Thursday, January 22, 2015

Taking Instructional Risks

Every afternoon when I pick up my fourth grade reading group I'm met by one student's question, "Are we going to get to write our own play today?" 
And every afternoon my answer is, "Not today."

In December I did Readers' Theater with the group and was blown away by how it motivated them to work, especially one student. This student is usually difficult to keep on task but in this case he was working ridiculously hard. He was so excited by the assignment that the one day when I couldn't pick up the group he convinced his teacher to let them sit in the hallway and practice the play together. Fabulous, right? At the end of the whole experience he asked me if they could do another play, but one about super heroes. Since I don't actually have a play about super heroes I said sure, as long as they wrote it themselves. I told him if he brought me a play he'd written we could put it on, as long as it was appropriate.

So far he hasn't brought me a play he has written, but he is begging to write it in class. He's clarified with me what is appropriate ("Laser beams, Mrs. Lipstick, are they OK? Like, if you use laser beams to blow someone up? No? OK, well what if you use them to cook a hot dog. OK?"), has asked his peers what parts they want to be and what should happen in the play. I am dying to sit down and write this play with him because the amount of teachable moments could be amazing. It would hit so many of the instructional objectives of what he needs to learn.

Except there is no time.

The reading group is significantly below grade level. I read with them for 30 minutes a day, four days a week. I already feel guilty for spending time in December on Readers Theater, even though they all needed to work on their fluency and reading familiar texts helped with that.

Everyone in the group is also an English Language Learner and is participating in an alternative portfolio assessment to the state testing. In a lot of ways this is great, except that it takes so long to complete each work sheet for this portfolio that there is barely time to actually teach the kids to read, let alone let them write a play for fun.

The teacher in me is dying inside. The necessary evil of the portfolio assessment aside, I'm torn between the need to get the students to read, read, read to improve their reading level and the need to let them write and perform a play- which they would probably get more out of academically than anything I could actually teach. Sadly, there just isn't time. First priority is the portfolio assessment, which we are woefully behind on because the student motivation is so lacking that it takes almost two group sessions to collect one worksheet. The next priority (which should be the first priority) is to get them to do some serious reading so they can make a year's growth (ideally more). 

The group has even asked if they can have lunch with me to write the play. I'm dying inside when I say no, they can't because I'm working with other students during their lunch time. These fourth grade students who are below grade level want to give up their lunch time to write. 

I have to somehow find a balance between their motivation and what we need to do in the little time we have. It feels horribly unfair to me that these students do not get to participate in creative academic tasks because they are so below grade level, when if I let them participate in the creative tasks they could possibly make more academic growth. It's the possibility word in that sentence that's the problem. Giving them the time it takes to write the play is a risk of losing valuable instructional time. What if it doesn't help their growth? Every moment I have with this group is so valuable I can't waste it. How do I decide to use each precious minute?


The Science Goddess said...

Is there another teacher, paraeducator, librarian, parent-volunteer, secretary, or other adult who could sit with them at lunch while they write their play?

Anonymous said...

My fourth grade student teaching class many years ago was all lower achievers. They had been picked to be together so that a good teacher could rally them. We did do a student writing project that so entranced them that they did not need adult participation all the time; I just checked their work and figured out good feedback for them.

organized chaos said...

Science Goddess- I love the idea of someone sitting with them at lunch. I'm mulling that one over and hopefully I'll think of someone who can do it.

Anonymous- that's so cool and sounds so much like what is happening here. They are all from different classrooms so there isn't really an opportunity for me to let them just go.