Do you ever have those moments when you take a second to stop and scan your classroom and you think,” Oofta! This place is a disaster!” If you haven’t…. Please tell me your secret to keeping seven year olds tidy! But if you’re like me, this scene is more of a daily occurrence. :)
From the very beginning of my career I have always believed that if the kids are the ones doing the work, they are the ones learning. Now, I will tell you, that way of thinking does not always lend itself to Pinterest worthy bulletin boards and Facebook posts. I started teaching in kindergarten...need I say more? But what it does leave you with is a classroom full of students proud of their work, students who are 100 times more sure of their work's purpose and students who are gaining more understanding of the learning.
Just last week, my classroom, to one passing by, may have looked like a scene of utter chaos. But to me and my students, we were in the learning zone! Paper scapes were everywhere. Glue and popsicle sticks and construction paper scattered the floor. Students' discussion filled the room (along with a little music..because why not?). It was a messy, loud, beautiful sight. I overhear a table of students talking. One student said, “Look at this mess! We have stuff everywhere.” The other student turned and said, “That’s okay! We are getting a little messy, but we are learning and having fun! Right, Mrs. Rigsby!?” Music to my ears!
If you are wanting Pinterest worthy, I can understand that. There is a lot of pressure and eyes on us as educators that make us feel we need to live up to certain expectations. But I would encourage you to examine the ‘Why” of you needing that picture perfect project. Is the student at the center of that project and the learning?
So, will my classroom look like a tornado went through it on a daily basis… probably. But there is beauty in that mess. You just might have to dig down past all the construction paper and glue to see it. :)
It was a Friday morning, after a week of inside recess. It was Valentine's Day weekend (aka... classroom celebration day) and the following Monday was a holiday. Hello three day break! This was the set up of a long day. I grabbed my coffee and headed out the door prepared for the craziness.
Every morning after announcements the kids come join me at the front of the classroom for a morning meeting and a read aloud. We love sharing books together. On this particular morning I chose a book called Sincerely Emerson. I had found it at our local bookstore. It caught my attention because it was based on a true story of a little girl in a town not far from where I grew up, Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Sometimes I am really good about previewing books before I read them to my class but other times, I hate to admit, I judge a book by it’s cover and can’t wait to hear the story for the first time with the kids. This book was somewhere in between this, I knew just enough for it to be the perfect fit for Valentines Day.
I will tell you just enough for this to make sense but you MUST read this book. Emerson is a girl living in a small town. She loves to write letters and would send the letters to her relatives and friends all over. Her letters were written with love and care, decorating each one perfectly. One day she realized that this wouldn’t be possible without her local postman, Doug. She decided to write him a thank you letter. Doug was so appreciative that he told his friends. By the end of the story Emerson’s one thank you letter turned into something amazing. She touched so many people from her hand written letters.
As I started to read the book the kids became very quiet and engulfed in the story. Most of the time they are reading along with me, making comments, asking questions, or laughing at the funny parts. You could sense that they were feeling what Emerson was feeling in the story. At the end of the book, I paused, it was quiet... which is very uncommon for this particular group of second graders. Then a small voice said “Mrs. Diede I think I would like to write a letter to someone that might be unnoticed.”
As the class listened, this little girl talked about our community of workers in the oil, gas, and coal industries. She told a story about her dad not getting a new warm coat like others had with tears in her eyes. It was then my class showed what I had been waiting for all year. Three of her friends got close to her and showed their support while others started to agree and started to figure out a way to reach more people.
By the end of the morning my students had written over 20 different letters to workers in our community, thanking them for working through the nights, the bitter cold weather, and leaving their families behind so we could have heat and power to our homes. They took time to decorate each letter and used their best handwriting. They worried about spelling and even wrote some jokes to make the workers laugh. I have delivered the letters to the appropriate places for our community workers to read and feel the love.
This particular morning wasn’t planned. This was completely student driven and teacher supported. On this morning, amongst the craziness of what our day and week had held, my second graders showed true empathy for their community workers and for their classmates. There was no better way to start Valentine’s Day weekend.
The Perfect Lesson
This morning was it! The lesson was planned and the goals were set. As teachers, we try to plan the perfect lesson with goals that we will be the perfect fit for our students. Then then...reality hits. Half of the time we have to go to plan b or scaffold it differently (and on the fly) in hopes that the students will still get to the end goal we desired/planned. You just never know where this group of 2nd graders is going to take a lesson. They keep me on my toes and I try to be prepared for what they might throw in my direction. But today… we hit the home run of engagement, smashing goals, and being complete 2nd-grade rockstar readers!
Today the lesson was about asking questions when reading in nonfiction. This was a new skill that we have started to work on in our classrooms. As much as kids ask questions they don’t seem to be very proficient at asking questions during a lesson when you really want them to. Since I knew the skill was going to be challenging for them I found a topic I thought would be engaging. It is important to think about what you are asking your students to do, if the skill is new then pair it with something that will either engage them or that they are familiar with. This will allow the students to be able to focus more on the challenge of the skills rather than both pieces.
A bug-eating plant…what could be more engaging than that!? Especially when you start your lesson with a short video showing this venus fly trap catching its meal with a SNAP!
As soon as the jaws closed shut trapping the fly inside my group of kids were hooked and the questions started. Below are some of the questions that the group thought of.
How does the plan close up?
How does it know the bug is there?
How do they smoosh it?
What does the plant need to survive?
Then the students were sent out with a National Geographic article about these bug-eating plants. They were given sticky notes and got to work reading to find answers to our questions. Students were engaged and excited. You could hear so many different conversations happening. Students were talking to each other about the answers they were finding, discussing their misconceptions about how the plant works and proving each other’s predictions from the text!
The perfect lesson doesn’t have to be expensive, incorporate a fancy technology project, or take hours to plan. Sometimes all you need is a good hook and an interesting topic to get the ball rolling.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.2.1Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate an understanding of key details in a text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.2.3Ask and answer questions about what a speaker says in order to clarify comprehension, gather additional information, or deepen understanding of a topic or issue.