Starting nearly ten years ago, I reluctantly cast aside the cutesy, fun construction paper projects once so commonly completed in first grade classrooms. It became clear to me that because of the shortened academic time available to me and my students (due to their emotional and behavioral issues), I had to prioritize both time and attention.
It was painful: if the activity directly supported student achievement as defined by county standards (this was the early 90’s, pre-NCLB), then we did it. That meant that lots of paper bag puppets, dioramas, and other “artistic responses to literature” went undone. I felt guilty about it then, and even a little sad. What adorable projects would their parents be able to save for posterity’s sake? How would my students feel when they noticed their general ed. friends came home on the bus each day with colorful, attractive items in hand?
Who knew I was so ahead of my time?
Educational consultant Mike Schmoker addresses this issue in a recent article about school improvement. Schmoker insists that if we focus on (gulp!) improving instruction, we will make the changes necessary to improving student achievement overall.
Schmoker laments “What are students doing instead of reading and writing? They are coloring, cutting, pasting, watching movies, filling in work sheets and designing book jackets in ratios that overwhelm actual reading and writing.”
Schmoker goes on to blame teaching’s culture of isolation for these “abuses”. “Teachers are largely left alone. And principals, despite the hard, heroic work they do, don’t supervise instruction. They never have, and they have never been adequately helped to do so.”
But back then, the entire grade level team decided together which crafty activity to do. Isolation wasn’t the problem.
It seems to me it was a lack of focus, a blurring of priorities.
So I will hold my head higher next year when my new intern asks me about our language arts curriculum. I will be proud to say that we focus our time and attention (however abbreviated) on literacy activities to directly improve reading and writing skills.
And when together the first grade team chooses learning activities that directly support our instructional goals, I won’t feel bad. Even general ed students are doing less and less of the crafty, fun activities.
I’ll still hate that we don’t have time for wind sock-making and picture frame decoration. After all, I was a first grader once myself.