First of all, I started doing some brief meditation exercises with a focus on breathing, relaxing and being quiet for just a minute or two. This is called the Core Practice in the MindUp Curriculum written by The Goldie Hawn Foundation and published by Scholastic. I think it has made a difference in my students' attention and attitude in the classroom.
During MAP testing last week, I had students meditate right before taking the reading and language usage tests and most students improved their scores from the fall, even if by just a few points. The only scores that were all over the place were the math scores; it did not occur to me to have them meditate on that day. Coincidence? Perhaps, but as we delve into this curriculum and my students learn about the importance of slowing down and being in the moment, I will be looking for more examples of how this simple practice is helping my 5th graders be more engaged. Some are already thinking about how to apply it on their own. During MAP testing, one of my students asked if she could stop and do the core practice (meditation) if she was feeling nervous or anxious. YES! One instance, but that's all it takes. What I can say for certain right now is that since I started making this an established routine in my classroom I am calmer and more patient with myself and others. I can't imagine my students aren't feeling similarly.
Of course, there are always other variables that influence what we do in the classroom; there is rarely a direct correlation between one program or approach and the results we observe. Three of my students were absent on the first couple of days we did this, which may have had something to do with the mood in the classroom. Nevertheless, I think it was a positive start to the first week back after the break.
And, of course, nothing ever goes smoothly all the time. Today, we meditated right before recess and a few boys started laughing before we were finished; they were not focused on their breathing. After I dismissed the rest of the class we discussed how although sometimes we find it hard to meditate, it's important not to stop others from finding their focus. We talked about what they can do - move to a different spot, face in a direction away from distractions, etc. - if this happens again so that we respect everyone's space and time. Our talk wasn't punitive, but I hope it impressed upon them the importance of what we're doing. Tomorrow I will talk about how to get their focus back on breathing as a way to stay centered and calm. Look for updated blog posts in the next month or so about this.
Another change I implemented was to give my students a new independent reading (IDR) log to keep track of classroom and home reading. They keep track of the time they spend reading and the number of pages they read in a day. This is not for accountability purposes. I have a mistrust of that word since it implies that somehow we're not doing what we are supposed to do and we need someone to monitor what we are doing. While it's true that some of my students are not reading at home and this is a way for them to do that, I don't grade this log or berate them about it. Rather, I'm approaching it as a research study of sorts. We will be asking the following questions: where are you reading more? At school or at home? Why do you think that is? How can you increase your reading time at either place? How long does it take you to finish a book? Why do you think that is? What kinds of books are you reading quickly? Why do you think that is? Is this log helping you read more? What questions do you have about your independent reading development? How can we revise this log so that it is more effective for you and/or so that you can use it to answer any questions you have about independent reading?
Although, there was some confusion at first about how to complete the log - there always is when implementing a new routine in the classroom - now my students are using this tool independently.
Finally, I stood back and observed my students during independent reading. I took notes of what I observed during increments of five minutes for a total of 15 minutes. I am using this information for one-on-one and small group conferences. I will write more about this at another time.
The first weeks back after the Christmas vacation often bring some surprises: my students are maturing and settling into routines more effortlessly than at the beginning of the year. It's a bittersweet feeling for me as June looms closer now than it did in August. We can really soar now, but it will go way too fast for my taste. As is usually the case, I won't be ready to let this group of kids go at the same time that they'll be ready to move on to middle school. And, as I look forward to the rest of the year I am grateful for the privilege of working with this particular group of kids at this time in their lives.