Saturday, April 09, 2011

Seasons of the School Year

Spring has sprung  The days are brighter, the sky is bluer and the flowers are beginning to poke their heads from the winterworn earth.  It's almost time for vacation, and time to set goals for the last leg of the school year.  The school year seems to leap from vacation to vacation, and season to season.  Before making a new set of goals, I want to reflect on the seasons of the school year.

Each new school year begins in the summer.  That's the time when I think and plan for the year ahead.  If I'm going to make any significant curriculum changes, I make the time to research and read about the topic and/or method.  It's also the time I engage in a few valuable, well-chosen professional development courses or seminars to continue my evolution as an educator.

I meet the students.  The year begins by establishing routines and relationships.  I follow the work of Ruth Charney and her book, Teaching Children to Care.  Schedules are carefully set in the hopes of creating a predictable program as well described by Tom Schimmer.  I start to facilitate children's learning of each standard through curriculum units, projects and specific skill lessons.  I refine my summer plans based on the students' needs and profiles.  

Late Fall/Winter
The air is colder and the days are darker, this is the best time of year to dig in and work hard.  Routines and the student community are established.  It's time to apply those routines and community to learning the standards in challenging, productive ways.

Late Winter
I wrote an earlier post about this time of year.  In Massachusetts, it's a time of year centered on test prep and the English-Language Arts MCAS.  I named it  Time for Revision and Finesse.  Students review what they've learned through games, exercises and meaningful projects such as the podcast project.  We teach test-taking strategies, and several days are devoted to the tests.

As I think through the year, and wonder about spring.  I realize that it's cut into two distinct teaching pieces.  The first is the math review segment.  In early May, students in Massachusetts take the math MCAS.  So the start of spring for my class means making sure we've reviewed all the math standards, and focusing on those that we need to master with greater depth through projects, exercises, tests and review.

Then the second section of the spring semester will be the time for in-depth project based learning with our focus on endangered species research and reports.  Finally, we'll end the year with a period of reflection as students complete their fourth grade portfolios and final letters.

Summer Again
This year I've decided to put my summer reading challenge on our social network.  I will welcome both this year's fourth graders, and next year's fourth graders to read and discuss (via blogs) one book every two weeks. I'll read the same book, post comments,  and read/respond to their comments too. That will create a nice bridge from one year to the next, and prompt me to keep up with the latest in children's literature.

I'll also begin again with a few professional development programs which I'll blog about in the summer months.

The seasons of the school year give the year form and structure.  What are your thoughts?
  • Are there important seasonal decisions you make with regard to students' learning and the classroom program?    
  • Does your school system have a seasonal pattern for the roll-out of new initiatives and teacher collaboration related to specific school goals or content?  
  • What happens if you loop or teach a multi-grade classroom; how does this change the seasonal perspective?
This is one post that I want to think more about in the summer months.  I welcome your ideas and feedback.