The beginning of the year brings with it many things: new faces, new clothes, new experiences, new books to read, and assessments. Lots of assessments. Luckily for me, I know many of my students really well already, since we were together last year, but even still I need to learn the “2nd grade version” of them.
One particular assessment that I have a love-hate relationship with is the F&P (that’s just what we call it because it’s from Fountas and Pinnell; it’s a reading assessment). I love it because of the deep, rich information it gives me about my kiddos as readers and how it helps me tailor my instruction to just what they need. I kind of hate it, though, because it takes FOREVER to administer. It involves a student reading a book to you aloud and then answering the comprehension questions to demonstrate their understanding of the text (there are both fiction and non-fiction titles included).
Sounds easy, right? Well it is relatively easy to administer, but when you add in the fact that there are 21 students in my class and sometimes you have to read 2 or 3 stories until you find the student’s instructional level, you can quickly add up to a lot of time necessary to finish the job.
So, that’s where the idea of the agenda comes in. It’s my attempt at having my students working on meaningful, important learning activities independently so that I can spend time 1-on-1 with students to finish my assessments. Win-win, right?
We did this kind of thing on a smaller scale last year a couple of times, which gave me the courage to try it again now that we are 2nd graders. The difference this go-round was that the time frame was longer (two school days instead of a morning) and that the assignments were on a little bit bigger scale (last time it was mostly finish-up work).
Now, before I gave it to my students I ran it by one of my most important helpers–my son, Riley, who was a 2nd grader last year. Even at 8, he’s really good at looking at things I’m considering and thinking about them in terms of what other students would say. And he did have some thoughts. He suggested that there was TOO MUCH on the page and that many kiddos (him included) would be overwhelmed by the number of things they had to do. I appreciated this insight, and actually had a plan, then, for how to modify the list for those that might need more support.
Wednesday morning came and it was time to share my crazy-cool plan with my students. I was SUPER excited with how enthusiastic they were about the whole thing. They were blown away with how they could make so many important choices, with how they got to decide when they would do each thing (meaning we’d have all different subjects and projects happening at the same time!), and with how fun the opportunities sounded!
So here’s what the agenda looked like:
Students could choose to do them in any order and spend as much time as they needed to on each one, with the goal of being done by the end of the second day. We had a conversation before we got started about different ways to tackle such a big list, as well as how we would have to work responsibly and respectfully so that everyone could complete the challenge. At several points throughout the days we stopped for check-ins, to have students share insights they were having, ask questions about things they may have been confused about, or make suggestions for how to make the work more manageable.
Overall, I was SUPER impressed with how things went! I would have to say that the way they were able to manage their time and materials was even beyond what I expected. Before we started, we made a big deal about how the important part was that they were able to work independently, freeing me up to finish my reading interviews with everyone. It was great to hear how they problem-solved together, sometimes asking multiple classmates until they found their answer. I do have to mention on conversation I overhead that I thought was particularly funny (and helpful!). Someone was asking what they were supposed to do on a certain assignment, and a friend’s matter-of-fact response was “Well did you read the directions yet? That’s why she wrote all that on there for you–so you’d know what to do!” Hee hee. Yes, I giggled a little at her answer. But she was right. 🙂 And yes, she did offer help when the kiddo came back because he had a question about those directions. 🙂 Many times I heard friends reminding each other not to bother me or even asking “How can I help you?” when they knew their friend needed something. Nice!
Having done this once, and getting really positive reviews on it from my students, I will definitely be doing it more regularly this year. Ideally, I’d have some version of this happening all the time, with me having time to pull small groups and do 1-on-1 teaching as often as I could to help meet individual needs. I feel like there are structures in place already in our classroom that allow for that focused attention, but anytime I can add more student choice into the mix, I’d say that’s a good thing.
So as I go into it a second time, I’m considering these questions:
- Were there too many things on the list? What students may have been overwhelmed by the sheer length of the list? How can I better modify the agenda to meet the needs of every student?
- Were the activities the “right” ones? What else could we have done (with content or with product) to push thinking and challenge kids to dig deep with their learning?
- Is it necessary for students to complete everything on the list? Would a “must-do” and “can-do” type list be more ideal? Is there a way for students to be more in charge of what was on the list? Could they be given a learning target or essential question to investigate and then plan the activity they’d do to address that focus?
Regardless of what we decide to do next time, I’m excited for how this first attempt went. Kids were focused, they had fun, they got things done, they made decisions, they solved problems, and I got some assessments completed. And I even had a couple of teachers visiting from another school who happened to pop in while we were doing this and they said it was working. Gotta love outside eyes to help you make sure it’s not all in your head! Way to go, Rm. 202 kiddos!!