Thursday, May 10, 2012

Perfect Timing

I suppose things just have a way of balancing themselves out when given a little time. As you could probably tell from my last post, going to work has not been at the top of my "Fun Things to Do List" for the last month or so. Perhaps at some point I can explain a little bit more about why that has happened, but for now I just need to leave it at that.

One thing will never change, though, no matter how frustrated I get with all the extra stuff: I love ALL my kids and cannot wait to see what they accomplish every day. Today the kids, the NUMBER ONE REASON I teach, reminded me how lucky I am to go to school each day.

Right now we are studying about the regions of the United States. Each student in my class and my partner's class were assigned a state (or Washington, D.C. because we have 51 kids in our afternoon class), and the kids spent two weeks becoming experts on their state. They learned about the climate, landforms, natural resources, animals, plants, tourist attractions... you name it, somebody probably discovered in in their research. The kids did have a graphic organizer to guide them to find our curriculum requirements and to serve as a place to record their thoughts so they were not completely independent for this piece. We worked on higher level reading skills like summarizing, main ideas and details, determining importance, and the basic, vital skills of accuracy, vocabulary and rereading for understanding. The students' learning contract stated that they must complete this portion of the research by April 27, and everybody did that!

After becoming experts on their state the kids joined together with students from both classrooms to synthesize their information. The students' goal was to find exactly how the states in their regions were similar. In most region groups students worked in partners to summarize and synthesize information about:

  • climate
  • landforms
  • industries & products
  • natural resources
  • wildlife
  • history
  • location
  • entertainment & attractions
  • culture

Our friends who learned about the states in the Southwest region, however, had quite the challenge ahead of them! They only had 4 people in their group so they had to work together and stay focused to meet their learning contract.

I never said that students could not help out others so immediately after finishing their assigned tasks, several groups went back to the others and asked how they could help. Some groups were eager to finish their work on their own, and they politely declined the help. Others, like our friends in the Southwest group, gratefully accepted the help and quickly filled their new assistants in on what needed done.

Today was the last day of working for our one group of students (we have two: an am class and a pm class), and the other group will finish tomorrow. But in both groups the same thing happened during our last two work days. I passed out the folders containing the groups' important work, and the kids immediately got to it. They were focused, they were on task, they were working to complete their jobs.

They didn't need me. At all.

Now, I'll be honest. I'm still not comfortable letting go 100%. I invited students to sign up when they felt they needed to meet with me, and if some didn't sign up, I still asked partners to come and meet with me periodically. I needed to make sure that they were on track to meet the deadline in their learning contract and to see if they needed any reteaching about their topic. Some students watched BrainPop videos on Landforms to help them review what we had talked about earlier in the year. Others watched a Brainpop about Westward Expansion to explain how the history of the West and Midwest is connected. We talked about ways to organize data from 12 or 13 states to summarize and synthesize more easily. The kids were eager to ask me questions and show me what they had done, and I was just as eager to say, "That's great! Show me what else you know!"

So they were not completely on their own - but they are 9 and 10. They haven't had much experience with student directed projects prior to this year. I see myself helping them develop good organization and work skills. I still see the need for reteaching and reviewing the content required by my curriculum. But I also saw four amazing classes of students who didn't really need their teachers the last two days. That is pretty amazing!

I can't wait to see what the groups decide to do with their projects, and I cannot wait to share them with you!

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