Posts Tagged ‘5th grade’

So I’ve been thinking about homework. Anyone who has taught for any length of time has thought about homework. I have assigned a lot of homework in my time, and I don’t say that as a badge of honor or to brag.

My ideas about homework have changed over the years. Some of that has to do with my experience assigning, correcting, and reflecting on the homework that I give my students. And, some of that change has to do with my experience as the parent of students who have to do the homework that others assign. Full disclosure–I know there are those on the no homework at all bandwagon; I just can’t get there for reading and writing. 

When I first started teaching I was just trying to make it through the day, follow the directions, and not mess up too dramatically. My school had rules and expectations about homework, although we did not necessarily have the resources in terms of books to follow through on those rules, and I tried to do what I was supposed to do. However, in the end, I really could not give much homework.

When I came to 5th grade at my current school, there were a lot of resources and therefore a lot of potential for homework– spelling, vocabulary, reading, writing, and math, sometimes social studies, projects etc. I won’t pretend that I have never assigned less than worthwhile homework, but I can honestly say that over the years I worked hard to strip away anything that I didn’t think was really worth the time. Teaching in a self-contained classroom, I gave the vast majority of the homework. So, I could balance things. If I wanted students to do any social studies, I cut way back on language arts. Language arts represented the bulk of 5th grade homework, and there were not many other items. Over the course of two nights, I generally assigned some reading and a blog comment. It definitely took students some time to do the work, and I honestly felt I saw the positive results. The comfort with writing that my students developed and the level of thoughtfulness and critical thinking about the reading that they acquired over the course of the year would not, I think, have been possible without this very regular practice that happened at home and was then discussed and expanded on in class.

Looking back on it now though, and comparing it to the homework load that I see in high school and in my own kids in middle and high school, one of the key characteristics of that fifth-grade homework was that there was generally one key item. There might be some vocabulary that from this distance might qualify as skippable (is that a word? Maybe we shouldn’t skip the vocab), there was some math practice, not a lot, and then the main item–usually language arts. Students always had two days to work on a reading and writing combination. The work was structured in such a way that there was, if students did not put it off, time to read, think, and write. What I heard from families was that students did spread the work out, as intended. 

What I worry about with the homework that I assign now (to seniors) is that it doesn’t get translated into a chance to spend some time thinking and working at a personal pace on ideas that we are talking about in class. When I started teaching in Upper School, I was told assigning work in two-night chunks was not going to work. I was told this repeatedly, by many people. Students would just put it off and then not complete the work. As the newbie, I believed it and made my assignment sheets accordingly. I’m starting to wonder if I should rethink this.

Time to ask the people actually doing the homework. Duh. When I asked the 5th graders, they were overwhelmingly in favor of the two-night plan for reading and writing. Why aren’t I asking these almost-adults?

Advertisements

CCO public domain image from Pixabay.

So, I’m still thinking about my observations. The other day I wrote about my experience in the math department in particular. This time, I’m thinking about the students.

At this point, I have observed a lot of classes. Even though I meet afterward with the teachers, I often think about the students. There are plenty of students whom I know by name or grade, but whom I do not teach or have never taught. For these students, I have vague impressions based on things like how they walk down the hall, how loud they are in the library, who they sit with at lunch. None of these is anything on which to base even a guess as to what they are like in class. And yet, don’t we all make those kinds of guesses all the time?

Seeing these students whom I don’t know as students in class has been so interesting. Since I am observing rather than teaching, I can really look around and see that big picture. Yes, so-and-so is not good at sitting still and talks out of turn, but is also on topic and engaged, while walking across the back of the room to switch chairs. Someone else who slouches through the day, trailing papers, once settled sits up and is focussed.

Now that I am mostly an administrator, I only teach a relatively few number of students in my English and Digital Fabrication classes, and even those students I see in only one learning environment. I try to make sense of the whole person by putting together the pieces I see in class with what I see around school and what I learn from other teachers. I try to go to one extra event that each of my students does during the semester (a game, a concert, whatever).

However, the vast majority of students I don’t teach, and therefore don’t see doing the most school-ish thing—learning in class. It’s strange to think that for a lot of students, I know the least about them as students. When I was a lower school, teacher and taught in a self-contained classroom, I knew all of my students so well; we spent all day together, went to recess together, went to lunch together, got ready to go home together. That leaves a mark. And, even though I had only one section of 5th grade, I had enough interaction with the other sections and teachers to know all of the 5th graders pretty well. For most of the students that I have now observed in class, I have seen a more studious version of the person I see in the hallways, a more lively person than I see in the library. It’s been wonderful to see all of these people as learners and members of an academic community.

Plus, the way schedule crumbled meant that I got to see several students in multiple classes purely by accident. I enjoyed seeing the same student interact with different content, with different classroom environments, with different teacher strategies. I got to see what part of the student was consistent across all those classes and what part changed, just like I used to see with my 5th graders.

More wins for me.

So, I’ve been thinking about collaborating. I wrote about the opportunity to have my digital fabrication students work with some 5th graders. Here’s the update.

The 5th graders sent us a handful of drawings. Some had multiple views and details. I gave the drawings out to any of my students who were interested (even when they learned there would be no money involved) and they got started. By the end of a class period, they had a decent design. I had them take screen shots of their Tinkercad models and put the pictures in a shared google folder.

screen-shot-2016-11-10-at-12-59-59-pm screen-shot-2016-11-10-at-12-47-17-pm

The next time we met, my students had comments back from the 5th graders on their designs, also in the shared folder. I have to say that my students were a little surprised to get back comments that asked for alterations. However, it was a great opportunity to discuss what it means to be hired, even “hired”, by and to work with someone with whom you are not in class. One student was annoyed that he was asked to put spikes on the top of the ziggurat he had designed as he did not notice them in the original drawing. I looked at the drawing again and there was definitely something zig-zag-y at the top, but it’s hard to tell. In the end my students did make changes.

img_6661 img_6665

I liked that the 5th graders were calling the shots. And, since we were doing all the communicating via pictures and notes, my students did not intimidate or squash the voices of the 5th graders. Another benefit of this project was that it gave my students another opportunity to design something in Tinkercad and to improve their skills on something before we move on to our final, more open-ended project.

Since my class only meets twice a rotation of seven days, it hasn’t exactly been speedy work. Next semester I hope that I can find or run into another chance to do the making part of another project for another class. I’m already volunteering them.

So, I’ve been thinking about collaboration. Sometimes you work so hard to get some particular collaboration going, set the ground work, spend lots of time meeting, work out elaborate schedules, etc. Other times, the project just falls into your lap or appears fully formed, like Athena from Zeus’ forehead.

Yesterday, I received an email from a new colleague in the lower school, subject line: Ancient Sumer. Do you not get emails with that subject line?

Hi Wendy,

We are going to begin our unit on Ancient Sumer.  I was planning on breaking the class into 6 groups and each group will research a different topic.  They will then have to create 2-3 artifacts that pertain to their topic and we are going to create a class museum.  Would there be a way that each group could print one of their artifacts on the 3D printer?

Let me know your thoughts!

I jumped at the idea. First of all, I used to teach that content, so I have a strange fondness for it, given that Ancient Sumer is otherwise an unusual favorite topic. Anyway, I started replying right away with details about the software we use, how we might have a class account to navigate the issue students under 13, and how 3D printing can go awry.

When 3D Prints go wrong. (CCO image by me)

When 3D Prints go wrong. (CCO image by me)

Then, a different idea popped into my head, and I switched gears mid-email.

Or, here’s another idea. My digital fabrication classes are getting pretty good at designing. Your students could make drawings or models of the artifacts and meet with my students (could be virtually by Skype or whatever) and my students could do the designing in the software. I have a few students who are really pretty good at it. Would the 5th graders like being able to “order” a piece? It might highlight the need for clear description and communication skills.

Well a few more emails and we were set. I am so excited.

I told one of my sections today that some 5th graders were going to be hiring them to design artifacts. I forgot to use air quotes when I said hiring, and there was some initial discussion of money changing hands, but I set them straight on their pro bono situation.

There are several things I love about this idea. First, it is an interesting way to have meaningful cross-division interaction. As a Prek-12 school on two campuses, we always want to build connections between students in our lower school and those in our middle and upper schools. Second, it is a real project. There are real-live students with a real-life need for these 3D-printed objects. My students will be able to see the museum exhibit that they contribute work to. Finally, if some of my students are considering taking our Engineering course in later years, this is a project is a great preparation or trial.

I can’t wait to get started.

 

So, I’ve been thinking about how to adjust my teaching so that my students get better at having independent discussions in their literature circles.

It turns out that my students need more guidance in order to increase the level of discussion in their literature circles. Reasonable enough. So, I adjusted my instruction. We started our current unit with a whole class book directed by me. I tried to do some of my best, most careful planning for these discussions. And, because I am teaching seniors, some of whom are probably counting the remaining days, I also made a light up sign using Chibitronics lights and copper tape.

The first class discussion went fairly well. I used my light up sign to signal when I was sharing something that might fall squarely to a particular literature circle role. Yes, it’s like being back in 5th grade, but I’m good at that and as I wrote before, the seniors are not totally unlike 5th graders. And, based on my review of the previous discussion feedback, I added another job to our literature circle job list. Character Captain is a standard job, which I had thought might be too basic or would be gobbled up by Discussion Leader or Literary Luminary. I was wrong. It needs its own job. So, I’ve got my sign, I’m moving through my plan, there’s some decent discussion. But, will it change what the students do in their next literature circles when we move to other books? Probably not unless I make some more of my process clear to them.

I realized that I needed to give them more of a peek behind the teacher curtain. Therefore, at the start of the second class period’s discussion, I began by reviewing my outline from our discussion the day before. I went so far as to put a bullet pointed list on the board of the order of things from the day before and related each back to the big question I wanted to discuss and the corresponding literature circle job (and light up sign flash). I will not lie to you and say that this was genius or that everyone was moved to tears. However, since then I have had a question about what teachers do to think of all of this. Do we have secret teacher files of all this symbolism and references and what to say about books? And, I have continued to mention the planning and adjusting process over the course of our discussions. I mentioned that with me doing all of the jobs, I can make it all fit together, and I can adjust and move off script if my plan bombs. They might not even realize I am doing that. Experience matters.

The question is, will some of this transfer as the students begin another round of literature circle discussions. Fingers crossed.

They Fooled Me

Posted: January 18, 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,
public domain image from Pixabay.com

public domain image from Pixabay.com

So I’ve been thinking about what I learned about teaching this semester. There are plenty of things I worked hard to do that I can look to as successes. However, I can do better.

I have written about the fact that I found teaching seniors to feel strangely familiar, even though I had never taught this grade level before. I think the biggest take away I have should not be a surprise to me.

The seniors are kids. I know this; I believe this; I say this in other situations. But, did I teach with this in mind?

I wanted to be very aware of the fact that the young people in front of me were not 10 or even 14 years old anymore. When we had creative writing assignments, I set PG, maybe PG-13, as the upper rating for their work, because I knew where some of them might go otherwise. I paid attention to college application deadlines, when acceptances and rejections were delivered, the impact a breakup could have on productivity. I deliberately chose a book and tackled some topics in that book with particular attention given that these young people will, most likely, be living away from home next year. And yet, I also was swayed by their air of confidence and ease. I fell for it. So, when I gave a quick explanation of something, asked if everyone got it, I believed them when they said yes. I know better! I know to give the complete explanation, at least at the beginning, to ask for questions rather than comprehension. I didn’t let 5th graders or 9th graders get away with that, but …

I taught the people these seniors wanted to be seen as, rather than who they were. I assumed things at the beginning that meant I had to back track later. My 5th grade teacher self is yelling you know this, you worked so hard to do this clearly and effectively before. What have you forgotten in these few short years?

It’s easy to look at 10 and 11 year olds and see kids. Their very beings scream the words. Even the ones who are already becoming abstract thinkers, getting the jokes, engaging in real discussion about ideas give away their age in ways big and small. There is no mistaking them for adults.

The seniors tricked me, some of them, not just by their physical selves, but through the things they talked about before class began, the questions they wanted to ask me about my life (some of which I did not answer), by their boldness. And so, I did not clearly state some of the basics from the beginning. I assumed. I mistook the physical for the academic. I was overly cautious about not teaching them like the little kids they clearly are not, but should have taught them more like the big kids they clearly are.

So, this semester, I vow to see those big people sitting in front of me as big kids, without making anyone feel bad or condescended to. I’ve got a whole list of what that will mean, but I’ll spare you the class-specific details. Any suggestions?

Wish me luck.

pixabay image

pixabay image

So, I’m continuing to think about encouraging all voices in student discussions. I’ve been working very consciously on student only discussions. I’ve written about my initial strategy and my revisions.

With round 1, I was working on building the stamina, community, and capacity for student led discussion where I do not participate at all until the very end where I wrap it up just so that we don’t end with the very teen “um, so , yeah.” In round 2, the goal was to go beyond sharing and to add more interaction, building off each other’s ideas, and overall depth to the discussion. In many ways both of these were successful. However, I still had a handful of students who were not participating as much as I, and they, would like. This brings me to round 3.

For round 3, I had two discussions. Same topic, different students.

In one group were all the big talkers. No need to encourage this group to participate. My specific directions to them were to ground their thoughts in the text and to balance their big picture thinking with specifics. They did exactly as I asked. It was so hard not to join in the conversation. I wanted to participate with these colleagues so badly. A time or two I asked a clarifying question. Then, having broken my silence, I tried joining in a bit. Mistake. Even though these are confident participants and I am not a domineering teacher, I could feel a difference in the conversation. I will just have to bite my tongue. If my goal is for students to lead, I have to keep out all together. There are other times that are for me to participate.

In group two were the quieter students. Between absences and a few students who had work that needed finishing, it was a very small group, and I could see the relief on a few faces when they saw the group. What a difference. One student who has come to the previous discussions with notes at the ready yet has had a really hard time getting in the conversation, jumped in right away. He began the discussion with a specific reference to the text and got us going in a good direction. Another student who is often distracted had tons to say, responded to classmates, agreeing, disagreeing, 100% engaged, which represents massive improvement. A third quieter person also had a lot to add. Looking around as the students talked (I learned my lesson with the first group and did not join in), I could see an obvious change in their body language. These students now sat, leaned in, looked comfortable in the ways that the more talkative students do in a big or small group. If an observer did not know that these students represented many who are not usually major contributors, he or she would be surprised to learn that fact. After this second in-depth, vibrant conversation, I commented on what a good job they were doing and asked if this felt better. Smiles and nods all around. (They really are just big 5th graders who want to do a good job.)

Obviously, the quieter students have to be able to participate in a bigger setting, and they can and do. At the same time, I believe that as the teacher who is planning learning experiences, it is my job to scaffold activities that support students in growing their skills across a variety of areas. So, if I have a small cohort who needs to build participation skills, I need to meet them where they are to move them forward. For my quieter students, a smaller group is a good starting place.