I grew up with 3 siblings, 2 parents, and a wide variety of pets. Home was always a full and busy place. Even still, when any one of my family members was gone for any significant amount of time, nothing really meshed as well as it normally would. It's not like anything bad happened and we all definitely continued to live our lives as per usual, but something was just kind of off. What I started to realize, even then, is that often a cohesive whole is much better than it's separately functioning parts.
It is with this mentality that I have always tried to build up my classroom. From the beginning of the year I assert firmly and passionately the importance of my students looking after each other and working together using the unique talents that they possess. Today, for the first time, I realized how effective that tactic has become.
As I've mentioned, I have a class of 4th and 5th grade bilingual students. I only have 5 fourth graders because they were kind of like the overflow bilingual students given to me so as not to overload the other 4th grade bilingual teacher. When there are 4th grade events (like field trips) they get adopted by that teacher and I stay behind with my 5th graders. Today was one of those days.
I'm not sure if everyone else has noticed, but the last couple of months are definitely upon us. In a transitional grade it is especially obvious because my students are becoming alternately excited and terrified to go to middle school next year. This morning, I used our morning meeting, and the rare opportunity to be one-graded (yeah that's right) to discuss some of these impending issues. The students appreciated the ability to become slightly more prepared and to understand that my contact with them and their future teachers does not end here, so I feel that we used our time wisely.
I could not believe the difference in personality and overall dynamic while our 5 little fourth graders were gone. It was like having an entirely different class! What I learned today is that those five kids create some form of anchor for our class. They counter the naturally more boisterous older students. They also give the 5th graders someone to model behavior and provide guidance for. Without them, I'm pretty sure my students thought it was free-for-all time!
The most amazing part? When my students returned in the early afternoon, we were in the midst of our reading centers. They silently (and I mean SILENTLY) filtered in, grabbed their materials, joined their groups, and started participating as if they'd never left. And the energy in the classroom? It was a complete turnaround to efficient but still fun and engaging. And my face? The most hilarious thing of all was the look on MY face as everything returned to normal. I was sporting the most ridiculous childish grin from ear to ear as I watched the children return and my class settle in.
Like I said, the whole works so much better than it's parts separated out. I think it will always amaze that, with a bit of hard work and a lot of care, you can build a little community (almost like a family) in less than one school year.