Where to now?
Today was rough. I imagine most of my frustrations are self-inflicted, but I have to wonder how much came from the students today.
It started with a handful of students not reading during an independent reading time this morning. I like to give my students opportunities to read throughout the day; read things that excite them or just interest them. A lot of my students enjoy these pockets of reading. Others apparently do not. A few students were off task–flipping pages, chatting with a neighbor, staring into oblivion–doing the usual things fifth graders do when avoiding something. After several suggestions and a few pleas to read, or even find a new book, these students still could care less about their reading. Or at least it appeared that way.
Then I wrote this:
My question about reluctant readers soon became a much much bigger frustration. It wasn’t the fact that a number of students weren’t reading at the moment, it was another issue; an issue of student perseverance and patience in the learning process.
So how do you teach that?
I work at a Title I school. We average about 94% Free or Reduced Lunch. Our kids come from poor homes. There is no question about it. Most of my students live in the now. If they have a dollar, they have to spend–even if that means buying something for someone else. For many it is about instant gratification. Sadly, many come from homes where if they don’t take advantage of something today, it most likely will not be there tomorrow. They are impulsive. It is how they survive.
So how do you teach with that in mind?
And there isn’t much that motivates them unless they get to enjoy it now, now, or now. “Mustang Bucks” (fake money put into baskets for drawings) are a joke to most. Missing recess is an even bigger joke.
So how do you teach with that in mind, realizing that little motivates them other than the instant extrinsic novelties?
I truly am at a loss here. I spoke with them. I asked them. I tried to discuss it. I got nothing. I’ve been at this school for six years and this is the first time I’ve ever felt like this.
Where to now?
Update: I feel I need to provide a little more context. Last quarter we did a fairly substantial Solar System project. Students drew, at random, their topic–they genuinely enjoyed the thrill of not knowing what they would learn about. Then, each group designed two guiding questions. The questions were to guide their research and inquiry. We then let them loose. They were given expectation of what the final product should contain, but the form in which they presented that was up to them. They dove in. Many go lost in the oceans of Google results and found themselves mindlessly wondering from link to link. They need help focusing back on their questions as the process continued. This took a lot of time away from other things we had hoped to do. Focus and refocus became the words of the day.
Now we are in another quarter. We have started another project. This time they chose their topic as a team. We are looking at natural disasters historically and learning about their impact on those who suffered through them and the impact on science today. For this project though, we provided each group with a list of links and videos to use for their research. No Google for this one. We had hoped to focus their reading and learning. But for some reason, most (if not all) have fallen flat. No excitement. Minimal effort. It could be the content. It could be a number of things, I suppose. It just seems uncharacteristic of these students. Like I said, I’m at a loss.
I guess my other question is this: How do you provide students with choice in the direction of the next project without getting too far away from the content that you are obligated to present them throughout the year? It is difficult enough to expose them all to it. How do you determine what they need to master and what they need merely be exposed to? I refuse to look at “the test” and teach from that, but I also want to make sure my students feel confident every time they go into the lab to test. I’m torn between what I know my deserve in my classroom each day and what I feel obligated to “teach” them by the end of the school year.