Monday, May 26, 2014

Reflections On Third Grade

When I decided to go back to teaching I just assumed I would be teaching Kindergarten or First Grade...I love the little ones...and my teaching philosophies are Early Childhood through and through.  I prayed about where I would be teaching, I prayed that God would reveal to me where I could do the best work for him.  Imagine  my  surprise when God led me to a low income school, with low test scores to teach 3rd grade.

Of all my years in school 3rd grade was my least favorite.  It was the year I decided I wasn't very smart...those multiplication tables seemed impossible to learn, and my teacher didn't like me very much.  Maybe that's why I was led to teach 3rd grade.  I understood my students, I got that it wasn't easy for them...I could relate.  I also knew something else...I wasn't stupid as a third grader and neither was my class of 3rd graders.  Struggling yes...but not stupid...they just needed someone to help them understand math in another way, they needed to learn and understand number sense with hands on experience and exploration!!

When I was in school we got to write stories on special occasions with our spelling words...if we were lucky...too bad for me because writing was the one thing I was good at!! I believe writing is important, that writers are readers and readers are writers (not to mention students will need to be writers as we transition to Common Core), so my class has done a lot of writing this year.  When my kiddos came to my class some of them struggled to write just one sentence, and many of those who could write more ran everything together in one long string of words...I had my work cut our for me!!I had my students writing every day whether it was a journal entry or  a story summary and as they became more confident I required more of them.  Finally my students were able to brain storm and make a plan for their writing, writing a rough draft and then a final draft (that was always displayed proudly in the hall).   I am so proud of how far they've come...their writing is perhaps not what it should be...but they worked so hard and have improved so much!!

I have often wondered how my students came to be so far behind, was it the fault of previous teachers, pore home life, lack of rest, lack of motivation...  While I am tempted to blame previous teaching I realize there is something bigger at play.  My students started Kindergarten at a disadvantage. Many of their more affluent piers were enrolled in PreK and Mother's Day Out programs, entering Kindergarten armed with the skills of letter and sound recognition, the ability to cut and color in the lines, to write their name, and maybe even read a few words...but many of my 3rd graders started Kindergarten not possessing even those basic skills.  Years ago...when I was teaching my first Kindergarten class it was acceptable for students to come to school without these skills, my job was to introduce and teaching letter and sound recognition...but that is no longer the case. 

The big question is this:  How do we as teachers make up for lost time?? How do we keep up with curriculum calendars, common core, or state standards when students have started out so far behind.  Yes, yes...we have reading interventions, small groups, and tutoring, but what do you do when that is not enough??  I would often considered these things as I taught my 3rd graders.  Sometimes I felt that their past teachers had been so busy teaching the curriculum calendar that they didn't stop to check for understand...but how can I blame them...we are after all evaluated on following district and state standards.  As the year went by I began to realize that my students had gaping holes in their understanding and knowledge of everything from phonics to math...I did my best to keep up with curriculum calendars...while stopping to fill in the gaps.  I hope it was enough, next year I have plans to do even more to fill in those gaps, but that can be a challenge when you are trying to prepare them for the 3rd grade test.  I am happy to say our test scores came up this year, and plans are in place to make our third grade team even more effective next year.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Am I a Teacher or a Tester?

I've been busy...hence the lack of posts on my blog.  I've been busy preparing my 3rd graders for state testing.  I don't believe in teaching to the test.  I believe in teaching my students to be problem solvers, to investigate and understand the world around them.  Don't get me wrong, I understand that students need to be able to read and there is most certainly a need for evaluation, but at what cost.

Students who did not pass the state test will not be able to pass on to fourth grade unless they fall into an area of exemption;  for this reason teachers have had to give 6 other tests for portfolios, to be presented to build a case, for a student who should go on to fourth grade but did not do well on the state test.  How crazy is that...testing for protection against the test!!!

Sometimes I feel like all I do is test...and guess that testing is over...I get to give my 3rd graders a "trial test" so that the state can test next year's test!!! You heard me right we're testing the test.

I'm beginning to wonder if I am a teacher or a tester!!