We’re back from break and we have nine straight weeks of school.
Nine. Straight. Weeks.
If this doesn’t make me glad about having my whole week of spring break, I don’t know what will. My break was so greatly needed that I ran into another educator friend from out of town and all he could say was I looked “recharged.” Holla. Praise.
No workdays, no breaks, no delayed openings — just nine straight weeks of powering through the rest of curriculum, taking EOGs, and celebrating another year of school completed.
(Yep, batteries needed recharging to handle all that.)
Last week was the first week back and it was a great week. I was absolutely thrilled to start a new biliteracy unit I’d been working on, integrating states of matter and poetry (because who knew THAT could go together). I spent all of last week doing science demonstrations and hands-on activities with my classes, and the kids LOVED IT.
Go figure, kids love science and actually engaging in what you teach them!
One of our opening activities before starting any of the demonstrations was simply brainstorming everything we knew about solids, liquids, and gases (this is review science content from second grade, which was helpful). Here’s what my brilliant babies came up with:
How awesome, am I right?! Love keeping those kids accountable for their learning, and they love showing what they know! It was especially great since I saw some of my second language learners having great success with this when they drew pictures of what they knew to be solid, liquid, or gas.
The demonstrations we did were so fun (and educational, of course). I felt so alive teaching these kids science and entertaining their millions of questions — I’m such a sucker for their questions, and I honestly love when we get off on tangents because I truly believe that’s where some of the most authentic learning happens! A kid asked me what state of matter fire was last week — what a great question! And kids started asking about lightning, too, so of course we talked about PLASMA for a hot minute in class, and how rewarding it was to see their eyes light up learning something they wonder about in class. Moments like these remind me that teaching students and their learning should never be constrained to the strands of a standard, but rather be completely open and vast and full of curiosity.
We closed the week last week with a Bill Nye the Science Guy video about the states of matter and my kids loved it so much they BEGGED me to send the video to them on their school Gmail accounts. Naturally, I obliged.
Eight weeks left and this week has provided its ups and downs and it’s only Tuesday.
Yesterday we did an interactive read aloud about states of matter using the book “What Is the World Made Of?” by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld. The kids enjoyed the book and it was a nice way to start bringing together our knowledge of the states of matter. Today, I tried my hand at an LEA to wrap up the science portion of the biliteracy unit. The first class grabbed our shared experience activity and RAN with it, and I couldn’t have been more excited to see this happen. We synthesized information (because yes, you can use these words/phrases with eight-year-olds), I wrote what the students said word-for-word, and they corrected their own errors. One student even asked me if I had had my coffee this morning since she was concerned about the spelling and grammar mistakes I was making. Bless.
The first class also was really excited about revising the collective writing piece. They got to work right away and were so focused — it was absolutely beautiful!
The second class struggled a little more, and I sometimes wonder if their sheer level of intelligence gets in their way sometimes. This particular group of students is, by data standards, the highest performing group I see every day. Once they got the hang of the LEA, they caught on with coming up with sentences to bring their knowledge together after the turn-and-talk to help them recall their learning. When I gave them the assignment to work on revising the writing piece, some of the kids complained that the task was hard.
GOD FORBID STUDENTS MUST USE THEIR BRAINS SOMETIMES. (GASP!)
I smiled upon hearing this and simply said, “Good!”
…does that make me the worst? I explained to them that sometimes it’s good for things to be hard so that they can stretch their brains and grow in their learning, just like they do when they become taller. Once they knew I wasn’t planning on backing down with the assignment, they got to work and started enjoying fixing the writing on their own terms. It’s so cool watching kids take ownership of their learning — “Miss Stewart, there aren’t any PARAGRAPHS here, what are we going to do?!” — “Well, that’s a great observation, you brilliant student, you! Why do we even HAVE paragraphs in writing?!” — “To organize information!” — “EXACTLY. Now, make that happen with what we came up with on the board!”
My last group is my smallest class and, by data standards, the lowest-performing group I see. The time is after lunch and recess, and it’s a bit of a shortened period since the students dismiss at various times at the end of class.
It’s funny, because so many people think that the smallest class should hypothetically be the easiest to manage and teach since there are fewer students. Honestly, I hoped that earlier this year. Too quickly I found out that it doesn’t matter how many students are in my class, when the needs are as high as they are in this class, the job will always be a little more difficult.
Trying my hand at the LEA with this group proved much more challenging. I was observed by the literacy coach during this time, which I was beyond okay with considering my first two classes went so well. I started the LEA activity and felt like things started unraveling before me by the time we were just a few sentences into the writing piece. Students were losing focus, students weren’t giving their best work on the carpet, and some students just seemed completely lost, even with guidance. This was incredibly frustrating and disheartening for me, especially since I had someone I respect watching me teach.
Upon reflecting and discussing with the literacy coach, she told me there was good in the lesson. Of course I’m always going to be my toughest critic, but it was not easy for me to find good in that 30 minutes. I found there were three good things about the lesson:
- There was high student participation — I heard from some students who rarely volunteer their ideas, and that was really incredible to see how excited they were to share what they knew about solids, liquids, and gases.
- My students were actually USING the vocabulary we spent so much time learning and talking about and experiencing, and they were using it properly. Seriously the coolest thing hearing a third grader say, “To change a state of matter, you need to apply or take away heat.” I guess all of the TPR worked — yay, success!
- The students all picked up on the errors I presented in the writing piece. I intentionally misspelled some words or forgot commas, and in this last group was the only student to comment that I forgot to indent my first paragraph. Brilliant!
Now, I also learned three very important things from this lesson:
- The LEA activity seemed to be a little long for this group of kids. Some were getting fidgety and some were just generally losing focus. If I want to reach these kids, I need to make the activity pack a punch and have it be short and sweet and to the point.
- Maybe I should try to use picture support more with this group during the LEA. This particular class has 11/17 students who are second language learners, so the pictorial support might be something to make our learning transitions smoother.
- Contemplating whether or not a partner work component during the LEA would be effective. We started the activity with a turn and talk to rev up their minds about states of matter, but maybe this group needs more than that to be successful.
I was really kicking myself this afternoon about this lesson, but after stepping back and really looking at the way things went, I think there are positive take-aways from it. Grateful for those who help me step back and realize that.
The rest of this week we’ll work on poetry, which I love. I can’t wait to have these kiddos get their hands on some poetry tomorrow! They’re exploring the genre tomorrow and working in groups to brainstorm how poems are different than other genres they read, and later this week they’ll get some experience reading poems with different rhyme patterns. I also have to mention that I’m super excited to teach some new TPR. TPR is one of my favorite ways to teach kids vocabulary, and they love every minute of it (seriously, I have kids wanting to make up TPR moves for EVERY.SINGLE.THING)!
Like I said, I had a really lovely spring break, and I’m beyond thankful that I had a whole week to relax. I mean, how often do I really get to sit outside with a coffee and a crossword? Answer: not as often as I’d like.
Even though we have a full seven and a half weeks left of school, I’m legitimately looking forward to what those weeks hold. This part of the year sometimes seems to inch by day-to-day, but the weeks certainly FLY.
Before I know it, I’ll be hugging 57 third graders as they leave my classroom and become fourth graders. Ain’t no stoppin’ us now, it’s fourth quarter of third grade and we are about to KILL IT (no spoon).