Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Fifth Grade Teaching/Learning Program

As parent conferences wrap up, I'm thinking a lot about what's working with the fifth grade program and what we'll do to better the program in the year ahead. It's good to think this through while all the comments are fresh.

Next year will be our third year with the three-classroom shared teaching model. Essentially the educators work as a team that includes classroom teachers, specialists, special educators, teaching assistants, and therapists to serve all students well. This year we updated our schedule to maximize the program potential which has improved the model. We keep a running list of ideas and communicate with all members of the team on a regular basis. We meet regularly and will focus meetings in the spring and summer to review the program and make plans for the upcoming year. We coach each other and work together to serve every child well.

Teach Every Child with Respect and Care
More than anything else, every child deserves respect, care and attention. It is important to set up a routine/pattern from the start of the year that ensures that every child receives this. Regular use of class meetings, class protocols, conflict resolution, and targeted response in teaching and social skill support helps in this regard. One challenge I face in this area is the pace of the curriculum. Sometimes I feel a need to rush the curriculum given all the expectations I'm given with regard to knowledge, skill, and concept development. The rushing results in dismay, so it's not a good idea. As educators we have to be realistic about the time we have with children, and the importance of a playful, happy childhood. When we try to cram too much in with too much speed, the potential for disaster grows.

Some ways I want to recognize each child include the following:
  • Beginning the year with a meaningful identity project. Last year all students contributed to a "My Three Words" film which created a powerful, positive and inclusive start to the year.
  • Making time to meet with individuals and small groups on a regular basis.
  • Having a bulletin board in the room to acknowledge students' strong points, accomplishments, interests, creativity and compliments about children. A "You're Important!" Board.
  • Focusing class meetings on social-emotional skills, and embedding social-emotional skills into the curriculum on a regular basis
  • Responding to a child's discomfort, worry, or questions as soon as possible in order to support that child in conjunction with his/her parent or guardians. 
Team Building and Communication
Our communication with next year's class actually begins in the spring with the move-up letter and supply list. At that time we invite students into the TeamFive community by introducing the program in person and by letter, sharing the year's website, introducing online learning platforms students may use over the summer and that we'll use throughout the year for ongoing study, and listing supplies students will need for the year ahead.

Then, we begin the year in September with a number of team building focused experiences and lessons including the note card challenge, spaghetti-marshmallow challenge, and the Global Cardboard Challenge. All of these activities help us to focus on the importance of team for our TeamFive grade five learning community.

We have a number of positive communication activities including our start-of-the-year Curriculum Night Presentation, twice-a-year parent conferences, TeamFive website, weekly newsletters, and end-of-year celebrations. As I think ahead, I want to make sure that we carve out the time and energy to foster the best possible parent conferences since that time is so valuable with regard to student encouragement, coaching, and support. Since this time is so important, I do think, as a staff, we can better make space for this in the learning/teaching year. Currently it's an extensive add on with regard to preparation and meetings that far outweigh the time provided for this task. I'd also like to see us consider a deeper way to foster a sense of team at the start of the year by perhaps changing Curriculum Night to a more comprehensive orientation event.

Math Education
This is my main area of teaching. The good news is that children mostly made terrific progress with their learning in this area. The growth between early year learning and learning at this time has been substantial. I see this in the data collected as well as their ability to persevere on a math task.

More good news is that we made some nice headway with students who struggle by offering extra support with targeted learning efforts. Using an online program, Symphony Math, in conjunction with small group teaching, the use of manipulatives, and paper/pencil has served as one good approach in this regard.

As far as enrichment, the use of Khan Academy has allowed students to move at their own pace with grade-level concepts, coding, and other math challenges such as puzzles, sixth grade concepts, and more. One RTI group is also focused on enrichment, so children meet twice a week to enrich their math learning. As part of that enrichment, students are currently writing math stories and using multiple models and number lines to depict all the fifth grade fraction standards in their stories.

With regard to more problem/project base math, we have done some of that, but I want to include more, and will use the Jo Boaler's YouCubed site a s a reference for that.

Our program is directed by the standards which are many and deep for the year. I'd like to shift the order somewhat of how we approach the standards since our order is a bit different than the order promoted by the state, Khan Academy and other resources. I also want to think more about how we embed team building and collaboration skill building. We did this well at the start of the year, and I want to replicate that and then do some more. I also want to interject Boaler's and others great videos about growth mindset, cognition, and how the brain works to foster optimal learning habitudes. And, I want to continue the focus on making and using models, math tools, and learning and using good math vocabulary with the many resources we have for this.

Further, as we discussed yesterday, I will make a more concerted effort to include the following technology standards into the math learning:
  • Use computer systems as an example of systems as we discuss the place value system and math as a system in general.
  • We will use math talk and math share to recognize that different solutions exist for the same problem.
  • Use of logical reasoning to predict outcomes of an algorithm.
  • Individually and collaboratively create an algorithm to solve a problem.
  • Detect and correct logical errors in various algorithms.
  • Describe examples of databases from everyday life and use those databases as part of math learning units.
  • Collect and manipulate data to answer questions using a variety of computing methods and tools. 
  • Create simple models of systems.
I will advocate for a more streamlined assessment system since I believe many of our unit assessments are too long and could be matched better to both the content/skill standards and standards of mathematical practice. I want to think about the many online tools we use for math and think with colleagues across the system how we will use those resources well. 

Showcase Portfolios
When used well the showcase portfolio is an awesome tool for reflection and share with regard to a child's learning. I've used both online and offline portfolios, but continue to favor the hand held portfolios for many reasons.

What's working in this regard is the following:
  • The use of a showcase binder that lends itself to students making wonderful covers.
  • The use of dividers to separate main areas of learning.
  • The inclusion of signature learning pieces including student compositions, images of learning-related events and projects, assessments, and online learning reports and certificates.
To grow this effort, I'd like to do the following next year:
  • Work with the team to decide how we will promote students' meaningful making of covers--covers that depict their identity in ways that matter to them.
  • Work with colleagues to create a divider template that includes space for the discipline area title, a description of what matters in that discipline, related images, and a guiding quote
  • Make the time for students to reflect at the end of each signature learning event including field studies, project work, assessments, and specialists events. 
  • Make the time before parent conferences to help students organize their portfolios and practice presenting their portfolios to a classmate so they are prepared to present their portolios to their family members at conference time.
  • Create a system of collecting an organizing portfolio pages--probably a few crates with file folders that will host the pages in clear sheets as they are completed. Then making the time to put those pages into the portfolios every month or so during portfolio homeroom days.
My talented and committed colleagues lead this area of the curriculum with skill, and I support as part of RTI and in other ways. With regard to math and STEAM study, my main areas of the curriculum, I foster the practice of reading, vocabulary, and writing skills in the content areas too.

Our small RTI groups are well led by both the teacher in the lead and the reading team. Next year I want to look more closely at the best ways to integrate reading aloud in homeroom if the reading teacher feels this is a good idea. 

Field Studies
We had a large number of great field studies this year. I'm sure the team will meet this summer to discuss which field studies we'll keep and which ones we may retire or replace. Currently children engage in the following field studies:
  • An arts event: This year we attended the play, "Akeelah and the Bee"
  • STEAM Study at the McAuliffe Challenger Center
  • Science exploration at the Boston Museum of Science
  • Natural history focus on the Maya, Incas, and Aztec at the Harvard Peabody Museum in Cambridge.
  • STEAM exploration at Gillette Stadium (a team building experience)
  • Biography Project Living History Experience: Museum of African American History
  • The American Revolution: Guided Freedom Trail Walk
  • Wetlands Exploration: Earth Stewardship Focus
  • Raising Endangered Spadefoot Toads: classroom environmental experience
  • Visiting Expert: Frederick Douglas Living History Presentation
  • Potential visit to Natick Labs for a STEAM-related exploration and possible States of Matter presentation. 
Cultural Competency
We focused on individual identity, differences, similarities and dignity. Also, via film, literature, field studies, and classroom conversations, we've worked to develop a culturally proficient grade level program. This is an area that we will continue to assess and grow in the year to come. Some of the successful activities we included included going to the play, Akeelah and the Bee, and discussing the play with deep questions related to cultural proficiency, our upcoming visit to the Museum of African American History with a focus on Frederick Douglas' life as a historic mentor, the use of numerous video clips and current events discussions, an introduction/review of the history of people, migration, immigration, and skin shade, and direct discussion of any matters related to prejudice or injustice related to individual or group differences.

STEAM and Special Events
Once we complete our standards-focus in reading, writing, and math, we focus in on a number of special projects including STEAM study, the fifth grade play, and the biography project. All three projects allow students to synthesize the learning they've done with the priority areas above in deep and powerful ways. The biography projects allows each student to study a global changemaker that mirrors an interest he/she has. The STEAM projects are all related to our environment providing students a chance to use science, technology, engineering, art, and math to explore, create, and solve problems. The play is a great opportunity for children to showcase their speaking, acting, singing, dancing, and art skills/interests in a wonderful performance for the school. All three of these big projects make the end of the year celebratory and engaging. 

Professional Learning
Next year, I'll focus my professional learning on cultural proficiency, math teaching, and shoring up the details of teaching and learning well. I want to dig in and really think about how use what we've learned so far about our model and program to best meet the needs of every child in conjunction with colleagues, students, and family members.

We have a generous grant agency, WPSF, that supports innovation. Next year I'd like to focus grants in the following areas:
  • Inspiring Signage: Empowering and inclusive school signage that makes valuable words and people from all walks of life visible to students in inspiring ways throughout the school.
  • The Modern Classroom: a grant that supports the kind of furniture that lends itself to a more modern teaching approach. I'd like to request funding for rolling tables instead of desks and better supply modules for students' personal learning supplies.
  • Cultural Proficiency: I'd like to continue to develop our ability to make our programs culturally proficient by working with an agency like Primary Source to build our ability to make our program sensitive to the many cultures represented.
Surveying the TeamFive Learning Community
While a survey is always daunting, particularly when you're a critical thinker like me who can always see room for improvement. It is important to survey the TeamFive learning community as we think ahead to next year. Specifically I want to know what the community thinks about how we can better serve each and every child while also making our programs more culturally proficient and academically strong. I imagine that the team can use the noted areas above as focus areas for questions.