When I was asked the other day, “What’s it like being a fourth grade teacher?” For me, It's a lot more than the field trips to the mission at San Juan Capistrano, the Julian gold mine, the fish dissection at Birch Aquarium. And it's beyond the seaweed smorgasbord in our classroom during ocean week studying the kelp forest habitat. For me, it's showing gratitude to all my teachers and giving back. It's empowering students with the skills and tools needed in life, and showing them that we're always being tested. We don't just study for a 'big test' because we are continually tested and given opportunities to learn and grow all the time. Sometimes we just need help seeing it. That's the job of a teacher.
Fourth grade is it’s own little community where developing cohesiveness and sense of purpose inside the classroom means showing students you care about them, their thoughts, feelings, efforts, and learning. It’s sharing and collaborating, celebrating mistakes, pushing each other’s thinking. It’s growing together, refining thoughts, and resetting goals to achieve personal and collective bests. In our class: We are #littleninjas so ‘We go above and beyond.’
It’s helping students see why their education is important by reading, discussing, and comparing their experiences to powerful stories like Malala Yousafzai’s book, I am Malala. It’s having whole class powerful discussions where students appreciate their opportunities and recognize their responsibilities. It’s taking these connections and building upon them in smaller book club books through the year.
It’s helping students see the value of community responsibility, by taking the connections, inspiration, and ideas we’ve formed together and extending them outside the classroom, questioning and asking, “How can we make an positive impact or difference in the lives of others?” In fourth grade it’s helping veterans in the Warrior Foundation. From having bake sales to raising money for food and care of Canine Companions for Independence service dogs. To baking cookies for military service families during the holidays.
Students learn in fourth grade how to become independent learners. They begin holding themselves accountable by setting daily individual, skill-based, measurable goals and taking time to reflect, confer with teachers, meet in partnerships: resetting short-term and long-term goals.
They know what the term academic rigor means, and they know academic rigor is balanced with movement or “brain breaks” to get energized, refocused, and in charge of their next segment of learning.
It’s about becoming critical readers and problem solvers when exploring topics like the Gold Rush, Westward Expansion, or Women of the West. With amazing technology, there is an abundance of content quickly available. By modeling and teaching reasoning and problem solving vs. just finding content helps students develop skills to determine reputable sources, look up information, form new ideas - using text evidence to agree, disagree, change their thinking, offer critiques, and start to examine author background or bias.
It's about giving students time to explore questions deeply: about process, reasoning, and critical thinking is crucial because it allows students to work through problems - persevere, show grit, until they get it, see it, remember it, feel it, and share it. Using mathematical visual models, or hands-on manipulative to solve exemplars are ways students build, clarify, show and share conceptual knowledge about fractions, decimals, multiplication, and division.
It’s about developing independence in students -showing them they are part of the bigger community but in charge of their own learning at any moment. By giving them the tools and feedback, they know they’ll only get out of fourth grade the amount of effort they put into it. They will be held accountable, but more importantly is the idea of trusting themselves, holding themselves accountable, by reaching or exceeding their goals everyday. They realize there is a direct correlation between feeling good and giving their best effort every day.
From developing a sense of community, to personal responsibility, to making a difference in the lives of others, becoming independent learners and critical thinkers who question, make connections, keep moving, face their fears to grow, show grit, and develop new ideas is what fourth grade is all about.
Fourth grade is a pretty cool place that I get to visit everyday, where students feel smart and strong when they go above and beyond. They are empowered learners whom I have the opportunity to guide. That’s what teaching fourth grade is like for me.