Saturday, October 9, 2010


A scene from Little House on the Prairie?
Do Si Do
I've sent this article to practically every person I know. It is so interesting that it appeared on a blog I read just this week. Why is that interesting you might ask, or not, but I'm going to tell you anyway.
I teach. I've taught lots of ages, from tiny to elderly, but my full time job of the last seven years has been fourth grade. I take teaching very seriously, sometimes too seriously. I feel very committed to children leaving me better than they came. I want to cultivate a love of learning. And, as a friend's son admonished her, I Do NOT want to become their frontal lobe. I want them to be independent thinkers. This is easier said than done. Easier is to stand in front a room of nice little neat rows of students, lecture on a subject, then give a fill in the blank or multiple choice test at the end.
Occasionally, I run into a student with a mind like a steel trap. Most students however will hold what is memorized from a lecture in their memory just long enough to pass the test, then dump it. That's how the brain works. So, basically, it's been a colossal waste of a good mind and some good history, science, etc. If this weren't true, why would we have tons of kids scoring so low on tests and paying for remedial classes in college before they can take one for credit.
In my classroom, if we can come up with a way to smell it, feel, taste, hear it, practice it, read something authentic about it, then that's what we do.
Recently, I combined all of our 3-6th grades for an Interact simulation game called Pioneers. The kids formed eight wagon trains with 7 or 8 kids in each group, took the identity of a pioneer family, chose what to take in their wagons, made decisions along the trail, kept a dairy and faced fates much like early American pioneers. In each room, students were doing additional work. In third they were reading Little House in the Big Woods, in my room, Sarah Plain and Tall. In 5th and 6th students were studying and working on presentations of pioneers in science, exploration, peace, etc, which they presented to the 3rd and 4th grade. My students were weaving and making rag dolls.Lastly, we all dressed up yesterday in our pioneer best and headed to a local one room school house for a day of pioneer activities and fun with a chicken dinner (and pies we made) to wrap up a fun day. Each wagon train spent time that day with eleven different adults, in mixed age groups, kind of like the real world.
The bus driver was so impressed that she told me if the current budget crunch made transportation unaffordable next year, to call her and she'd figure something out.
Anyway, that is one example of how I teach.
I 've long read lots of research on best practice in the classroom. Everything I've read declares that if you encourage children to be observers and thinkers, the standardized tests will not be a problem. Well, that is music to my ears, but if you looked hard enough you could likely find some research on anything you wished to try and prove. Which brings us back to the interesting thing and the article. My principal recently attended a big conference with the head of curriculum. They were reviewing ISTEP scores and have some way they measure growth and value added each year. Our school's scores are always high. Since we only have one teacher per classroom, they also reflect teacher performance in their eyes. So, naturally, our teacher's scores are high. Apparently mine were really high. Enough so that they wanted me to present at the state conference and share my secrets. Then, I read the above article.
I've gotten some flack for my Bohemian teaching ways through the years and I've gotten accolades. Though the negative things like, " She's creative, but she doesn't follow standards" and, "They just play in her room all day," and, "I don't like your room arrangement or the way you teach," (from a parent who is also a teacher), tend to reverberate in my brain. My principals though have always supported and encouraged me, along with two dear retired teacher friends, but I guess I feel validated by those scores.
So the lessons to be learned here- Creativity in the classroom pays off in the short run and the long run for students (read article and pass on) and when you work hard and try hard you get to work harder and try harder by having to make lesson plans, worry over who's watching your class, and try to come with something to present to strangers that they would care about-yee haw!

1 comment:

  1. I also read this article. It was excellent! I liked the way it emphasized creativity in the approach to school and to the world. So many people think that if they teach art and music, they are teaching creativity--what the article calls "the artistic bias." Creativity is all about problem-solving and divergent thinking--which is clearly what you practice and promote in your classroom. Kudos to you!