How can I provide more experiences for my students outside of the classroom?
How can I allow our region’s culture to come alive from the experiences of my classroom?
Would my students be more engaged through a project of their own?
These are questions I have wrestled with all of last year. It has amazed me to see the experiences my students are missing out on. Things I took for granted when I was young are rarely occurring within the lives of my students. Over the past year I learned from an acquaintance how impactful a garden was at her school. While learning about her experience, it never came to mind that it would be possible for me.
Daily, I would look out at this space and wonder how it could be used. I often thought about my friend’s experience and wondered if I could achieve the same project. It wasn’t until this grant application was released that I decided it could be possible. While looking at my standards it became more and more clear how impactful a garden could be for my students. This would provide students with hands-on experiences, connection to our area’s culture, development of teamwork, and real world application to our standards.
Making Sense of Reading
Why don’t all students fall in love with reading? I have taught kindergarten, first, and second grade and at each of those levels my students always preferred math over reading. I have always implemented technology within both math and reading, the books were always colorful, I always read the read-aloud as if I were on Broadway, and I put as much passion into planning reading lessons as I did math. So then, what was the difference? Why did my students never get as excited for reading as they did math class?
This past school year I got the privilege to refine my math practices, I learned a lot about how to be effective in teaching math, how to make it impactful, and how to get my students engaged. While my math instruction thrived, even while virtual, I watched reading suffer. Virtually, reading was dead. Very few of our first grade students grew in reading fluency during virtual learning. Reflecting on this it was easy to see why. Due to a grant I received last year math instruction during virtual learning was able to occur as normal as possible. Students had their hands on materials, and I was able to use the same resources that I would have if we were all in person. My students were also as engaged during virtual instruction as they were in the classroom. Reading however, was the complete opposite. Students did not have hands-on materials and all the resources we had were on the screen. It wasn’t until after virtual learning we realized that our reading instruction just didn’t come alive the way our math instruction did.
Why does only math instruction have to use manipulatives? We often use hands-on materials for math and science, so why does reading have to be left out? Is this the missing piece to falling in love with reading? Given the status of the current school year I’ve become more and more concerned about how my reading students will learn. This summer I have been researching ways to improve my reading instruction. Moving forward I want to incorporate more manipulatives and technology, for the visual and kinesthetic learners. For those students who give up if something seems too hard, I will need to help them make sense of things. Reading is complex, and while there are rules, there are always rule breakers. Due to this, I will also have to focus my reading instruction on helping my students to “make sense of reading”.
If I could make my lessons both hands-on and virtual, I could keep making my students feel as excited about reading as they do math. If I could keep them engaged through hands-on materials, combined with engaging technology then my students could make sense of challenging concepts and could maintain their confidence. If I were to receive this grant, I would be creating manipulative bags for each student within first grade. Within these bags I would enclose manipulatives that can be used for fluency, word decoding, and spelling. By including these items in individual bags, I can limit the amount of touching contact between students, allow the students to utilize the bags for at-home virtual learning if needed, and decrease the amount of transition time within my lessons. Within those bags will be manipulatives to help with decoding and spelling, and mirrors to help visualize how the mouth moves on new sounds. My last few items listed for this project are for STEM purposes which will allow me to utilize low-tech STEM in addition to the higher tech STEM that I plan to utilize within lessons. The circuit lights and motor kits will allow my students to create circuit game boards that will require them to use their reading skills from lessons into real-world game design applications.
To measure the effectiveness of using manipulatives and hands-on resources, I would compare the beginning of the year lessons, those that are before I have received my materials and am able to distribute manipulatives to those lessons after manipulatives are received by students. This will allow me to see the effectiveness of using manipulatives within the same students. I would also administer surveys to students about reading lessons before handing out materials and conduct another survey after a few lessons with materials to get a measurement of my students’ opinions. I would alternate lessons between manipulatives only, technology only, and a combination, comparing exit tickets and other assessments to determine the most effective method of lesson design. I can rotate manipulative groups, comparing exit slips and other formative assessments to collect data to support the use of manipulatives. This will allow me to see the difference within the exact same lesson content, delivery, and strategies.
If my project is successful, then my students’ love for reading would be comparable for math. Learning could continue during at home learning and hopefully inspire other teachers to use hands on manipulatives and materials along with technology more often. So often technology is pushed that teachers forget it’s still acceptable, even beneficial to use manipulatives too. Reading isn’t one or the other subject area. Lessons don’t have to be solely technology focused or hands on focused, they can be combined. I firmly believe that reading is a subject area that needs to come alive, and while that can be achieved through technology, our students also need the sense of touch.
This learning innovation grant will help me achieve my ideal classroom by giving me the training to create lesson plans that will allow for cross-content incorporation, and integration of STEAM, growth mindset, diversity, writing, and literacy. With this training and support, I can make designing lessons like this more of a habit instead of something that takes me weeks to plan. The technology and subscriptions from this grant will help to solve problems that I will soon face as we move towards hybrid learning where I will be teaching virtual and in-person simultaneously. These resources would help meet my desired emphasis on personalized learning and help support students with learning gaps from virtual learning. With this added challenge facing me soon, I will only move further away from my ideal classroom. My attention and planning will be more divided, and I will have even less time for the above mention aspects that I would want to have within my classroom. In addition to helping me with the challenges of hybrid learning and learning gaps from the pandemic, the iPad and Apple pen would increase the amount of technology that my students can use and would increase my virtual lesson efficiency and technology integration.