when necessary.
So that’s what you would see most days in my classroom, but not this week.
CRAZY SCHOOL is the norm for this week.
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