By Rachael Sosa. 4th Grade Math. Published at Monday, November 23rd, 2020 - 02:31:21 AM.
I was an inner-city classroom teacher in a new, open-space school, part of a 4th grade team consisting of 4 teachers and 100 students. Sixteen of our students could not read even at the 1st grade level. They were all boys, and of course, these students were the behavior problems. Within the first two weeks of school, many of them were spending more time in the office for behavioral referrals than in their classrooms. The instruction was not differentiated according to reading levels, so these students were learning very little in materials geared toward a 4th grade reading level. My background was Alternative Education, and my passion was working with students who were slipping through the cracks. I suggested to the other three teachers on the team, that if they were willing to increase their class sizes, I would take the 16 non-readers. The other teachers jumped at the opportunity, and the administrator approved. By the third week of school, I had been relocated to a small, self-contained room with the 16 non-readers.
The "rules" and "guidelines" for schools are complex and dictated to them by the prevailing winds of politics, either state, federal or both. How they approach instruction depends on many factors, the most telling being that they have been identified as a "school in crisis". Remediation Remediation has been used consistently in the past but generally is not approved for schools in crisis. The purpose was to work with students at their reading/math level until they mastered the skills allowing them to achieve at the level and pace of their peers. This approach may be appropriate for the child who is slightly behind his class, either because he had a long-term absence or other factors interfered with his learning at the time the skills were taught. The problem with remediation has always been that teachers taught the students the skills for which they assumed the students were now ready. They have not addressed the missing skills (possibly skills that should have been in place years before that teacher ever met the child) that caused the reading/math skills to be low in the first place.
This was one of the Ah-ha! moments of my life. If these children could not take apart and put together concrete objects as basic as simple inset puzzles, how on earth could they take apart and put together abstractions, such as letters and sounds. Our classroom changed. I kept those opened puzzles in the classroom, and I bought more simple inset puzzles for my students, as well as easy interlocking puzzles with only a few pieces. The students became adept at taking these puzzles apart, then putting them together again to create a predetermined whole. I bought blocks for the classroom, which they put together, then took apart, then put together again in different ways, creating a wide range of things, similar to what we do with letters when sounding out words.
The predominance of reading and writing are of informational materials, evaluating the content, forming opinions and persuading. Never are students asked to read or write for entertainment; the pure joy of reading or writing is never mentioned. Forget about humor! A second emphasis within the Common Core ELA standards is college-and-career readiness. Because of this things are all geared toward businesses. Students are asked to work in teams, to manage technology, to negotiate opinions and try to persuade using reason. They have to work with independence, writing for several audiences, tasks, purposes and among various disciplines. They handle facts competently, both researching material and understanding facts; they quickly proceed to evaluation and critique of factual material. As soon as they give opinions, they back them with specific facts and strong evidence. All the while they work collaboratively and incorporate technology regularly. A balanced view is required for team work and they also should respect other perspectives and cultures.
My daughters went to two different elementary schools due to a move. One of the schools was 1st-3rd grade on one side of the property and 4th and 5th grade on the other side of the property with two completely different playgrounds. Prior to 4th grade beginning we made a point of visiting the school and exploring the "other side." Junior high school and senior high school both offer larger campuses with the changing of classrooms every hour throughout the day. Thankfully, here in my town, both schools offer the kids their schedules at least a week before school starts. We can then walk their schedule many times to make sure they are comfortable and they can remember the order of their classes. Often, the kids who had not pre-visited were late to classes the first week, couldnt find classrooms, and were generally much more stressed than the kids who made those pre-visits and were comfortable with where they were going.
Many teachers plan their year based on the textbooks order and agenda for the school year. This isnt bad, but often it fails to take into consideration the actual skills needed for the next year, and only addresses the lessons to be covered. The lessons to be covered are critical, but from the perspective of the skills necessary to move forward. Instead of planning the year forward, if teachers would plan for backwards education, skills would be steadily increased and students would be more prepared for the upcoming year along the way. The concept is simple. As a teacher, determine what skills, or what knowledge needs to be mastered by your students before they complete your grade levels learning. In other words, if you teach 4th grade, what skills would the 5th grade teachers in your school hope and pray that your students have learned when they walk in the door for 5th grade. Talk to the teachers in the grades above you. Find out what they think are the greatest challenges at their grade level, and how skill or knowledge deficits have affected their instructional year.
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