Friday, December 19, 2014

Is There a Just Right Balance for Teaching and Nurturing Children?

Yesterday marked the end of our math operations unit. It was an intense unit since I was weaving in multiple concepts in order to catch-up with the system-wide scope and sequence.

Students worked with great care as we managed to study all operations with problem solving, decimals, and base-ten understanding.

There's still some work to do to solidify the concepts and skill for everyone as well as to boost math writing skill in this standards-based area, but collectively the children have a strong foundation to move forward with.

Our future work will also include our Response to Intervention (RTI) efforts. Based on yesterday's assessment, students will be placed in small focused groups to further develop and enrich their numeracy skills and application. Multiple teachers take groups during our two scheduled 30-minute RTI times each week.

During the regular class time we will soon move onto the first fractions unit with a host of differentiated activities and project base work.

In the meantime, however, we've got a few days before the holiday break to relax a bit and learn with greater creativity and student choice.  I find myself always debating the "push factor" as I teach. On one hand pushing forward in multiple ways to strengthen students' academic foundation builds confidence, knowledge, and a readiness to learn more.  On the other hand, this push is sometimes demanding, dry, and less creative than more student-friendly project work, the kind of work we'll do during the next three days of learning.  There's less behavior issues when the learning is more student-centered, but in some cases, there can be less learning too. This is the "dance" I often refer too--the fine line between fostering good, challenging learning and making the learning too demanding and not fun at all.  Like most teachers, I'm always striving for that just right learning place, but with 20-plus students that's not always an easy place to find since it's a different place for every child.

I'll continue to debate, discuss, and reflect on this BIG question in education, a question that's close to the standards-based vs. child-centered learning debate. I believe there's a right, "happy-medium" in this debate, and that "happy-medium" is different in every context. It's a balance educators have to continually strive for as they carefully observe, listen/respond to, and design learning experiences with and for students.

In the meantime, prior to the holiday break, the main verb now is NURTURE. It's time to take a few steps back from the hurried pace of school life and give children a chance to learn in natural, fun, and friendly ways. A time more appreciated after the hard work we completed during the past unit.

Let me know where you stand in the debate I acknowledge here?  How do you create a "just right push" and student-centered learning and work?  This is a question I'll continue to explore in the days and weeks ahead.