You Can’t Do This Work Yourself: Build a Collaborative Community

Have a little trust:

Teachers can be connected educators, read professional text, participate in educational conferences and be active on social media but still find themselves unsure what will work with their students.  Sometimes we have kids that don’t fit the expectations of a grade level, they are outliers.The more anxious you feel about a kid, the more they feel it. It is not that you are not trying, you can be differentiating and offering a multitude of supports, but you may still not be getting the results you need to get. What do you do? Take a deep breath and trust yourself.  Enlist some support and collaborate to think out of the box.

This post celebrates out-of-the-box thinking, and the power of thoughtful reflection that sparks action. It is a story about a boy who entered third grade very guarded and resistant to any risk taking.  He is an English as a New Language (ENL) student with significant academic gaps. All of his energy was being devoted to keeping the appearance that he was doing the same work as everyone else. When he could no longer hide the truth from his peers, he became shy and withdrawn.  He didn’t want help from the teachers because this made him stand out and he just wanted to fit in.  

We believe that teaching begins when we meet children where they are and for this boy we had to make sure he perceived the classroom environment as being a safe place where it was ok to take risks.  This work began with thoughtful partnerships and supportive groups. As he began to build relationships and form an identity as a learner he grew more confident. Then something amazing happened, he began to talk, to engage with classmates, and was ready to learn.

Making reflection a habit of mind:

Teachers reflect and seize the moment.  Before we move forward to this next stage in his development,  we look back at the progress and look for milestones:

  • He is socially aware and has an inner drive to acquire language to be an active part within partnerships and groups.  This acquisition was slow but he had to be confident before he was ready to dive in.  
  • We respected his need to have grade level books in his bin and to explore them even though he could not read them conventionally .  We let him be who he was and access these books from where he could .
  • We observed him so we could meet him at his strongest point.

Why not start with the student’s strength? What can he do well? Then make a careful evaluation of our concerns. Reflect on classroom observations then make the plan:

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Student Strength: Uses text features; Takes risks one on one; Socially aware; Cooperative learner: Stays on manageable tasks; Works independently with the right supports (set him up): Has social conversations; Good visual and auditory memory Careful Evaluations: Can’t read independently:Can’t write independently:Hyper vigilant about how others perceive him; Language acquisition is steady but slow Reflecting on Observation: Reading aloud he will finish sentences or recall names and places; Can locate text using text features like maps; Can identify sight words that are spelled correctly in a simple sentence he creates; Surrounds himself with grade level text; Wants to be busy at a task; Demonstrates confidence with peers
Resourceful to get what he needs Make a Plan: Create a sight word map of locations for him to write an original story using characters he knows; Continue to use partner support to challenge him during read aloud; Daily shared reading to read with support; Story tell with the teacher as a scribe then illustrate.

 

Freedom and autonomy:

It was a strategic move to work with him during independent reading time.  The class is an avid group of readers and individual conferences is an expectation for all during  that time. We gathered the supplies; the map, sentence strips, teacher markers, scissors, highlighter, all the things he likes to use.  He was beaming and it was apparent that he felt special when he saw the map and all the supplies waiting for him.  He couldn’t wait to get to work.  It was a perfect fit.  He was enjoying the activity, building up his language skills as he made up sentences around the pictures, engaging with the sight words in a way that was meaningful to him, and it had a math component with the plotting which is an area of strength for him.
This scaffold has become a meaningful tool for him. The next day,  as he worked independently in his book bin using Geranimo Stilton, a book rich in text features, he used the map to identify words within the text and began to keep tallies of frequency. This is agency in action and his enthusiasm started to draw in other children.  It is natural in our classroom to use students as teachers.  We got an idea, why not pair him with another student to do this work.  This pairing had to be mutually beneficial and meet the needs of both students.  An embedded opportunity revealed itself.  A  boy who is very bright, but can be unfocused, started suggesting ideas for how to use the words around the pictures.  It was in a helpful way and both boys seemed very happy about this arrangement.  A partnership was formed; one boy would teach sight words, the other would teach how to be a soccer goalie. They got right to work.  As we stood back and observed, we saw pure engagement.  

Teaching is everything:

It is time to celebrate the insights of teachers.  It is not about the sight word map because it won’t work for all students.  The map is a product of a process of teacher observation and reflection to meet the needs of one individual student.   This is the work!  It is about being a teacher to children first.  We are not slaves to levels, we are not handcuffed to the Common Core, we are not blindly following our curriculum.  We are accountable to our curriculum and we are responsible to our students, we can do both.  We need to give kids what they need right now so they can learn.  This is rigor through relevant, meaningful work.

 

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