My teaching partner and I have found ourselves in a challenging position. We have a classroom of four grade levels, ranging from second- to fifth-grade, all ranging in abilities and maturities that expand far outside the confines of those four grade levels. It’s exciting to watch each one of their strengths contribute to the classroom, and simultaneously humbling to help them confront their challenges on a daily basis. But if there’s one thing that’s difficult to do, it’s manage all of the personalities.
The biggest challenge I’ve seen so far is speaking to all of them in a way with which they connect. The motherese-like talk that works so well with the younger students hardly works at all with the older students, and the level of choice that we can provide to the older students is, in some ways, more confining to the younger students than structure and routines. And so how do we reach all of them? How do make it so that students are engaged and motivated, meanwhile differentiating to meet personal needs?
We speak in the languages that almost all children speak, and those are the languages of interaction and movement.
When working on our design project, we were faced with the somehow daunting task of getting 13 children to agree on where to put things in our classroom. While this seems like a relatively easy task, getting 13 children to unanimously agree on anything is tough because we knew they’d have personal agendas and certain things about which they were more passionate.
But instead of voting and over-discussing the matter, we got them moving.
“Alright, turn and talk to a buddy about where you think our art studio should go,” I said.
The students turned and talked passionately, seven-year olds with ten-year olds, until I counted down from five and directed their attention back towards me. Referring to our classroom map, I asked them to walk to the place where they’d like the art studio to be. Students immediately got up, their feet pattering across the room, and shockingly, most students went to the same area. We had efficiently decided the art studio would be on the east end of our room, and we did it all through interaction and movement.
We didn’t sit and pore over the pros and cons, and we didn’t turn it into a lengthy discussion where every child shared his or her thought with the whole class. In fact, by simply turning and talking, every child got his or her idea out while still achieving a sense of balance and efficiency class-wide. Not only was this helpful to keep the kids engaged, but it was also more representative of what the real world is like. The fact of the matter is, you don’t always get to share your idea with the whole class, and sometimes, you need to roll with the punches.
Someone once told me that the average child can sit for no longer than 5 minutes doing the same thing. So it makes perfect sense that the only language that all children would speak would be one of interaction and one of movement. These are the most easily differentiated languages, and the ones where you can reach the most kids. Why? Because when kids are moving, talking, and interacting with the environment, they know they are seen, they know they are heard, and they know they are valued in their environment.
And that is, well, invaluable.