Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Thicker Skin?

Thicker skin

I have always thought I had some pretty thick skin and could let little comments roll off my back but I haven't been able let some comments from colleagues go. 
Today in the staff lounge at lunch a colleague and friend made a comment about how she has had several students tell her they don't like science anymore and didn't like going.  This comment crushed me.  She said they do too much writing and they should be doing more hands on activities.
This year I started a new position in my building as the K-3rd grade science teacher. It was a well needed change from teaching 3rd grade language arts and I was excited about taking on the new role.  Our science curriculum is a complete program which our district buys into.  The kit for each unit is sent to our school with laid out lesson plans corresponding with the new science standards, science student journals and a built in assessment. 
It has been 15 years since the classroom teachers have had to teach the science curriculum, myself included so I have been diligently learning the new curriculum.  The lessons are a mixture of hands on investigations, read alouds, video clips, discussions and a lot of journal writing.  Students are expected to describe and explain their learning.  The assessment is mostly written responses with very little multiple choice which requires even the first graders to write answers to show their learning.  Knowing that an assessment is not the only tool to determine understanding I use it in combination with their everyday work in the journals to establish a grade.
The previous science instructor had no expectations for student journal entries.  Often times they did not even fill out the journal pages. They watched many videos, drew lots of pictures, and had free choice time during a 30 minute session. 
How can I follow this?
I have expectations, they are required to participate in class discussions, write complete answers that are legible and they are held accountable.  This curriculum is required to teach.  Coming from a 3rd grade classroom I know the expectations and what the state assessment requires of students.
Science is called a "special" but it can't be categorized with music and gym because it is an academic core that is assessed. 
This is my rationale but am I expecting too much?  Should I be trying to incorporate more hands on and less writing? 
Even though I am beginning to see some improvements in all of my students ability to write their thinking and learning or should I be trying to entertain and engage more with dazzling experiments.   My principal is watching closely to see the results. 
Should I get thicker skin or should I make some changes?


  1. Interesting post. I went through a similar thing a few years ago when I was hired to be a gifted specialist in a new gifted program. Two of the grades had students that were "Grandfathered" from the older program and didn't really match the new one, and they had a similar reaction, though they were older and more capable. I think once the students get adjusted to the expectations, they will appreciate what you are doing - and if they are learning a lot and their writing is improving, that will have lasting effects on their education. We also had problems with students and our switching to our Lucy Calkins writing - after 2 years, they don't really complain as much - they know the expectation. However, maybe you could keep a timer on to see how long they are doing any one activity - since they are young, maybe there's a way to add a little more interactive science at the beginning or stop the writing and give them some more frequent breaks so they can get up and use science. It sounds like a fun position and your kids are so lucky to have you!

  2. I would seriously consider your colleagues' comments. First of all, you are working hard and setting expectations. It is difficult not to take the comment personally because you pour your heart, soul, mind, and body into your work. However, look at event as a way to make learning science a more engaging experience for all your students.

    First, I would get student feedback about your class- using exit tickets, a parking lot, etc. Make sure you don't judge them for what they say- ask them for clarification and specific ideas on how to make changes that will increase their learning. Maybe you don't need to change everything, just make some modifications for students (like allow them to draw illustrations instead of write sometimes) or provide scaffolds until they build stamina.

    Here are some resources that might help you out:
    17,000 classroom visits can't be wrong by John Antonetti & James R. Garver
    Never Work Harder Than Your Students and Other Principles of Great Teaching by Robyn R. Jackson
    Science Notebooks, Second Edition: Writing About Inquiry by Lori Fulton & Brian Campbell
    Using Science Notebooks in Elementary Classrooms by Michael P. Klentschy
    51 Wacky We-Search Reports: Face the Facts With Fun by Barry Lane
    I See What You Mean (Second Edition): Visual Literacy K-8 by Steve Moline

    I think the students are very lucky to have a science teacher that has had the Language Arts background that you have. Just remember that writing nonfiction and in science is a different experience for them and one that they might not transfer what they know or are expected to do in Language Arts and Reading to your science class. Good luck!

  3. That's a tough question. I think we all go through that same type of questioning to a certain extent, no matter how long we've been teaching a subject or what the subject is. For me, I can tell things are out of balance when I'm not enjoying the lesson or activity. When it feels like I'm just dragging my kids through a lesson, I know I'm no longer teaching my students, I'm simply teaching the curriculum. I agree that science shouldn't be considered a "special," but at the same time, students should be excited to learn the material. Young kids are fascinated by science. I think it is possible to have academic expectations but to maintain that level of excitement as well. Not easy, just possible.

  4. I don't know how kindergarten classes compare to other grades, but I can tell you this: my students LOVE science! Yes, you have expectations. Yes, you require my students to write and sometimes that is a difficult task. However, they are also doing hands on activities, engaging in a new depth of discussion of the content, and they are still loving it.

    I think it's hard not to take comments like that to heart. This job is very personal. I also think that you are a very reflective teacher and you can gauge your student's level of enjoyment while they are in your classroom. There is a problem with students wanting to be entertained. That is not our job. It's not our fault that everything is at the fingertips of our students on demand every minute they are outside of school. It's our job to teach them, to love them, to guide them, and to be accountable for what they are learning. That probably does require a certain thickness of the skin, but it also requires a great teacher who has done an excellent job of taking on a new role and rocking it! (side note: the free choice business always made my skin crawl as a parent, science is not the place or time for that)

  5. I echo Robin's comment. It is tough to follow when you know what is needed and want to set an expectation. Honestly, I often don't think kids even know what they like anymore but I do think that they will appreciate the lengths you went to inform and educate them. I'm sure we could all find something that a classroom teacher does that kids don't like. I often wonder why others feel the need to point this out when it is only harmful, not helpful.