Saturday, May 25, 2013

Just a thought

Thanks to having to go through the BTSA (Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment) program, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my teaching practices.  I discovered this year that while I do a lot of self-reflection, my biggest question is always, and most likely will always be, how does my style define me as an educator?  How would I best describe my teaching style?  How do I see my teaching style best benefitting my students?

Well, at the end of the BTSA program (I'm done with BTSA forever!  Woo hoo!!) we have to give a presentation outlining some of the things we have learned in the course of the two year program.  One thing stuck out to me the most.

BTSA really encouraged me to not be afraid to change things up in my classroom as frequently and as necessarily as I see fit.  And believe me, I did.  By the time the two years were done I was using GLAD strategies, SIOP strategies, SDAIE strategies, language boards, math boards, spiraling techniques, Rick Morris strategies, Teach Like a Champion strategies, Montessori strategies, cooperative learning, independent work, common core assessments, etc.  Just to name a few.  Now, many of you reading this are probably thinking, "Well duh, Maestra.  If you are a good teacher in general, you will utilize as many strategies and pedagogies."  And yes, you are correct.  At the core of my being, I believe you need to use as many of these strategies as possible.  However, here is where my experience kicks in.

I noticed this year that if you stick to one of those strategies for a particular area of learning, you will lose your students' engagement.  If you switch up your strategies too often you become hard to follow and distracting.  Both produce results that are the exact opposite of what you ideally want in your classroom.

So what is the solution?  Simply put, you must become the student whisperer.  You may think I'm joking, but I am quite serious.  Learn to read your class, their collective interests as well as individual interests, what works for them and what does not.  Keep your teaching style organic.

Organic learning is what our students do.  Especially at the primary level, most kids do not learn linearly.  They learn based on their interests.  So pique them.  Ebb and flow with them as much as you can and weave your standards in to those lessons.

For example, we did this awesome unit on bumble bees.  I was not intending to do it at all - I was wanting to do the more classic butterfly life cycle (which we are now doing, have no fear).  However, after a bee hive came to visit us at school and I saw the excitement in my classroom, I developed a bee unit overnight (and every night until we finished).  I had been wanting to try making lapbooks with my kiddos and this was the perfect opportunity to do it.  They loved it, and it was the perfect segue into the butterfly life cycle.

Now, I'm not saying base your classroom entirely on your children's desires and interests.  If we did that, we would spend half the year talking about farts and Captain Underpants.  Very few students will tell you that they WANT to learn about addition and fractions.  But we have to do it.  So find their interests and weave it in organically.  Ebb and flow with them.  If their interests start to wean from maps, find a new interest to teach the same math concept, the same social studies concept, the same science concept, whatever you need.

Yes, this sounds a lot like thematic planning, and you would be right in many ways.  But you must keep it organic.

Some things MUST STAY THE SAME THE ENTIRE YEAR.  Classroom management cannot be changing all the time - you will lose your students quicker than you thought was humanly possible.  Keep that  the same throughout and you are free to experiment and play with different instructional strategies.

I cannot stress enough how important I have found it to keep my teaching style organic.  If I am getting bored, the students probably are too.  If the students are getting bored, I will get bored too.  If I use the same strategy for too long, I lose steam and so do the kids.  It comes down to intuition and knowing your students.  Figure that out and you've found the golden ticket.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Time Flies...

...when you're having fun.  Whether you like it or not.  And fortunately, and unfortunately, I have had a lot of fun this year.  I can't believe that the last time I blogged was at Christmas!  And there I was talking about how I was going to blog so much during that time of the year and bladee-blah.  And instead, I did not.  And I apologize for not following through on my word.

This is one of my favorite and least favorite times of the school year.  We are wrapping everything up, so in that sense it is very sad.  And it is especially very sad this year because I will not be returning to my beloved little school.  I will be moving on to a different school where I will be helping them start a dual immersion program as well!  So that part is exciting, but the leaving, packing, unpacking, leaving, leaving parts are not so fun or exciting.  

I told my kiddos a couple of weeks ago that I would not be returning and their reaction just about broke my heart.  One of my girls burst into tears on the spot.  She was crying so hard I thought she was just making faces at me.  I even started getting her in trouble, until I realized she was sobbing.  I started to choke up.  I looked away and took a deep breath and continued.  I put the kids to work and went to the back bulletin board and starting putting things up (so that I wouldn't be looking at the kids while I wiped away tears).  As I'm putting up writing assignments, another girl comes up to me and hugs my waist from behind and starts convulsing.  She was sobbing too.  I lost it.  I grabbed her hand, pulled her close to me and just sat on the floor with her crying too (probably not my most professional move, but I'm glad the kids saw that I value and adore them so much it makes me cry that I won't see them next year.)  Before you knew it, I had 4 or 5 kids crying with me.  

I pulled myself together and mentioned that we could always email each other, facetime, and even Skype when we need to.  Oye, it was a rough day.

So I decided that their end of the school year gifts needed to be that much more special.  I have been working on them now for about a week or so and finally finished my master (and trial and error) copy.
How stinken adorable is this??  I can't wait!  Now, to find a cute quote to put on the back.  Hmmmm.

Then, I got this heart-wrenching letter from a student.  Nothing like a second grader to make you feel like you're abandoning them.  Or breaking up with them.  Hmph.

Other than that, we are growing butterflies!  I'll post pictures once they are out of their cocoons!  Right now, their cocoons are sitting on my kitchen table.