It’s really hard to teach a class of 25 kids.
I’ve done it several times over now, and I find that, while I can frequently revel in the beauty of a large community of kids and learners, it’s also very hard to make sure that all the kids are getting what they need, meanwhile piquing their respective interests. Oftentimes, we think that tricks, games, and jokes are the avenues down which we can keep our 25-30 children engaged and motivated, but those tricks very routinely lose their novelty, and you, the educator, find yourself right back where you started.
A great deal of the time, kids are not engaged because the don’t feel an investment in the curriculum–they don’t see themselves in it. Certainly, I never saw the value in “finding the main idea” when I was a kid. Honestly, I don’t see the value in it now–unless it’s in the context of something else. Now, I’m not discounting those times when kids are simply screwing around and need to be swiftly, but gently, redirected back to the task, but if there is a problem with whole-class engagement, you can bet it’s something that you, the educator, should be changing about your practice. But this seems like a pretty big problem–a problem with many possible solutions, all of which are idealistic and unrealistic…
But that’s not the case. All teachers need to do is find their entry point.
So what do I mean by entry point? In this context, the entry point is the content in which the student finds some sort of interest. It’s called an “entry point” because it’s the door that you can open to help a child find value in lessons that seem rather useless to the decontextualized eye.
For example, I had one girl the past two years that preferred to read a lot of fiction. She was (and probably still is) a happy-go-lucky, sweet little girl, who literally thought the clouds were made of cotton candy and that rainbows rained down Skittles (but only if you got right under it). Getting her to see the importance in non-fiction was quite difficult. In her case, the entry point was learning about animals. In one instance, specifically, she decided she was passionate about birds. Because she wanted to learn about birds, I was able to help her find texts (which she eventually learned to seek out herself) that pertained to birds.
Not only did she get a wealth of information on a subject that was important to her, but I was able to use those texts to help her continue on her quest for information about birds, meanwhile embedding targets around main idea, key details, and text structure. Without any context, those Common Core targets were absolutely meaningless and irrelevant to her, but as soon she found out they were pathways to a broader knowledge of this preferred content, she was suddenly more invested in finding salient and important ideas in the texts, because it meant she was able to gain more knowledge. Her growth was evident, too, not only in her end-of-year MAP score, but also in the quality of her text structure organizers, and her ability to write non-fiction paragraphs and pieces independently.
I know what you’re thinking.
How do I do this for 25 kids, though? Sure, I’d love to be able to sit down with every kid one-on-one and help them do this, but I just don’t have the time. And yes, time is of the essence. I completely agree. So come back on Friday, and I’ll tell you about “Working Smarter: 3 Ways to Naturally Differentiate Your Classroom.”