With only three formal class days left until the end of the academic year at my school, I’m filled with excitement and a bit of sadness. The group of boys I’ve had the great pleasure of working so closely with this year will be matriculating into the seventh grade come September. I won’t be able to help guide them on their journey towards academic enlightenment any further. However, I’m also very excited to have three months of summer vacation to plan for next year. Plus, getting to know a new group of sixth graders is quite fun and enjoyable. It’s bittersweet.
After watching yesterday’s senior slideshow filled with pictures from when my son’s class was in the sixth grade, I am also feeling very nostalgic. A lot has happened in four years. The boys were so small and childish looking when they were in sixth grade. They now look like men. It’s crazy! My son is about to become a tenth grader. Where did the time go? I know it’s a cliche, but the older I get, the faster time seems to pass me by. I wish life was like a recorded movie in our brains that we could watch over and over again so that I’ll never forget all of the memories.
So, as tears of joy and sadness well up within my eyeball areas, I want to reflect on the 2015-2016 academic year.
- I feel as though this was my best year of teaching to date. I focused a lot on unit and class introductions and closings, which made a huge difference. Students seemed more engaged than in years past. My classes seemed to have both a top and bottom bun, which is always a good thing so that one’s hands don’t get all greasy and nasty. I opened classes well and closed them with reflections, games, review, or previews. As one of my professional goals for the year was to be more deliberate with how I ended classes, I feel as though I put forth much thought, reflection, and effort into making it come to fruition this year. Each class period felt like it was complete because I was able to wrap things up in meaningful ways for the students.
- Working with my new co-teacher for this year helped me to grow and develop as an educator. I learned lots of new ideas and approaches to teaching Humanities and world geography from her. My favorite new lesson was definitely the one on mapping and perspective. The students seemed to really understand how one’s perspective plays a role in how one views the world physically and/or figuratively. Plus, the boys had a blast making their globes turn into flat maps and realized how inaccurate flat maps truly are.
- Helping students grow and develop throughout the year. Several students began the year with very low English skills or many other academic or social skill deficiencies but closed the year having made much progress. Some of our ELL students have grown to become some of the hardest working students in the class because they realized that hard work reaps great benefits and rewards. Their English proficiency has increased exponentially because of their excellent effort. A few students who struggled to put forth great effort at the start of the year, finished the year by using much of their free time to meet and exceed the graded objectives. I am so proud of the progress each and every one of my students made throughout the year.
- Creating a detailed document that highlights and specifically outlines and describes the sixth grade program at my school that I have worked at creating over my many years teaching sixth grade. Not only is it a useful document for the school to use to showcase our sixth grade program and its purpose and intended outcomes, but it will also be a great tool to mark our progress in the sixth grade moving forward. How else can we change and improve to best help and support the students?
- Whiteboard Tables and Rocking Chairs. The whiteboard tables are amazing. The boys used them throughout the year to document their writing and planning process, solve math problems, ask questions, spell words, or help their peers better understand a concept. The addition of these whiteboard tables is one of my big highlights for the year. It made the learning and teaching experience so much more rich and meaningful for the students. They were owning their learning and more engaged in class because of the tables and the access they had to taking notes and staying focused. The rocking chairs also made the overall learning experience for the students more enjoyable. Instead of tipping back in a regular classroom chair and falling backwards, the students were able to gently rock back and forth to channel their energy into focusing and paying attention. Awesome!
- A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park was the read-aloud text we used to compliment our unit on Africa. Having not read the novel prior to this year, I was surprised by how amazing it is. Not only did it help us model and practice various reading strategies in Humanities class, but it also helped the students broaden their perspective of Africa and the people from that part of the world. It was a fine new addition to our class.
- Field trip to the Hood Museum in Hanover, NH. The boys thoroughly enjoyed this trip to a local art museum. They loved learning about the history of African weapons and art from the great continent of Africa. Our docent was knowledgeable and kept the boys engaged throughout the trip. It was a free experience that helped bring the classroom learning to life for our students.
- Making concepts and topics in STEM class more relevant and meaningful for the students. Instead of just teaching the boys about weather and how it forms on Earth, I had the students generate problems caused by climate change and create simple solutions that could easily be implemented. Not only did this allow the students to think critically about the world around us and how it is changing, but it also helped the students to see how big of a problem climate change really is. I want the students to realize and understand that their generation is going to have to seriously address and deal with this huge issue to prevent major changes and destruction from occurring sooner rather than later.
- iPads. Despite the vast number of schools utilizing iPads in the classroom and the great results reported, the 1-to-1 iPad program did not work in the sixth grade this year. Perhaps the failure stems from the fact that the iPads we used were very early models and did not have the processing capabilities needed to effectively run the applications we were using in the classroom. The iPads were slow and glitched quite frequently. The students didn’t like using them either. Since the rest of the students were provided laptop computers, our boys felt different and did not like the “unfair” treatment. Despite explaining the reason and rationale for the change in technology this year, the students still struggled with why we used them. Needless to say, we’re going back to laptops for the sixth grade next year.
- Not supporting or challenging a particular student in math. This one student came into the sixth grade with accelerated math skills. Because we don’t have another math course for him in the sixth grade and couldn’t make one work in our schedule, we tried to best support him with a flipped classroom approach, but it didn’t really work for him. He was frustrated and his enjoyment with math began to dwindle. We have a plan in place going forward if we have another student with such high math abilities, but I feel awful that we did not help this one student in math in any way.
- Helping parents understand the approach we take to education in the sixth grade. As we utilize objectives-based grading, a Humanities approach to teaching English and history, and the STEM model for teaching math and science, this is new for many of our families. A few families struggled to understand the whys and hows of our approach despite letters sent home and explanations provided. Those families had difficulty understanding our grading system or our problem based learning approach to teaching math. Perhaps it was just those particular families as we didn’t have any challenges with this issue last year and we used the same approaches. However, I will be very mindful of this when crafting the parent letter we will send out over the summer. Perhaps I just need to be more specific and explanatory.
- My two co-teachers are leaving at the close of this academic year. While I’ve only worked with one for this year, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working with the other for three years now. I’m going to miss them both dearly. I’ve grown so much in the time we’ve worked together. I know that everything will be alright next year and I’m excited about my new co-teacher who was recently hired, but I’m also a bit sad to say goodbye to more close friends.
I thought long and hard about the year in creating this list. I know it seems lopsided, but that’s how the year went. I experienced far more successes than challenges. Sure, I love a good challenge because that’s where the genuine learning and growth happens, but I feel as though our sixth grade program is really starting to solidify nicely. It was an awesome year. I’m, overall, very pleased with the result. I feel as though our boys are prepared for the seventh grade and are sure to find much success as they continue to grow and develop next year and beyond. It’s hard to believe another year has come and almost passed us by, but that’s what happens when one is unable to find life’s pause switch. Where is it again?