Changing grade level has left me much busier than I thought it would. The curriculum has changed since I last taught 5th grade. My classroom too has changed (physically) and that too has been more of an “adaptation” than I thought it would. Getting use to the students, since I have 21 out of 23 from last year, is not so much of a change. But they have changed. They are now the “top of the food chain” and that in itself lends to a change in some of their behaviors. Reminding them to be “role models” since they are now the role models is a change. Looping has its many benefits, but one perhaps non-benefit is that the students are use to some things in a too comfortable fashion. So, I’ve had to change up beginning of the school year activities since they already know my bag of tricks. It is a change getting use to the new activities that fifth graders get to participate in. It’s a change only having about one hour and twenty minutes of instruction time after lunch compared to having just about two hours last year. You get the picture, there have been a lot of changes. I haven’t had the energy to blog for awhile. I miss it. One of my colleagues told me that if I was inspired, I would do it. There’s been a lot of posts running around in my head, but due to the fact that life has got in the way to my actually doing the writing online, they have stayed in my head. So today, I decided to write one post, and since we are doing essays in class, to create a series of short “blog-says” on some of the posts that have been running around in my head.
A quick note about the photographs. Before starting my writing, I went onto my iPhoto library to look for some pictures that I had taken. In my library, there was a roll of images from one of my students, who took these during a trip to Cousin’s Field this week. They are spectacular and much better than any of my current images. I am not sure if this one child who gave me his camera is the photographer of all of the pictures (there may be more than one student’s work), but I do want to credit one of my fifth grade students with these photos.
Photo of a Flower at Cousin's Field from an Erickson 5 Student
Blog-Say One: The Importance of Providing Different Tools for Student Learning
I am a firm believer in having students be able to express themselves in different manners. Over the past two years, first with the “Digital Farm” and then with “CBL and DPC” last year, I have been so blown away with giving students the freedom to present their work in different manners. Students who didn’t like to write with pencil and paper created web sites, video games, and movies. Students who are not exactly the best with drawing taking gorgeous digital pictures (proof — the picture at the right). Instead of book reports, students this year created beautiful book trailers, incorporating and evaluating music for their movie as well. Watching the students themselves become bloggers is equally satisfying. One post last week talked about how at that point, the class had created 399 posts on their Kid Blog site. (and I thought I was a hot shot with 110 blog entries on this site). I have seen the students interact with one another so respectfully on this blog site, encouraging one another about a story that one boy has written, to another one pondering big questions like why do politicians keep insulting one another. Through their own blogs, they have found that our classroom extends beyond the physical space of our room’s walls. A coming attraction in our room is the arrival of the iPads this week. On Friday, the students became editors of each other’s September writing sample. I approached three students and asked them how we were going to get everyone their comments. One started off that they could cut the paper up into strips. I kind of shrugged at that suggestion. “What about doing a podcast with the comments?” The wheels of our mind started turning. I rushed over to get my new iPad, told them about Audio Boo, and we were off. “We could create Vokis, we could do this, we could do that.” Then I heard one child say, “why don’t we just write it down?” and another one quickly said, “Because Mrs. Erickson wants us to go ‘digital'”. I want my students to be able to leverage all different types of platforms to display their learning. To strengthen this argument, my oldest son will be graduating from college this spring and is just starting the job search. Over a cup of tea last week with a dear friend, I mentioned that he had a phone interview. She just sent me an article entitled “Your New Job Security Starts Here: A stable work future isn’t about finding a lifelong employer. It’s about being able to land the next professional opportunity – which means mastering the digital job hunt.” This article includes making your own website, a video biography, being ready to have a video interview, becoming a blogger, and stepping it up with social media. These are all tools that we use to enhance our learning in my classroom, and it seems like learning these tools is essential in the workforce that my students will one day be entering.
Another picture of Cousin's Field from an Erickson 5 Student
Blog-Say Two: When Just Good Enough is not Good Enough
During this past summer, I blogged about the passing of my band teacher Al Yesue. At Back to School Night, I dedicated my year to him. During our first personal essay unit, my model for the children was about Al. My three main points were that Al taught me to believe in myself, that he taught me to go outside my comfort zone, and finally he taught me that “good enough is not good enough” This paragraphs reads as follows:
“One lesson that Al taught me was that “good enough” is not good enough. You can get by in life by putting the bare minimum or you can get the most out of life by putting in your very best effort into everything you do. I remember that hot summer night in July. Lined up on the parking lot at Riverside Park, we returned to “the line” once again to play the opening measures of Holst’s “Jupiter” once again. I couldn’t understand why we were sent back again and again to re-do it. It sounded good enough. But to Al, it didn’t sound “good enough”. He wanted it to sound great. He wanted us to play it with feeling. He wanted us to play it liked we meant it. So back to the line again. And again. And again. For three, long hot hours we kept going back and repeating those three measures. At the end of that night, we weren’t necessarily happy that we spent three long hours doing the same thing over and over again. But in the long run, it taught me to always put 100% into anything I undertook. Thirty-five years later, I am still practicing this life lesson. “
In teaching, I don’t feel it is right to “be just good enough.” I always am looking at better ways to engage my students. I am always looking for new things to learn. I never teach a unit the same way twice. I am quite comfortable going outside my comfort zone for the good of my students.
But this week, it was the students’ turn to learn this lesson. On Friday, October 7th, we took our first unit post test in math. The day before, we had reviewed the material for the test. I told the students that there would be a “challenge” problem that I couldn’t tell them about but that as a whole, they were excellent math students and they would do fine. I told them about how much I enjoy watching them consume “Dynamaths” and how much I enjoy them being excited about “tiny tests”. I overheard one student say “She’s giving us a pep talk.” The next day, I handed out the tests, reminded them that they could do this, but to be careful. A week later, the corrected tests were returned to me. I was dismayed as I looked them over during lunch. The scores overall were not good. Concerned that I had not done a good enough job teaching the students, I went upstairs to ask our math specialist her take. “The tests are full of silly mistakes,” she told me. “It’s not that they didn’t know what to do.” I suddenly now knew why Al made us keep playing those three measures for three hours. I now knew how dismayed he must have felt by our complacency, we were champions, but he believed we could be better than just “good enough”. I had to approach the children gently, as for some of them, they had never received such a low score. I talked with them that at time our failures lead to our best learning. This was a new beginning.
And two days later, we took a pre-test in our next unit. For some, more of the same carelessness. But for one student, who had done quite poorly on his post-test, he was almost perfect on this one. I pulled him aside and told him how well he did on this one. And he said to me, “I know I am better than a student who got a 59% on the last test.” He got the lesson that “just good enough is not good enough.” I marveled at his insight in learning this lesson at such a young age. And I hope some of the others also catch one for as a teacher, this was one frustrating experience, when you know your students can do well and then they don’t.
Blog-Say Three: Parking Valets, Eye Technicians, Respect, and Confidence.
Two years back, I wrote a post called “Japanese Flower Arranging, A Glaucoma Eye Test and Teaching”. I concluded that “I need to be reassuring, and make sure they fully
Another Plant at Cousin's Field by an Erickson 5 Student
understand what we are doing and why. I need to scaffold tasks for them at times and then gently sit beside them as they attempt it on their own. If they are nervous about doing something, I need to acknowledge their feelings, while at the same time encouraging them and providing them with the information for them to be successful. I need to laugh with them, and nod and smile at them. I need to remember what being a learner truly feels like.” Last year, due to the unfortunate incident with my elbow, my eye appointment did not happen. So on September 27th, when I headed off to that appointment, I was feeling confident after the experience that I had the last time I was there. (in case you don’t read this old post, I hate that Glaucoma test more than any other medical exam) . I was late leaving school and was already flustered when pulling into the Emerson parking lot. Since my foot was in a boot after an unfortunate encounter with a large tree root, I debated about using the valet to park my car. But the line was long, and I was already running late, so I headed to the parking lot. If you have ever been to the Cummings/Emerson parking lot, you will know that it is a nightmare on most days and hours. And the minute I pressed that button to get the ticket, I had begun to regret my decision not to valet. I headed down one long aisle of cars and then up another where I saw a car leaving its spot. Up that aisle I swung and quickly pulled into the spot. Then I realized, that I was much too close on the passenger side to the other car’s driver’s door. There was no way they could get into their car. And looking at how close I was, there was no way I was going to be able to pull my car out without hitting the other car. Panicking, I hobbled over the the valet and asked him “Can you help me?” This young man calmly asked me what he could do to help me. I told him I had parked too close to another car and that I couldn’t get my car out of that spot. Seeing my distress, he said, “Lo0k, you must have an appointment. Just give me your key and I’ll take care of it.” Hobbling into the building, I thought his mother would be proud of how he helped this damsel in distress. My calmness had eroded over the past fifteen minutes. I was hoping for Marian, the same technician that I had the last time for my eye exam. But instead of Miriam, a young technician called me in. I explained that she was going to have to talk me through the exam, hopeful for the same success that I had two years ago. But she did not have the same bedside manner. She was impatient with me, and I could not sit still when the machine came towards my eye. I jumped again and again. I could sense her aggravation building towards me. “Let me try it one more time, ” I asked her. “No,” she said, “I’ll have to have the doctor do it.” Sitting back out in the waiting room, I felt like a failure. Tears, not from the drops, ran from my eyes. My ophthalmologist was wonderful and we were able to get the test done, but my confidence had deflated. Heading back outside to the valet station, I remembered that I had left my computer in the car, something I never do if my car is unlocked. I went over to the valet who told me he would go and get my car. The cost for valet parking is $5.00. When he came back with my car, I handed him a twenty dollar bill and told him to keep the change. He asked me if I was sure, and I said I appreciated how much he helped me. He was respectful of my situation, he didn’t say “lady, I can’t do that.” He just did it.
This mere 90 minutes reminded me of the importance of respecting my learners and of inspiring my students to be confident. The valet respected my distress while the eye technician did not respect my fears and left me feeling like a failure. I will keep this lesson in my on when working with my students who are having difficulty with a topic. I need to be respectful of who they are as learners as well as trying to get them to be confident in themselves and their abilities.
This year in class, we have instituted a “respect” card as well as a “confidence” card every day. This has been rewarding to watch the students helping one another. They are respectful of each other’s learning styles. I love seeing a quiet student speak up confidently while answering a math question or saying “I think I nailed this math facts quiz.” We have now weaned it from my selecting the person to them nominating one another.
Confidence and Respect.
Yellow Flower with Bee by Erickson 5 Student
It felt really great to get some blogging done, before heading back out to do some errands. I guess my short “blog-says” could have been three different posts, but I think as a trio, they fit well together.