As I get to know my new 3rd graders and we start to build relationships, our first weeks together are mostly about establishing solid routines and expectations. We have finished 3 weeks of school, but I have only gotten to spend around 7-8 hours with them. (Students spend the first week in their homeroom classrooms and then have at least 2 days of MAP testing that most likely overlapped their scheduled time with me). This means it takes me even longer to get our classroom running smoothly.
First and foremost, I help the children adjust to the very different environment. Not just a physical difference, but a MINDSET difference. In order to challenge the needs of gifted learners at a variety of levels, I have to do things very, VERY differently. I have to provide choices and learning OPPORTUNITIES. I know that not every child will take every opportunity (and I would not expect them to), but they exist for those that have the drive to seek more or for those with different learning styles and preferences. I know that gifted doesn’t necessarily mean “strong” in language arts as well, so while I offer tasks that really stretch and push students as readers and writers, I also let students know that doing the “minimum” is OK (because my minimum is above and beyond typical grade level expectations) but the minimum will be done very well to the highest level of quality for each student. (Parents concerned about “handwriting” note that I focus on spacing between words for legibility and correct letter size use; capitals vs. lower case letters used correctly. I am not going to stress any student out about beautiful “penmanship”).
I set a HIGH bar and guide students to reach it. I will give tasks that have a standard to work towards. This often throws off children who are used to being “perfect” or having something be “just right” or “acceptable” the first time. We are going to learn and grow by doing. I told one of my students yesterday, it is like when people start learning to drive a car. After being given lessons or learning about driving from reading about it, you learn by just doing it, with support and guidance. I don’t expect students to do something “perfect” right away, and quite honestly, if they did, then the task wasn’t challenging enough. This mindset is different for parents too, as they are expecting their child to get “full credit” or “top marks”. Please do not expect that of your child in my classroom. How can I push and grow your child if we seek to have them do everything perfectly the first time? Again that means the task was too easy.
When it comes to grading… well, what matters is the progress a child makes and where they are at the end of a “grading period” so to speak. I look at growing and progressing an individual child’s skill set, and while I have some standards in mind of where a child should be, I never compare children. Nor should parents. Each child is going to have different needs and I’m going to work to meet them. We will have goals that we set and adjust as we go. (If you are concerned about “grading” note the “scale” I use; I put one number on your child’s report card 3 times. This number is the result of my considering your child’s overall work ethic, skill development, and progress over time).
|Gifted Reading Grading Scale
|1 (Needing heavy support and adaptation)
||2 (Working with guidance; working at grade level expectations)
||3 (Satisfactorily achieving; working above grade level expectations)
||4 (Consistently going WELL above and beyond)
Points… in my room I use “points” to track visible effort. Simply put, I cannot figure out what is going on in a child’s mind unless they note it. Some children are more inclined to share their thinking in a visible way than others. When you see “+10” on a piece of student work, it is NOT a grade! Feel free to ask me anything about something your child does and what goals I might have for your child; not “how can they get more points on this or that”? POINTS ARE NOT GRADES.
Feedback…This is CRITICAL to growth (and if you are interested I wrote an advice column for teachers on using feedback for OCTELA). I have already told my 3rd graders that I will put comments on work intended to help them grow and do better. As much as possible I try to make comments on work and if I take the time to do so, I expect students to read them. This will become very important as we move into specific aspects of our routine intended to build and develop written response skills.
Now routines… I have an extremely complex routine structure in my room because I have to account for learners who do the minimum and learners who strive to take on any challenge they can find. It takes time to unpack and introduce each individual component. Right now I’m focusing on independent choices students have through “stations”. These are tasks that focus on different types and styles of texts and give students choice. So far we have learned “Metacognition”, “Listening”, and “Newsstand”. Stations are more about giving students a structured opportunity to interact with and think about texts in the classroom. Eventually we will learn about our full “menu” of learning options.
Metacognition is “thinking about one’s own thinking” and it is pretty flexible…choose any text of interest and annotate part of it. We started the year learning about how we can “leave tracks of our thinking” behind when we read. Of course we talked about how we do NOT do this for everything we read! By teaching the children to start annotating when they read, I am starting to build some “note-taking” foundations as well as help students pay attention to their “inner voice” when they read. The goal is to share what we are learning to be “quality” thinking. I want students to really pay attention to smaller parts of text or images that resonate with them in some way. There is no “correct” way to do this. However I do encourage and develop more “thoughtful” responses. The children then use SeeSaw to take snapshots of their annotations in texts and upload them for me to review. Parents can request access to their child’s annotations on request.
Listening is specifically targeted at listening skills. I have iPods with short stories and the text is NOT available. I find that my gifted students have learned to tune out or “turn off” their “auditory” receptors because they get bored with repetition or when something they have already learned is being presented. In addition, they often do not listen attentively because they have learned their natural abilities often serve them well to just “figure things out”. I focus on building active listening skills. For this station, students listen to a text and during or after they are to retell or recount it. (This is a 3rd grade standard). This means that they tell the events of the text again with many details and it differs from a summary, which is short and sweet. In 1st and 2nd grade, students should have been given DRA assessments and prior to “level 28” they are asked to orally retell the text to their teacher. (Level 28 and beyond requires students to write in response to a text read). If they do not give many details, they are prompted to “tell more” orally. I take this skill and push it a bit differently. Here’s is the student “tutorial”:
Note that the video was made before I started making “sketching” an option. Many of the children have preferred this! Bottom line, it is about listening for details!
Newsstand focuses on nonfiction texts through the use of periodicals. I have a collection of child-centered magazines as well as a large collection of National Geographic and NatGeo Traveler (for those that need a “vocabulary” challenge). Here is the student tutorial: Through this station we are learning what a publication is and how it contains “articles”.
This brings me to some expectations I have. I taught 2nd grade for 10 years (and 1st three years) before moving to a year in 3rd grade ELA and then into gifted reading. I know that conventions of capitalization and punctuation have been taught; I was firm on holding my 2nd grade students ACCOUNTABLE for applying these skills in all written work and would return work until correct conventions were applied so that these skills became a HABIT. There is no reason for a 3rd grader to use capital letters within words in sentences. There is no reason a 3rd grader should not capitalize the first word of sentences, the word “I”, or their own name! Yet I see happen with alarming frequency. When work is returned to children to correct these things, they are learning to make these conventions habitual. Therefore, my students are starting to learn that I will give them work back to “correct and return”. Here is a “checklist” of expectations that are in our ELA standards by grade levels:
Therefore I will hold students accountable for K-2 expectations and start guiding their use of conventions beyond. It is my goal to reinforce that self-editing means you take pride in your work before you turn it in!
As we learn more of our routines, the expectations will steadily increase. That bar will be raised. I will help children reach the high goals I set for them by giving them feedback and holding them accountable.