Monday, July 28, 2014

Different Kids, Different Approach

I was originally going to title this blog post "Best Changes" but I realized that the alterations I made in my summer school program for 2014 may not necessarily be better or worse, but seemed better suited for the particular group of students I had this year.

This was my second year teaching Grade 3 for summer school in July at Lucy Maud Montgomery Public School and both experiences were absolutely wonderful. Although the units were different (Solar Power vs Minecraft) and the subjects were different (Literacy and Numeracy vs STEM), there were certain techniques, routines, or teaching practices that I used both times, and there were other approaches that I attempted for the first time this year. Before I forget, I wanted to reflect on some of the new tricks I tried that I really liked (such as the "early intervention letter" that I wrote about two weeks ago).

1) The Build Zone

I gave certain areas of my room "zone" designations and this was the most popular one. Huge credit has to go to Mythili Thedchanamoorthy for giving me the resources necessary to make this a thriving exploration station. She lent me tons of link cubes and, even more exciting, she gave me dozens and dozens of different sizes of cardboard cubes. I didn't tell the children what to make in the build zone - this was their chance to experiment. This was fantastic because my students made all sorts of interesting artifacts with these materials and I was able to use it as a springboard for discussions in science and in math. It was also the obvious place for students to assemble if they had completed all of the mandatory assignments for the day. I hesitate to use the word "free time", because technically this was still part of their curriculum expectations, but they were the architects in charge and I piggy-backed on their creations and ideas. The area really demonstrated how beneficial it was when I had to leave the classroom for an extended period one day to deal with an issue. The supervising teacher reported that when the students had technical difficulties (because I forgot to plug in the netbooks overnight) and/or finished their work ahead of schedule, they immediately knew what to do - they gravitated to the Build Zone.

2) Collaboration Matrix

I've used this in other classes I've taught in the past, but this chart seemed to be a useful tool for this recent batch of students, who had a tendency (as we all do) to work with the same partners every time we have the chance to work with someone else. It made my reporting process very clear, open, and accountable. I told the students that part of the way I would determine the collaboration section of their report card would be to look at the matrix to see how many different people they chose to work with, and then think about *how* they worked with that person. The students were mostly responsible for recording their partnerships, except for Friday, July 18, when I took some class time to double-check the documentation. Their restlessness showed to me how rarely I spent in whole-group situations in which I was the only one talking. This tweet referred to the 20 minutes it took me to confirm that the information recorded for each student was correct.

3) Student-Controlled Bulletin Boards

Last year and this year, I paid a lot of attention to the class and hall environment. I designated one of the boards to the students to decorate, and it became a much more fluid and vibrant space (the first photo is from the 4th day of summer school and the second is from the 12th day). It led us to talk about strong, stable structures (because we had to figure out how to display items that were particularly heavy and/or large). They also felt comfortable taking down and putting up items of their choice.

Next week, I'll share some more photos of the amazing summer school experience my students and I shared.

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