Sunday, October 5, 2014

Cause & Effect: Avoiding Comparisons & Embracing Teachable Moments

For the past six years as a 4th grade teacher, I have been intentional about learning everything there is to know about 9 & 10 year olds. In that time, I only really scratched the surface, but along the way I became a very confident and learned teacher of 4th grade students, standards and curriculum. Now, in my first year as a 2nd grade teacher, that confidence (that comes with years of trying and falling short and trying again until you finally get it right #Grit) falters and my learning curve shows as I start afresh on the quest to learn all there is to know about 6 & 7 year olds: How they tick, how they learn, what they need to know (and I daily hear this song in my head: “Started from the bottom now we’re here”) Some days it’s exciting, some days it’s humbling. Everyday (because of where I work and the students I am proud to serve) is a privilege, and so it goes.

There are aspects of switching from teaching an Intermediate grade to a Primary grade that are completely new. I rarely taught phonemes, letter formation, and consonant blends to 4th graders. That’s all new, and finding my way through new material (that I haven’t really considered since college) is interesting and exciting- like visiting a foreign country and finding your way through streets, towns, coasts, and villages that you’ve only studied in maps and seen in pictures (read: adventure..for better or worse) The part of my change that has been (at times) the most unnerving, is how much of what I’m expected to teach in 2nd grade is reminiscent of what I taught in 4th. The first couple of times that I saw a familiar concept, I got excited- Example: Main Idea & Supporting Details: I thought “YESSS finally something I know inside and out, something I have resources for and tried and true methods of teaching! Hooray for spiraling curriculum! Hooray for familiar territory!” The trouble is, that when I attempted to teach a concept to 2nd graders in the same way that I had taught it to 4th graders, I found that my confidence quickly deflated as my once stellar lesson now fell flat in the criss-crossed-applesauce laps of students I was determined to be MORE for (more than the version of me who is still figuring it all out). Ugh.

Through this, I’m gaining a deeper understanding for the concept of “fundamentals”. I’m also learning that in all adventures (life, love, career, etc) it really is true what Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” If you look at something through the lens of what WAS, instead of through the lens of what IS, well then you’re not REALLY seeing what you’re looking at- and so you will miss the joy of what is while looking back at what was (Pardon me, as I wax philosophical). So this week, when I saw the recognizable concept of Cause & Effect in my curriculum, I went through the typical cycle in my head. First, a happy flutter at the familiarity in this unfamiliar territory. Then a quick spinning through the mental rolladex of successful methods I know from my experience- I pause at an old favorite, a video clip from Benjamin Button that I’ve loved and used with my fourth graders that illustrates Cause & Effect Beautifully (and by beautifully, I’m not referring to Brad Pitt, promise.) I decide quickly, that it won’t work for this grade level (as it was a stretch even for late 4th graders). I find some 2nd grade Cause/Effect resources on TPT that go with the series "If You Give A Pig A Pancake" and I saddle up for some trial and error once again.

About halfway through first period Math class, we all jump as some posters that were stored above my cabinets, come dislodged and fall to the ground. Along with them comes a life-sized cutout of the Little Old Lady who swallowed the fly, and as she hangs there dangling from my cabinet happens...educator LIGHTNING strikes! As my students complete their daily math “quick check” I scrap the plan I had and embrace the new one forming. I rush to my classroom library, on a new mission- In the 5 minutes it takes them to finish their work, I locate the books I’m looking for, find a video clip to go with it, and sneakily fill my mini super soaker up with water and hide it out of sight.

We start with the @BrainPopJr Interactive video that was part of my originally planned lesson. Then we have a discussion about Cause & Effect. I’m not deepening knowledge here, but introducing the words AND concepts to my students for the first time, and so, the pressure is on to make it memorable. We read through the books I found: giggling, reenacting and interacting with our “little old lady”. I can see the concept is starting to take root. The vocabulary (differentiating between “cause” and “effect”) is still coming along, but I can see the seed has been planted (and into very smiley soil) and this makes my teacher-heart happy!

At the end of the lesson, I pull out my little super soaker for another real-life, meaningful, connection to cause and effect, and because, well, if your job affords you the opportunity to pull out a super-soaker with purpose, you should totally do it! Throughout the rest of the day we related every single thing back to cause and effect and I could see synapses firing and dendrites growing. At the very end of the day I explained to the students that I really had another Cause/Effect lesson planned, but BECAUSE the little old lady fell from the ceiling, the EFFECT was that I got this idea to take us in a totally different direction..and sometimes magic happens that way.

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