Themes and Routines

| February 22, 2011

Though my kids have always eagerly finished their morning routines so they could be ready for our sessions, only recently has this turned into a competitive frenzy to be the first one into the hall. Of course, I encourage them to be kind and supportive of one another, and so I express my disapproval of this particular behavior. But I am also delighted, because I know that their teacher is amazing and their classroom environment is ideal – these kids aren’t just trying to get out of class. They convey a genuine excitement about our ongoing projects and routine. They come prepared to engage the material, and what’s more, they’ve clearly spent time thinking about our work prior to our meetings.

Our week is split into four themes: Movie Mondays, Testing Tuesdays, Reading Wednesdays, and Thumptin Thursdays. The kids are completely used to this routine by now, and know exactly what to expect. We spend Mondays working on our digital portfolios. My students are creating original short films, employing the fundamentals of narratives and story writing. They are currently working in Photoshop to arrange each frame in their animation.

Tuesdays is spent working on various test-taking skills. While this day elicits the least excitement from the kids, they consistently engage the material and show progress. One of our major goals is to address the negative emotions that accompany tests. I am extremely proud of one student who, after twenty-five minutes of getting through a lesson and some sample questions, dared his worksheet to “bring it on!” In making our testing sessions rigid yet fun, I hope that these kids will be more comfortable the next time they sit down to their state exams. So far, the kids have retained every lesson we have covered regarding testing.

Reading Wednesdays is a chance for the kids to catch up on their level book assignments, with help and guidance. We typically read whichever book they have in their reading box and complete the required summary together. I have noticed considerable improvement in their summarizing skills, as compared to the beginning of the year. In fact, the other day, one of my students was leveled up from a 2.5 to a 2.7. I happened to be in the classroom when the teacher told her. She was absolutely beaming!

Thumptin Thursdays lets the kids develop their independent learning skills. They have to choose topics of study; fish, cakes, and jet planes are some examples of these topics. We spend most of this time reading and learning about their topics, and split this up with brief art and written assignments centering on their chosen topic. One child is reading The Witches, by Roald Dahl. We spend the first twenty five minutes of our session getting through a chapter, and the last five minutes learning how to juggle. By the end of the year, we will have finished this book and she will be well on her way to a career in the circus.

I was surprised at their commitment to this routine. Their classroom teacher was unable to come in last Thursday, and so my materials were inaccessible, locked in the closet. The kids were moved to a different part of the school, and I thought it best to postpone two of their sessions until the following the day (normally I am in the classroom on Fridays). As soon as we sat down the following day, one of my students proclaimed that it was, “Frumptin Fridays.” I was blown away – I think it’s working…

My students have shown incredible progress and I am so proud of them. I also recognize that their classroom experience is as good as any third grade can be. I know that my kids would not be making this progress were they not spending the rest of the day in a supportive and caring learning environment. I have amazing respect for their teacher – she is incredibly intelligent, gentle yet firm, energetic and funny, and she knows exactly what she’s doing. I try to express my gratitude to her daily, as she supports this program to the fullest.

It is becoming more and more clear that it’s not just the kids who are learning and growing. As I develop daily lesson plans catered to each individual student, I am strengthening my pedagogical skills. As I continue to get know my students, I learn more about the rewards of working with youth. While I can only hope that my buddies will take our lessons into the future, I know for sure that I will continue to pay these lessons forward.