It’s been a rough beginning of the school year for me. I found out during the last week of school last June that I was mandated to teach a new reading program, “Journeys”. I’m ok with change and usually adapt to new things pretty quickly but the problem for me is that this new program is “one size fits all”. Fundamentally this does not make sense to me. In the age of differentiation, IEPs and 504s I just don’t understand how a decision like this was made. To make matters worse I didn’t receive the materials needed to reach my struggling struggling students.
With that being said, I did the best that I could to differentiate instruction, try to make the learning fun and engaging (kind of hard to do when the reading material is stale and boring even to me), and to expose my students to technology integration wherever it made sense to do so
Over the holiday break I was down with bronchitis. I didn’t do much more than lay around, watch movies, and troll Twitter, etc. In doing so I stumbled upon three ideas that I am ready to put into place in January to try to bring some life back into my classroom.
1. TEACH the WHOLE CHILD
I am a Class Dojo mentor and a part of that Facebook community. A lot of the conversation focuses on using CJ in different ways but from time to time the teachers there throw out some other cool ideas they are using in their classrooms. I believe that I am a teacher of children before I am a teacher of English.
Someone threw out the idea of a BINGO game that is a bit outside the box. I revamped it a bit to make it my own and am excited to share it with my kids. The basic idea is to offer this to kids for fun, extra credit, or an opportunity to earn points/prizes – totally up to you. I teach 5th grade in a gamified classroom so my kids will be able to earn points to move them up on the Leader Board.
It works like a regular BINGO game and looks like a regular BINGO board. The only difference is that the boxes require the students to do all sorts of things not just reading/writing or academically based. Some examples are: learn how to say “Hello, how are you?” in 3 different languages and teach someone, do 5 sun salutations each morning (kids get a how-to video), or go on a walk, bike ride, or hike with your family and take pictures to share with the class.
The idea is to open up our little world a bit and give kids a push to try new things, explore the world around them, and to spend some time with their family and friends outside of Xbox, texting, and social media. The opportunities in the BINGO game appeal to lots of different types of people and the hope is for some to step outside the box and try something new and different.
My plan is to offer a new BINGO board each month with lots of new and adventurous things to offer my kids to explore and share.
2. GIVE KIDS AN OPPORTUNITY TO COLLABORATE
So much of what this new reading program asks our kids to do is to learn a new skill (grammar, spelling, writing, comprehension), practice it, and then take a test to show they have mastered it. Not exactly my idea of preparing our kids for the future. Nothing #futureready about it at all. In fact, it is very reminiscent of the way I was taught when I was in 5th grade 37 years ago! Our kids deserve more than this and I feel that I am obligated to give them what they need to be successful not only in school but in life.
Collaboration and communication are skills that we need to function and be successful in school but also in the workplace. I don’t know of many employers who ask their potential employees to read something and then take a multiple choice quiz to see what they learned as part of their daily job requirements. I know that there is a time and place for this type of assessment in school but it should not be the end-all be-all and it certainly shouldn’t be after every single skill a student is exposed to.
With all this in mind and knowing that there is material I am mandated to cover I am going to move forward with providing my students with ample opportunity to work together, talk about the texts they are reading, share their ideas, and find alternative forms of assessment instead of the 10 question multiple choice weekly tests. My team of teachers is expected to be lock-step with our lesson plans and we are checked on often to make sure we are where we are supposed to be so this is not going to be very popular with my admin. After 23 years of teaching I think I know a bit about what is best for my students. I am ready to fight the good fight to support my choices. Wish me luck!
3. BREAK AWAY FROM THE MOLD
The two ideas I just mentioned are an attempt to break away from the program but what I have in mind here is totally and completely a break away from all things “Journeys”.
I purchased a #BreakoutEDU box last summer and have yet to give it a try with my kids. Shame on me! My goal is to bring it out once a month with a different game each time and give my kids the opportunity to work as a team, problem solve, think critically, and troubleshoot all while igniting their natural drive to problem-solve.
Global School Play Day is right around the corner on February 3. Plato says that, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” I participated last year and it was an amazing opportunity to observe how kids interact while playing. I learned a lot about them that I would never learn from their reading, writing, and test taking. I’ not talking playing video games or the other tech games I use in my classroom. I am talking old school board games, playing cards, charades, etc. Electronics are not allowed. If it needs batteries or electricity it is not allowed in my room! Kids today don’t play the way we did. Global School Play Day gives them the chance to just spend an hour playing, talking, and working together.
I know that there is nothing incredibly innovative or creative mentioned here but sometimes we need a little push back in the right direction to remind us that KIDS COME FIRST! I hope reading this blog post sparks something in you to find a way to liven up your classroom in 2016.
I would love to hear your comments, suggestions, and feedback. You can reach me at theconnectededucator.com or @TheConnectedEdu on Twitter. Hope to hear from you!
Please share with your PLN!