As I get back into the swing of teaching all day (do you have the same feet-aching, head-spinning, heart-happy exhaustion I have at the end of each day?), I’m finding that I’m at a bittersweet time in my career. I happily accepted a grade change for this year moving from a 4th grade position to a 2nd grade position.
On one hand I am sad to be leaving a phenomenal team of teachers which I admire in so many ways. I am sad to be putting some of my favorite curriculum and units on the bottom shelf. I am sad to have limited time working with student leaders in the hierarchical sense. I’m sad to have spent so much time packing and moving.
On the other hand, I am excited for some of the development that I know happens in 2nd grade from my time with this age level in the past. I am excited to work with another team of teachers that is equally as admirable as my friends I taught with most recently. I’m excited for a new space, theme, and so many trips to the local teacher supply store (Hello black polka dots and teal chevron.)! I am excited (especially excited) to see how much more effective I can be for 2nd graders than I may have been in the past due to my experiences as an intermediate teacher.
I know I am prepared to be a more effective teacher for 2nd graders than I was in my previous stretch with this age band for many reasons. First, I have so much more experience under my belt. I was a new teacher my first time around. I like to think I didn’t harm students at all. I found connections with them and helped them learn. However, there was no way that I was ever as deliberate about student growth as I am now. Second, I know what is expected of students in the intermediate elementary grades and have a better idea of how to scaffold them to be best prepared for 3rd grade. Third, Common Core has laid out a more systematic set of standards for me to align my instruction to.
Even knowing what I have to offer kids, there are at least a few moments each day (if not the majority of the day!) where this feels foreign to me. CCSS wasn’t adopted in our state when I taught 2nd grade before. Additionally, I’m moving from a content-based day with only phonics intervention to students that still need phonics instruction intertwined with content. It is like I’m finding my way all over again. Luckily, the colleagues I have the privilege of working with are brilliant and willing to brainstorm together. One thing we worked on during our in-service time in August was figuring out how to support students in ELA using a balanced approach.
The ELA standards encompass reading, writing, listening, speaking and language. While each grade level has specific expectations that build upon one another, each grade level has these same components. In order to meet all of the needs of 2nd graders, we have searched, borrowed and created materials to include the following components in our instructional routine.Phonics
Spelling aligned to phonics skills
Fluency modeling and practice
Paired informational and narrative text
SBAC-aligned questions for comprehension of text
Sentence stems for daily oral discussions
Narrative, informative and opinion brief writes
Grammar and conventions instruction and daily practice
Pair, group and class accountable discussions
It’s exciting to see all of this come together. We started on the first day building our routine to fit all of this into each day. With 2nd graders, as I’m sure you know, the process is slow and it takes time to build capacity for students to be successful with all of material being presented. The curriculum needs to be fun and engaging for kids of this age (or any age!). It needs to hit them at the perfect level of challenge so there is neither an attitude of boredom nor defeat. Most importantly, the students need to believe I care about them and want them to succeed. They also need to know that they care about each other and work within a safe place.
Brooke wrote about the importance of a positive classroom climate. In the comments section, Nathan said, “For us to motivate/encourage/guide students to meet the CCSS and pass the SBAC, they need to know we value them as human beings, not just citizens who live under our classroom rule.” I couldn’t agree more. In a perfect world, my students would come to class and know I care for them and we’d get to work on this balanced reading plan that I’m so excited about. But these are humans. We must take the time to show them they have value to our world.
Rita Pierson did a TED Talk about the importance of human connection. I watched this video several times as I prepared for the school year. It reminded me again and again, that while I’m busy pulling materials out of every research-based book I can find, pouring over 1st grade data to give students the perfect ‘accountable talk buddy,’ meeting with my team to be again impressed by their ideas, and creating material to fill every hole I have, balanced comes in more forms than one.
I’m proud of the balanced ELA program I’m able to offer my students this year (due to great effort by the best colleagues a girl could have!). They will be taught all the components of CCSS. They will be provided intervention, practice or enrichment daily to meet their individual needs. They will have a ‘triple dip’ opportunity if they need one.
However, I’m also proud of the balance they will have in my classroom between social growth and academic growth. They will know they are important to me, other staff, and their peers. They will know social and behavior expectations and be held accountable at all time. They will know they have support when life is exciting, difficult, and sometimes more than any 7 year old should ever have to handle. They will leave ready to read, write, listen and speak. And they will leave ready to be citizens in our community.
How do you best balance your instruction in your classroom?
I grew up here in Western Washington, wanting to be a teacher for as long as I can remember. As the oldest child in my family, I had plenty of opportunities to "practice" teaching my younger siblings. I enjoyed this. They may not have. :) When I'm not working, I enjoy outdoor activities with my husband and our two Australian Shepherds (whom are far too spoiled for their own good!). I also love spending time with my family, being an auntie (to the cutest kids ever to grace this planet!), hosting dinner parties for friends, crafting, taking photographs and shopping.