Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Default Setting: Blackberry

When’s the last time you saw a Blackberry? I don’t mean the fruit. I mean the smartphone. The other day, I was standing in line waiting to check out, and I noticed there was a man using a Blackberry. I made a face that I’m sure was misconstrued as one of horror or disgust. But, honestly, that was the first time I’d seen a Blackberry in quite some time. I must say it took me by surprise, and I thought to myself, “I wonder why he has a Blackberry? Perhaps it must be for work?” I truly was stunned because it wasn’t the typical iPhone or Android smartphone that have become the standard.

Lately, in my teaching career, I’ve been feeling like a Blackberry. Why? Because I am a fifth grade teacher in a self-contained classroom.

For some reason, “self-contained” classrooms seem to have moved from being the norm to being an exception. “Self-contained” has become a painful word to many. It’s a word that makes people crinkle their faces and look at you like a poor, lost puppy shivering in the rain. “Ooh, I feel so sorry for you.” “How do you survive teaching all the subjects?” These are just a few of the reactions that are becoming more typical. They’re similar to the looks of sympathy you get if you only have an iPhone 4s.  Or, heaven forbid, a flip phone!

I am the Blackberry. Departmentalization has become the new and improved. Why? Since when did being a self-contained teacher become not cool? When did departmentalization in elementary school become the default?

So often, my students are able to make connections to concepts and skills we discussed earlier in the day. Our lives are all about bringing people and ideas together, not isolating them in separate silos. I look at teaching being about creating a culture of learning that’s dictated by the child, not the clock. If I want to spend longer than my normal math block doing a rich mathematical task, so be it. If the conversation about our read aloud is going longer than usual, that’s okay. If that’s what my tribe needs, that’s what we do. I can skip writer’s workshop today because I know we are going to be blogging our math reflections on our last unit test. I love how reinforcement of my students' learning often occurs when a concept is applied to areas different from which I originally taught them. I would struggle not seeing this integrative process take place if I taught in a departmentalized classroom.

I am told that a wonderful 5th grade teacher, Mary Lee Hahn, says, “I am not a teacher of content. I am a teacher of children.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. I am not a content expert, and I don’t claim to be one. I am not the best literacy teacher. I am not the best math teacher. I do not understand every single scientific theory about the universe. But, I don't have to be. Instead, I hope I can create an integrated learning experience for the twenty-something learners in my class.

I strive to make my classroom not be only about the act of knowing; it should be about the experience of learning. In other words, learning is not always strictly about content.

8 comments:

  1. Yes! You quoted me accurately! We self-contained 5th grade teachers need to stick together!

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    1. Yes we do! I was talking with someone recently (I can't remember who) and they said that this is something you've said in the past. There are some many rich experiences that occur on a daily basis in a self-contained classroom. Sometimes, those teachable moments are in the standards.

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  2. Scott,
    I love this! You speak to community. It seems to always come down to that. Having students all day allows you to nurture that community, provides opportunities for you to reinforce concepts across the day, and gives students time to learn from people they trust. Community, when functional, allows us to take risks, ask hard questions, and have our thinking pushed by others. Like you, I have always thought there are many advantages to having students across the day. There is much that can be accomplished because of community and relationships.

    I'm so glad you're back to blogging. I've missed reading your posts.

    Cathy

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Cathy! I completely agree about community. For me, I think the word "culture" goes beyond "community." I hope that the learners in my community are part of a "culture" that is more deeply ingrained in their daily experience. Those closely held attitudes and values about reading, books, writing, collaboration, productive failure, growth mindsest, etc. are the crux of our daily interactions.

      I appreciate your support in my blogging efforts!

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  3. Bravo Scott! You are so right. Community is key and there is something to be said about being able to have your students all day that builds that community. You are able to create an environment where your students know that they are part of something bigger than themselves, which allows them to take those risks you speak of and grow together. I am a strong believer in self-contained classrooms in the elementary. It's not our job to get them ready for middle school. It's our job to help them to become people who are curious and love to learn. We are about the whole child. I'm so glad you are back to blogging. You have an important message to share.

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    1. Thanks for the support, Julie! You are able to encapsulate my sentiments exactly. It's very easy to fall into the trap of intervention, RTI, value-added, growth measures, etc. With all the "change" and talking of "dreaming big" going around, I hope that we don't forget about the whole child.

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  4. As an "oldie" (K-8 certification), I've taught in a self-contained classroom for 12 years (out of the 26 years I've been teaching...also served as elementary librarian and gifted specialist). I wholeheartedly agree with you about teaching the "whole" child. It's so important (brain research, you know) to provide connections between concepts so that students truly learn. I loved having the time to use as it was dictated by the students...if we needed more time to just finish that read-aloud (this happened often!), then we used it. If we needed a bit longer to experiment with a Science concept, then we had it. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. As an "oldie" (K-8 certification), I've taught in a self-contained classroom for 12 years (out of the 26 years I've been teaching...also served as elementary librarian and gifted specialist). I wholeheartedly agree with you about teaching the "whole" child. It's so important (brain research, you know) to provide connections between concepts so that students truly learn. I loved having the time to use as it was dictated by the students...if we needed more time to just finish that read-aloud (this happened often!), then we used it. If we needed a bit longer to experiment with a Science concept, then we had it. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete