Forced Vacation Almost Done

As the school year wound down, I quickly calculated that my vacation this year amounted to about 4 weeks.  After I quickly used a Sharpie to cross out "June" and "August" from my crew neck sweatshirt that reads, "I teach for 3 reasons: June, July and August!" (note: I don't actually own that shirt), I made myself promise I would actually take a break from my job.  I need to be honest, I was quite crispy around the edges by the end of the school year.  I can say without reservation that I've never worked as hard as I did this year.  The year before was a much more emotionally taxing year.  However, a lot of that was internal static, rather than the outgoing flow of energy I had this year.  I've done lots of eating (maybe too much), some yoga, and spending time with my husband in the past 2 weeks.  Now it's time to get back into the game.

As I slowly gear back up for work, I need to make a plan.  This is where I'm hitting a roadblock.  Do I start with curriculum, revising my scope and sequence? Or do I tackle grade level chair stuff?  What about summer school and classroom room culture stuff?  Do I need to redesign my room this year?  ARGH!

Scope and sequence: I had romantically thought that this year would the year I get to just tweak lesson plans and count on being home at 5:30 with a cocktail in my hands.  I don't think this is going to happen.  Instead, I need to add and delete things from my scope and sequence.  Here's what I'm imagining:

August: How We Learn (metacognition, classroom routines, test taking skills)  This is similar to last year,  but there are a few tweaks to my class systems I've made.  I'm also going to explicitly teach how to take a test so that I can give more rigorous assessments throughout the year.

September: Geography (types of maps, maps vs. globes, important geographical terms).  I had done a project about Washington DC during this unit last year, but the reading teacher did a really great job with students at the end of the year on this.  I need to check in with her if it's worth it if I keep this.  

October:    Measurement and Scientific Inquiry (metric measurement, volume, density, setting up an experiment)  I decided to cut out my unit about matter.  Students don't have enough background knowledge yet to make this useful.  I also worry that I'm not giving student the skills they need for 7th and 8th grade science labs.  I'm thinking that a month or so spent organizing around HOW to do science is more useful in the long term than memorizing (and forgetting) facts about atoms.  I will still set inquiries into the nature of water (which most of 5th graders don't know about)

November-December: African Diaspora (West African culture pre-colonization, the West African Slave trade, early African impact upon America)  So, I'm making a tough decision not to due a unit around Native Americans and European explorers.  The kids aren't really into it, not teaching them about the Renaissance beforehand leaves them without context, and after a team discussion, we (the 5th grade team) haven't been doing a great job of giving students a sense of history.  This is a subject I know a lot about, so I'm not worried about if I'm qualified to teach it.  What I'm worried about is gathering materials for students to use.  If anyone has great kid friendly resources, I'd really appreciate it.

January-February: Colonial America and the American Revolution (differences between colonies, reasons for the war, outcomes)  This one is straightforward and I don't think I'll change much.  Kids seemed to retain a lot, which they showed when we were in DC.

March-April: Ecosystems (different types of environments, how scientists classify animals)  Again, this worked well for the past 2 years and I don't have lots of work to do here.

May: Space  Kids love this unit.  I'm especially proud of the assessments I was using.  

June: GRRR!!!  I got in trouble this year for not teaching civics before June.  I guess I can try to push the Constitution into the end of the Colonial America and American Revolution unit.  This is where I could benefit from having someone else who teaches what I do.  I'm stuck in this "zero sum game" scenario where I could take things out of my curriculum to make other things fit, but I can't say one thing is less important than another.  The PA history standards are no help because, speaking as an educational professional, they suck.  They are vague and all over the place.  The science standards are slightly better, but because assessment happens in the 8th grade only, there are no guidelines about what should be taught each year.

Previewing this post made me realize it's clear where I need to start.  Sigh.  I guess I will make assessments this week for all of the units and move backwards from there.  Is it wrong if I drink Pina Coladas while I do this?


Current Reading

Last summer, I discovered the Philadelphia Free Library.  I checked out 15 books at a time and read all of them.  This summer...not so much.  There are a few books I can talk about today, but certainly not the near constant stream of new information I gorged on this time last year.  If anyone has any suggestions, please leave them in the comments.

Smart But Scattered I read this book last summer, and just purchased it today at Borders.  Something that I've been trying to get better at is teaching students HOW to learn, not just WHAT to learn.  I've personally struggled with poor executive functioning skills: I never learned how to study (which came to bite me in the butt in college) and I struggled financially for too long because I couldn't figure out how to pay bills (and it usually was the case that I had the financial ability to pay, just not the organization to make it happen).  It irks me that many parents are OK with their sons, in particular, not having executive functioning skills.  There is talk in academic and non-academic literature about the growing achievement gap between boys and girls.  I'll let you find that on your own :)

Based on the always accurate anecdotal evidence, I see that the problem boys have (or at least one of them) is that they lack executive functioning skills.  At some point, these skills became "assumed" vs. "taught".  At the beginning of the last school year, I used the assessment in this book as homework for students.  I had them self assess to begin the discussion of how we learn.  I plan on doing this again this year, but I also want to include a parent discussion portion.  I'll admit that I'm lucky to teach 5th grade at a 5-8 middle school that demands parent involvement.  At the beginning of the 5th grade year, parents are much more likely to be actively involved in such homework.  What I'm envisioning is students doing a quick self-assessment of a particular facet of executive functioning, and the reading about a strategy to develop that skill with their parents.  In parent conferences throughout the year, I find that parents want to help their children be more organized, goal oriented, etc. but don't know how.  I'm trying to take the stance this year that parents are doing the best they know how.  If they aren't doing something to help their child be successful, it's incumbent upon me as the educator to help them develop the skills.  I know in advance that some parents aren't going to be receptive.  Eh. That's a bummer.  I think there will be enough that will at least listen to make it worthwhile.

Teaching With Love and Logic I also read this last summer, but I am being required to re-read it for the next school year.  Reading this book, along with Discipline with Dignity, really helped me to have a much more positive year with my students.  I have to be honest when I say that I'm not always comfortable with being the adult in charge.  As I inch closer to 30, that's changing, but I will admit that not acknowledging my "adultness" with regards to classroom dynamics has hindered my professional growth.  Thanks to both of these books, I was able to re-conceptualize discipline not as authoritarianism but as security making.  I think I did a better job this year of making my classroom a safe place to learn, and I hope to continue that this year. I'm not too resentful of having to re-read this because I want to be certain that I continue to use the principles contained in the text in my day to day practice.

Teach Like a Champion  I really love this book.  As in "ask my husband if we can have a more modern type of marriage and allow me to wed this book in some weird sort of biblio-polyamory thing" kind of love.  This book offers very concrete, easily implementable tweaks a teacher can make to have a classroom that functions efficiently.  The book is very much in favor of a teacher centered method.  Yet, I think I was able to make some of the ideas my own.  If you teach students that have not had access to stable models of education, I think this book is a must.  Much like Smart But Scattered, it helps you teach students the "how" of being successful in school.

What are other teachers reading?

3rd Time's a Charm

So I've decided to change the focus of this blog again.  Previously I had tried a one sentence limitation, followed by writing in only haikus.  I never really gathered up enough momentum with either conceit to be consistent or interesting.

From here, I'm going to attempt to blog about teaching.  What I'm reading, what I'm thinking, what I'm doing in my classroom.  If I can make this work, I'll post the link and try to get people reading.