Thursday, August 22, 2013

There's Nothing Like a Good Challenge

I can't believe it's already Thursday.  Time sure does fly when you're having fun.  Or when you're working your behind off.

My week has been but I've definitely been working my behind off.

I've discovered a lot in these past four days.  About my class.  About the kids I'll be teaching this school year.  I'm adjusting to life having my class all day long without switching for math and reading in the mornings.

All of my life, I've wanted to teach a self-contained class.  Meaning I keep my babies all day long.  I don't share them with the other teachers.  I don't get other kids from other classes.  My class is my class.  Period.  

That's what I get this year...and I'm very happy about it.

What I'll also be discovering this year, though, is the challenge that comes with having kids covering all spectrums of levels and needs.  And having to meet all of those needs and levels. 

We had our first class placement test yesterday.. for reading.  That's a test that's administered that gives me some idea of the reading levels of each child.  The information I received from that test was astonishing.

I have kids that range all the way from a kindergarten reading level up to a high 4th grade level.  That's four different grade levels of reading needs.  Meaning, it's my job to bring up those lower readers to where they need to be, and challenge those readers that are already where they need to be so that they can continue to improve their reading skills.  

Getting those test results shed some light on some of the challenges I've been having this week while introducing some of our topics.  What I took for nervousness and kids that are just extremely quiet, is probably more accurately focused on kids that just don't know what I'm talking about.  They can't just look in their books to get the answer, or comprehend the information I'm giving them.  

This afternoon, another test will be administered to give me the some insight to the levels in terms of math.  Their grade level equivalency of their math skills.  

Moving in to Common Core, where the math is more focused on critical thinking and working through word problems, I already know that it will be a challenge for the majority of my class.  That's not even taking reading levels in to account.  The shifts in content coverage between the grade levels will have dramatic gaps for the kids the first few years...and my kids will be introduced to stuff this year they've never seen before, and haven't been prepared for.  It's going to be tough for the kids that are on grade level.  I can't imagine what it's going to be like for those kids that are so far behind.  

But you know what?  That's just a challenge I'm eager to face and take on.

Last year, I was in a similar situation.  It was my job to work with the kids that were below grade level.  Quite a bit below grade level...or what we call "below basic".  The difference was, for math and reading I only worked with the kids that were on that level.  And I'm happy to say that I did what I needed to do.  I'm not a miracle worker, but I was able to bridge over a lot of gaps.  The kids left my class much less behind than when they first came to me. 

This year, I'm faced with the same challenge...except I get to throw a few different levels in to the mix.  

One huge mistake I did make last year was bringing all of the content down to the level of my students.  At the time, I thought that made sense.  If they couldn't handle the content I was teaching, it only seemed right to make it a lot easier...bring it down to a grade level they could handle.  While it did boost my kids up and make them feel successful, I was doing them a disservice.  I was ultimately filling them with false hope.  They believed they were doing the work of a 4th grader, when reality...they weren't.  I stand behind my reasoning, but just not my follow through.  While my kids did make awesome gains, I couldn't get them all some of the extra help they needed because my data showed that they were succeeding on grade level.  The grades and test scores of my kids were good, so there was no way I could ask for interventions or retention, if needed. 

This year, the goal is to bring some aspects down to their level... but not all.  Intervene with filling some of the gaps, but holding them accountable to the standards of 4th grade.  What I learned last year is that handing out success doesn't do them any justice.  In order to truly get them to where they need to be, and getting help to do that if they need it, will require me grading them and testing them on grade level.  

I will just have to find other ways to help them feel the success.  And that part I know I can do.

One thing I will always do with my kids is be honest with them.  I'll lay it right out there for them.  I don't sugar coat anything.  I tell them where they are, and vow to stand by them, support them, and do everything in my power to help.  I will find time to work with them one-on-one.  I will ask for help so that they can receive interventions.  I will make full use of my co-teacher so that she can add even more assistance.

Having the class I have is exactly the type of class I want.

While it may feel very overwhelming at first, I know that my teaching fuel runs on finding ways to truly help my students.  In whatever way they need it.  Whether it be bring them up to grade level, or challenge them to move in to advanced stages.  Just teaching 4th grade content is not my forte.  There has to be some form of challenge thrown in there...or it's just not as meaningful.  

So, it appears I got what I wished for.  And now the work starts.  It truly is my mission, now, to be the best teacher to these kids that I can be.  They will be successful.  They will get the support they need.  And I really will do everything in my power to fill in the gaps and have them leaving my classroom ready for the 5th grade.

Thank goodness I have a whole school year in which to do it.

Happy Thursday!


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