As educators many of us have had to comply with curriculum pacing guide schedules. This can dampen the creativity of any teacher and result in boring lessons, frustration and resentment. A seasoned teacher might have to decrease the use or completely give up wonderful unit studies and creative high quality teaching methods to keep pace. Comparatively a first year teacher can be trained to blindly follow a curriculum guide in order to handle the steep learning curve that comes with the job. No matter your role in education I think we can all agree that pacing guides support consistency, efficient systems, vertical alignment and core curriculum which are vital to student academic growth. However if these are in place then something must be included that activates a students desire to learn while decreasing cookie-cutter style teaching. Successful teachers have that something. I have that something. I would like to share that something with you. If you already have it then please share it with others!
The ability I have to spark students interest to learn developed over time. I began working with children who have unique learning styles over thirty years ago. For twenty of those years I spent time with children and young adults who had many different types of disabilities. Discovering personalized strategies to help these individuals master academic and life skills was part of the job. Growth in these areas was due to creative thinking combined with specific systems to reach goals. I also helped care for my adopted brothers who were born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. This gave me a unique understanding of how the same disability can effect each individual differently. Some of my most powerful experiences related to engaging students happened while raising my own five children. One who has ADD & dyslexia showed me his uniquely brilliant way of looking at things in his world. We discovered that when we utilized personal interests it created successful experiences which in turn motivated him to work hard. These experiences are the foundation of my personal teaching philosophy and style.
I am now a public school elementary teacher. Four of my five years of service have been in an inclusion model classroom. I was one of those first year teachers tasked with strictly following a pacing guide. I quickly began to loose my enthusiasm for teaching and seriously considered leaving the profession after a difficult second year. My independent nature and support from my family would not allow me to give up though. I began to “sneak in” fun creative lessons. I needed to consider how to reach my students by providing an inclusive environment. This meant that I had to magically create more time in the day, develop lessons that were varied, interesting and differentiated. I needed to work within the boundaries of our schools pacing guide system. It was daunting at first but I figured it out. Would you like to bend from constraining mandates or strongly suggested methods of teaching? The following things help me to deliver high quality education to my students while growing professionally and remaining respectful of my administrators goals. They are simply good reminders of great teaching values.
Relationships: The number one priority, as we know, is getting to know the students. Relationships matter! Create the classroom culture that mirrors a “functional family” where respect, caring, friendship and positive support are the hallmarks of the students daily experiences. It is never too late in the year to make that happen.
Core Standards: When you work within the boundaries of a pacing guide system an important tip is to tie your fun and creative lessons to the core standards being covered that day, week, or unit. Using a teacher made lesson instead of a worksheet is never wrong if it covers the same academic standards.
Professional Learning/Telling Your Story: Social media platforms have become a common professional tool. Connecting this way will help you figure out how to accomplish your goals within a pacing guide system. You need to get started if you have not explored this option yet. I enjoy using twitter to tell my teaching story and to follow other amazing educators for inspiration and encouragement. My handle is @CorbellHiAk. The Voxer App for smart phones and PC’s has also tremendously impacted my professional growth over the last 5 years. Check it out! Education Topic Voxer Groups to Join
Student Growth: Data sometime feels like a dirty word when overused for tracking academic results but the fact of the matter is that along with all other education stakeholders, students want to know how they are doing. Showing them their growth is the key. Make sure that when you design your lessons, clear goals, rubrics, and timelines are included to support your right to use professional autonomy. Have your documents at the ready to show and inspire your colleagues, coaches and admin team. Hattie-Things that effect student achievement.
Group Work: For all students collaboration enhances learning. It may take a little extra time to teach group work learning expectations, but it is another way to find flexibility within a pacing guide system. I thoroughly enjoy working with a small group or one-on-one. It is another opportunity to get a sense of individual needs. I have found that my students consistently love to show what they know during these intimate learning windows.
Fun Factor: Last but not least we need to smile, laugh, be loud, move alot, chat, dance and be merry during SOME of the teaching day. You know the appropriate times to do this for whichever grades you teach. Sing your students praises, post their best work, verbally brag about them to their peers and anyone else who will listen. Students will work hard in this environment. Less time is spent managing behaviors decreasing negative factors.
To Close: One of my go to lessons that I highly recommend trying. Popsicle Stick Plays
Example: Grade 4
Use commas and quotation marks to mark direct speech and quotations from a text.
Worksheets are BORING! Instead have the students write a story with a setting, plot, characters and dialogue. The key to this academic activity is to add some “fun”. Have your kids draw the setting and create popsicle characters. This takes more time but boy is it worth it! My students used our privacy three fold testing boards to attach the backdrops and then perform a play of their stories. The light bulb of understanding lit when many characters were not actually talking during their first performance. After peer review and discussion the final draft included accurate dialogue. Collaboration at its best!
Most students wanted to be the next to perform. Shyness disappears when your behind a screen and your classmates are learning along with you. Infusing humor, art, performance, speaking and listening into a writing lesson provides the richness needed to reach all learners in the classroom. It works! The best part is that the kids do not want to stop learning and improving when time is given to enriching lessons. Teaching this way is the right way!
If your a teacher tweet a lesson that turned the understanding on for your students and bent your pacing guide in a positive way! @CorbellHiAk