Take Me Out to the…Summer Vacation
It was the bottom of the fifth inning at the local little league game and the score had already risen to 15-0. The coach of the leading team decided to call a time out and switch the pitcher after he walked the last two consecutive batters. In the previous inning, he coached the players to steal multiple bases, including home. This coach’s team was already in the lead by 15 runs, why would he encourage his players to keep playing at this caliber?
Parents of some of the players on the losing team could be overheard complaining that this type of playing was unsportsmanlike and unfair. Other parents also made comments like, “That coach plays hard every game, every time, no matter the score”; and “It doesn’t matter what the inning is, what the score is, that coach does not allow his team to let up”. To this team’s coach, it didn’t matter how great of a lead he had, what inning it was, or how poorly the other team was doing. This coach pushed his team to play their hardest no matter the inning, the score or the quality of the competition.
At this point, you’re probably curious as to the relationship between this baseball anecdote and teaching. The comments of the parents that surrounded me really struck a chord and made me consider my work at school. We know the end of the year is right around the corner, the countdown for summer break has begun. But, I was compelled to ask myself, “Am I still teaching as hard as I did at the beginning of the year? Am I encouraging my students to work as hard?”
Depending on the school in which you work, the DC-CAS is built up to be the “peak” of our school year. This test is supposed to represent the results of all of our hard work, dedication and commitment to our students’ learning. The link of these tests to teacher evaluations, as well as to school funding, puts a great deal of added pressure on both the teachers and the students. Due to the extremely high-stakes of this single test, the preparation and administration have become an overwhelming component of our school year. A major problem (among many) with this mindset is that the DC-CAS, with all of its pressures, does not take place at the conclusion of the school year, but in mid-April. As educators, we must remember that there’s more to our students’ education – in fact, a good 6-8 weeks more.
Are we putting so much emphasis on this test that we are neglecting to “play our hardest ’til the end”?
Have we stopped “giving it our all” once all of the tests have been collected?
No matter the month, the day, or the fact the test has finished, I think that we owe it to our students to fulfill our obligations to their learning until the very end. We are all exhausted, it’s almost the end of a long school year. The kids are getting antsy for summer break and the teachers are getting fed up with the antsy children. At times I find my mind wandering from teaching long division to basking in the sun by the pool; I know I am not alone in this daydream. However, consider this: with the stress of the test finally out of the way, now is the time that we can really take advantage of the abundance of learning that can still take place in our classrooms.
This is the perfect time of year to incorporate more project-based learning activities, group activities and the too-often forgotten about subject areas of science and social studies. Let the kids explore more, let them take their time and let yourself go off on that tangent that comes up in read-aloud that you previously would have put off for later discussion.
Make the best of your last few weeks with your students. Take them outside for lessons, plan projects that the students will get excited about, teach them all of the things that you may have had to put on the back burner to get them ready for the tests. Besides, it’s going to be a long six weeks if the kids (and the teachers!) are bored.
Here are some of my favorite springtime teaching ideas:
1. Book Clubs: I have done this with the whole class as well as in small groups. Pick books that the kids can really get into. Let them read outside or get cozy on the rug with their peers to read together. Some books that I have had great success with are “Lemony Snicket’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events”, “Dear Mr. Henshaw”, “From the Mixed up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler”, and any “Magic Tree House” series books. Try using a menu of projects that can be used with any of the books and allow the students to choose projects from the menu as they read. Check out here andhere for examples.
2. Geologist for the Day: Take the kids outside, let them collect rocks. Bring them in and analyze all of their attributes.
3. Meteorologists: Assign each student some type of weather event or natural disaster and have them work in groups for a few weeks during reading and/or science to research their weather. Then, have them write a script as meteorologists warning the community of the weather to come. Let them perform their weather report for the class (Think: Al Roker on The Today Show).
4. Story Writing: Have your students work on writing their own stories for the last few weeks of school. If you have the resources, set up a class account at www.storybird.com, a free website for kids to publish their stories. Also, for a low price kids can order downloadable versions or hard copies of their own stories. Plus, it’s a great memento to end the school year with!
5. Architecture: Using nets of 3-D shapes, have the students construct and create a building, park or even a whole neighborhood with their figures. One year, we laid out a piece of plywood and each day, students would take turns adding buildings/structures to our neighborhood that we had designed and created collectively.
Hope some of these ideas inspire you to “teach hard” this spring. What are some of your favorite springtime projects, ideas or lessons?
It’s the bottom of the ninth and you are in the lead…Do you lower your standards or do you “play hard ’til the end”?
Ms. Olivia Chapman
3rd Grade General Education Teacher
King Elementary School