Well, we won the top attendance award again this month…which makes it every month this school year except January (we had a nasty case of the flu go around the class, so we came in second). It’s getting so bad that at the assembly when the attendance awards are presented, my students look at me with raised hands to be chosen to accept the award before the winning class is even announced. Every month I pray that another class would win…not just to keep my little learners’ egos in check, but because I genuinely want another class to win because their attendance is so great.
Most of you know how I feel about awards (as in I despise them) so I am going to look at this from more of a teaching practice point of view. The why behind winning these awards is really what interests me-why are my students coming to school more this year? Why are there fewer lates? Why has this group of grade 3′s dramatically improved their attendance over their grade two rates last year? And why has my class attendance improved over my class from last year?
We took the data from our “Attendance Matters” program. Tia has been very helpful in collating and analyzing the attendance data. (And she took great joy in telling me (and I quote) “wow, your attendance really sucked last year!” (In the nicest possible way…I just love that!)
This is my first full year back after several part years due to two high-risk pregnancies and maternity leaves, but looking back at my previous full years at our school from 2005-2009, I can honestly say my students’ attendance has never been this good. Before, I blamed it on poverty, lack of parent involvement, it’s just the way these kids are…but never really looked at my teaching practice and what I was doing to make my students want to come to school.
I know there are many reasons why my students are at school more this year: we are doing way more project based learning, Genius Hour, The Daily 5 literacy program, individual spelling, my brillant teaching partner is doing fantastic hands-on math and science lessons…we have six iPads that live in our room this term…all of which is great and the students love.
Students are in charge of their learning, building their own learning plans, conferencing and getting more feedback than ever before…I love the quiet, somewhat organized chaos in my room and the kids seem to thrive in having the power to choose how they represent their learning and even how they explore what they are learning.
But I think the real reason is the way we start our day. In previous years I have done a “Big 5″ type start to the day, students at desks completing 5 questions off the board-review for math or language arts. I have to confess, I’ve always hated it. Hated coming up with five questions that had very little context or connection for kids, hated the way some students never finished, hated the way some students finished quickly and then were at loose ends, hated marking it and having no good reason to put that data in my mark book, other than under the “review” column. Hated the way I had to close the door to parents who walk their children to school and who want nothing more than to chat about how their son/daughter is getting along in school. I did “Big 5″ because that is what I knew from teacher training and what so many other more experienced teachers did.
Frustrated, I chucked the big five and decided to do centers. Yes, centers. I know it’s grade three, but even as a former grade 7 teacher, now I would do centers at the beginning of the day, every day of the week, no matter the age group.
I used to do centers at the end of the day as a time where students who aren’t finished could finish work and those that worked quickly could have some free time. Ouch. Yeah, that sucks. How terrible for those students who struggle? They never got to play the fun games, to be social on their terms. I never realized at the time how punitive it was. And for those students who “got their work done” what incentive was it to do a thorough, high quality job? None.
So we start the day with no pressure-we play. The kids love it. Nobody wants to miss center time so they are on time to school every morning. The only responsibility the kids have is to get their chair ready and leave their planner open on their desk. We ease into the day with kids choosing how they want to start. Do they need to be social? Do they need solitary time? Do they need to be moving or still? There are a variety of options of play for students to do and ways to be in the classroom. Their are a variety of places to work, options for sitting-floor, bean bags, “special” spots (rocking chairs, camp chairs, a child size recliner and club chair.) One of my goals for next year is to expand my centers repertoire to give much more choice.
Because the students are engaged in their own choices, there is very little for me to teach and very few behaviours to mediate. I get to visit with parents, check planners, deal with notes/permission slips/collect money or simply sit on the floor with different groups of kids and chat. I get to play games or help with projects (many work on their Genius Hour projects). Sometimes parents come into the classroom and hang out with the students and share what they know too.
At nine o’clock after a 5 minute warning, students clean up, return to their desks and put their planners away. We chat about the shape of our day, share news and get on with our day. Happy kids, happy teacher. Life is good.
I’m so glad I get to come to school too.