Saturday, April 21, 2012

Vacation's End: The Final Leg of the School Year

Vacations break up the school year.  In Massachusetts we have a long stretch from September to to New Years, and after that it's like hopping from one stone in the water to the next with three distinct teaching periods: Jan. to Feb., late Feb., to April, and late April to June.

As this beautiful vacation week in Massachusetts wraps up, I've got my view set on the final leg of the school year.  I'm also aware of the tremendous activity going on within and outside of my school with regard to initiatives, start-ups, privatization, one-to-one endeavors and more. It continues to be a revolutionary time in education, one that repeatedly calls me to pause and ponder my role and direction.

As I've mentioned before, and will mention again and again, it's best to focus your education reflections with students as center stage--what are you doing for the children in your care?  What more can you do to empower their learning and engagement as the year wraps up?

My class is in a great place.  They are a terrific group of eager, energetic, creative and thoughtful students who love to learn.  They have been looking forward to the the year's final project, the endangered species study.  The stage is set to complete this project in a 21st century, student-centered, interdisciplinary way.  I will play the role of coach, mentor and guide as students utilize the resources and their skills to learn and present.

We are also preparing for the Massachusetts Math MCAS tests.  I want all students to have meaningful exposure to all the topics covered on the test, and we'll work towards as much mastery as we can accomplish since the tests' breadth and depth, for some, is equal to more minutes than a fourth grade year includes. The students have access to a number of independent, quick-feedback, online venues to practice, and in class we'll explore and learn math with a multimodal approach including projects, paper/pencil, discussion, practice sheets and problem solving.

Ms. Sheffels, our local geologist, will visit our class a number of times to share her expertise related to plate tectonics, and students will travel from fourth grade class to fourth grade class to explore the regions of the United States in a virtual, multi-sensory "travel across the USA."

Our RTI efforts in reading have been very successful this year as students are reading many, many books with interest and understanding.  We'll continue these efforts right up to the last days of school as the most important lesson I've learned throughout this initial RTI endeavor is that substantial, meaningful time with text is the best way to build reading skill and fluency.

Bringing the year full circle, I want to end the year where I started last fall and that's with a primary emphasis on encouraging and empowering individual learners with the skills and habits that make them "smart."  The gift I want to leave each child with this year is the knowledge that they are capable and worthy students who have the power to achieve their dreams and make a difference in their own lives and the world around them.

Hence, it will be a student-focused final chapter to an energized, transformative teaching year!