Reading Doors

Monday, June 20, 2016

Wow, What a Year! (Belated School-Year Recap)

This past school year simply flew by, and now it's over and I'm getting into another summer of reading and personal PD. As I reflect on the past school year, the first thing I notice is that I have not written a post on this blog since September, which was a reflection of my summer reading. This is a big red flag that this year was busy, fast, and maybe even got a little away from me. I spent very little time sitting, reflecting, and writing about what was happening. Therefore, I will spend time now reflecting on the good and the bad.

I want to start by saying that I had a really great group of kids this year! We explored and learned together to a degree I'm not sure I've reached before. Although I might have introduced a topic to the class for discussion or because we were reading about it, they always took off with it and did far more than I had ever intended. It is a year I will always cherish!

We started off the year with writing, writing, and more writing! My fourth graders learned about the unique creativity that can be involved writing when we wrote on non-traditional materials, like brown paper lunch bags, burlap squares, and plastic cups. Students got to choose how to write some of their projects. Some chose to write a story that hung in backward sequence or one that rolled up like an ancient scroll or one that looked like a guitar. They wrote theme poems (shape poems) that looked like apples, leaves, snow men, trees. Most importantly, my 4th graders wrote 4 full length essays of 5 paragraphs (or more), 3 of which were multi-source research essays. They learned to formulate opinions and make judgments based on evidence and facts.

One of the last essays the students did was about whether or not the U.S. should continue to fund Mars exploration, or if that money would be better spent here on Earth. The students had written two previous research essays and were feeling a lot more comfortable with them. By this essay, they were thoroughly enjoying the conversation and debate that comes with formulating your own opinion (with evidence)! Two of my students surprised me by writing me a letter requesting that I start a debate club for them sot hat they could continue the fun outside of school. Unfortunately, this request came later in a very busy year and so it wasn't possible for me to be an after-school club adviser.  However, my fourth grade students spent the last week of school holding an in-class debate club for about 45 minutes each day. The topic they chose: Does social media, specifically Facebook, ruin lives? They did a fantastic job researching facts and coming up with solid reasons and evidence on both sides! Their final conclusion: Social media can be harmful and dangerous IF you are not careful to protect yourself.

In Oct.-Nov., we took part in the Global Read Aloud of Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. We talked a lot about the power of reading and the many different paths children take to achieve reading success. Then in Jan.-March, we read A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd about a girl who is terrified of public speaking, but can physically see words floating around everywhere. Again we talked about the power of words and of reading. Soon, a small group of students (different from those who came to me about the debate club) decided they wanted to start a book club. They would give up their recess once or twice a week to read to the kindergarten students in our building. They did this for the last month or so of school. I was impressed and very proud of the willingness these students had in helping younger children achieve reading success!

As great as my students were, the year was certainly not all peaches and cream. I had a few students come to me (come into the 4th grade) reading on a 1st grade level. This created challenges in the daily classroom for them and for me. Much of our time is spent on close-reading of rigorous texts, and how can this be done if some of the students simply can't read the text? These students had to work very hard to succeed and to participate at a level similar to their peers, and at times it became frustrating for them. They wanted to give up and got upset when they took backward steps in their progress.But, with support from their peers and from their teachers, they did it!! They had great years with fantastic growth and achievement!

This year came with a lot of hard work from me and from my students. They showed me how inquisitive and creative they could be and how dedicated to learning they are both in and out of the classroom. I want to instill at least some of that in my students next year. However, I also know that I will be taking on a new role in addition to teaching 4th grade Language Arts and Social Studies. I will also be the building wide MTSS (multi-tiered system of supports) coach, helping teachers with Tier II and Tier III interventions as we try to improve our K-3 Literacy scores. I worry, largely needlessly I know, that the additional responsibility will take enough of my time that the great things I discovered this past year will be forgotten in the chaos. Of course, I would not have asked for the position if I didn't know I could do it, but still, the concern is there. As I look ahead to next year, I only hope to get a fraction of the enthusiasm for reading and learning out of the incoming 4th graders, and I know that if I do, it will be a great year too!

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