Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Day Twenty Five: Thankful for the School Days Right Before a Holiday

I'm so excited!  
And I just can't hide it!  
I'm about to be off work, and I think I like it... Oh, Yeah!

Yep, today is the last day of school before Thanksgiving break, and I'm just a tad excited.  I think everyone in my building is feeling the same way, staff and students.  Having a few extra days off work is a cherished event.  No getting up before the sun comes up, no papers to grade, no standing out on a cold sidewalk doing morning duty, no standing out on a freezing playground for recess duty, and SLEEP!  It's a beautiful, beautiful thing.

However, I've realized something over the course of the past twenty-four hours that has given me what I'm thankful for today:  I'm thankful for the days right before a holiday, because of the teaching that I get to do.

All day yesterday, my kids and I did Thanksgiving activities.  The two days before a holiday is one of those times where we do some rare crafts, review some of the stuff we've covered in the first semester, and ultimately: Have a lot of fun.

But, what occurred to me, yesterday, is the fact that I REALLY enjoy the teaching I do during these rare occasions when I don't have to worry about the pacing guides, standards, data, and assessment after assessment.  And, the kids really enjoy it too.

For example...

Yesterday, I had printed off a short little story about Benjamin Franklin writing a letter to his daughter explaining to her that he thought the turkey should be the nation's bird.  He wrote about the eagle not really being a sufficient representation of our country, and that the turkey would be a much better fit.  There was five questions on the back of the story for the kids to answer.

Normally, we'd read the story, go over the vocabulary, and answer the questions.  BUT NOT YESTERDAY!

Yesterday, I had the kiddos break up in to two teams.  One team was Pro-Eagle, and the other team was Pro-Turkey.  Each team had to work together to put a campaign ad together in order to build support for their designated bird.  The kids started out making a list of the good things their bird had to offer the country, and a list of cons the other bird would offer.  They worked together to think of persuasive phrases and arguments as to why their bird should be chosen as the nation's bird.  For almost an hour, the kids discussed, brainstormed, and collaborated.  They also spent about 20 minutes working on a campaign poster, which they'll finish up today.

It was so awesome watching them all work together.  The biggest groups I've ever put them in are groups of four, but yesterday there were eight kids on each team and they worked together wonderfully.

I couldn't help but take a step back and think to myself how wonderful it would be if I had the time to teach like that ALL of the time.  I mean, sure I could have my kids make a poster and discuss persuasion in that manner, but I mean real, collaborative projects.  Where their goal is to work together, plan together, and ultimately have fun.

I know that most people would say that I should be doing stuff like that with my kiddos all of the time.  And, I try.  The career project was an attempt at project based learning, but what ended up happening was the "other stuff" kept taking over.  I had to keep on top of the expectations of my pacing guide, and finding resources that aligned with the standards my grade was covering each week was becoming a huge addition to my work load.  There just isn't time in my day to fit it all in.  I have tried rearranging some stuff, but there's too much pressure on that.  Nothing can be taken out and there's nowhere to put anymore in.  I tried using my reading time to incorporate the project, but again, finding the reading materials they could use for the project became an extremely daunting task.  I have so many mixed levels in my classroom, that it is almost impossible to find resources for them all to read and use that's on their level.  I managed to find a way that they could use the reading we were already doing and apply that to our discussions on various careers, but the time for the extra projects just isn't there.  That makes me sad, but it is what it is.

Today is not a day for me to vent education, but it's on days like this short week that makes me feel like a teacher that I dreamed of becoming.  Where we have time to make posters and color our math fact sheets and write poems about Thanksgiving.  Where I don't have to keep looking at the clock to make sure I make the right transition times, look at my plans to make sure I'm getting in everything I need to get in, and that my kids are showing all of their work in a way that I can assess and use for data.

Today, I'm going to have the kids write the steps on how to make a turkey.  It's a short lesson on how important details are, and how they affect directions.  I'll be starting off by doing the Peanut Butter and Jelly lesson.  Basically, the kids write the steps on how to make a PB&J sandwich, and then I follow those steps LITERALLY in order to make it.  I've done it a couple times before with other classes, and the kiddos always had a blast.  It's very funny to them when I follow the directions exactly how they wrote them, and it really helps them understand why they really need to think about what they write and how they say it.

What I'm hoping to get out of this week is a swift reminder on how I do things, and how I should be doing things in my classroom.  It is absolutely MY OWN FAULT that I let other stuff interfere with my ideas.  I have proven to myself time and time again that I can still teach to the standards with the activities I come up with, I just need to be better at planning and organization.  Seeing the kids soak up these little mini-projects does exactly that.  It does remind me that I can really have them controlling their own learning and working in a more student-centered environment, I just have to make it happen.  I just have to give them the tools to do it and a little nudge in the right direction.

And today, I'm thankful that I'm reminded of that, and that I get to share a couple of days just having a total blast with my kiddos.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone!


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