On Friday all three of my second grade students were absent for various reasons. These three girls also happen to be my most lively and talkative. When I plan my lessons I frequently plan with them in mind and then think of ways I can differentiate for the other students. This way I'm holding out high expectations for all my kids and the kindergartners and first graders benefit from the strong examples the second graders set.
Without our three class leaders on Friday we were struggling. I hadn't even realized how much I rely on my second graders for class discussions, choral reading, and just general liveliness. Typing this sounds like I only teach my high students and I leave the rest to just watch, but that's not what happens (at least I hope not). I do, however, structure my lessons so that my higher students are pulling the other students up. One of my kindergarten students, who came in unable to recognize her name in print and didn't know any of the numbers or letters of the alphabet is now flying because of how much she works with the second graders. They model more than I could teach without them.
When they were gone on Friday it brought a huge downside to self contained programs like mine to light. When there are no language models, no one to giggle with the story, sing along to the repetitive learning-rich songs, there are less opportunities for the other kids to learn.
And the other question to ask is- if the second graders are pulling the other kids up academically, who is pulling up my second graders? In the case of all three of them I would argue that they are in the right placement for their learning needs, but it is still a good question to ask myself- am I giving them opportunities for learning growth? Am I keeping high expectations for them like I am for my other students?
I fully believe in self contained programs like mine for certain children. I have seen it be the absolute best learning environment for some children- I have seen these children thrive in these smaller environments as opposed to flounder and be forgotten in the bigger, faster-paced classrooms. However, on Friday, with my four quiet, reserved students my class felt pretty restrictive. Kids learn from one another and there wasn't much of that going on without my second grade kiddos.
Two of my kiddos are making a ridiculous amount of progress- progress that no one ever expected them to make in such a short time- and I truly believe it is because they are in with these second grade language models. If these older girls were not in our classroom the younger students would remain as they were when they came into my classroom. The rooms they'd been in the year before didn't offer the language models and high expectations my second graders provide. This meant that no one even knew to push these kids or give them the opportunity for growth. It's not my teaching that's driving them ahead- it's the opportunities and models they've been given.
It once again reminded me of what a serious decision it needs to be when a child is placed in a self contained school setting. It can be the absolute best thing for a child, but it can also be limiting depending on factors outside of the control of the IEP team. I know I've written this time and time again, but it just isn't a decision that can be taken lightly. I just wish every school system and every IEP team takes the time to consider the decision in every possible light.