I am SO GLAD that we got all of our specials schedules early this year. I don't think in all 9 years I have taught that I've ever had my entire schedule ready this far out before the year begins. It's really kind of nice! I'm not sure what made Mr. Principal decide to do it like this for this year but I am so glad that he did.
Of course, certain things won't start yet (like library and computer lab because of MAP testing the first few weeks of the year) but knowing already when they will be is awesome. I don't have to worry later about trying to figure out where to put them in a schedule I've been working with for three weeks.
I had been told that the upcoming group of 4th graders are a) really low academically and b) have many students with behavior issues. Behavior issue kiddos don't bother me...to be honest, they often tend to become my favorite kids. I firmly believe they act the way they do because something is missing in their little life and they aren't developed enough to know/understand what it is and if they DO know, they don't know how to ask for it. I think you really have to get to the heart of the matter and think about the whole child with classes like this.
That said, since I finally finished my work for my doctoral classes, I had a chance to really sit down and analyze the spring data I have on my new kiddos. I was told there was a huge achievement gap...and there is...but it isn't any worse than I've had in the last 5 years. I have some friends who are on a K-2 level and some that are 3rd-5th level. The majority in both reading and math are on 3rd grade level or higher. Of course this doesn't account for the inevitable summer slide but it's much more encouraging than I was expecting!!
The 4th and 5th graders tend to take the MAP test starting the first week of school. This is both good and bad: it's good because you get data right away showing where the students are coming in at but it can be bad in that it often takes a ton of time to administer. I am going to cross my fingers and make initial groups based upon where they were in the spring (because that data shows me they WERE at that level and have the potential to get back there quickly) and then will adjust once I get my new data. I doubt the groupings will change that much this first time though.
It makes me very, very glad that I made one of my goals for this year to be Choice Menus. I have kiddos who are so behind in math they are going to stare at me like I've got three heads when I'm teaching math -- it's just going to be too far above their head to start with. But I am going to take a closer look at my data once I get the new stuff and really think about what it is vital for my kiddos to know how to do and that is how I will balance my Choice Menus. I have a couple of friends who left 3rd grade performing on a 5th or 6th grade level so I definitely have to make sure they are challenged so they don't get bored.
It also did not escape my notice that several of my friends who were identified as having behavior issues are VERY low academically. It makes me wonder what accommodations were made to help them feel successful and not totally lost in class, which is usually when the negative behaviors begin. Another reason to ensure the Choice Menus are leveled and at each kiddos working level so they can ALL be successful.
Pending any unforeseen schedule changes (which I don't think will happen unless the district adds interventionists late this year like they did last year), I have planned 90 minutes per day each for math workshop and reading workshop. I don't plan to teach in set small groups on a daily basis but rather see where the kids are and go from there, sort of like the conferring tracker from the Daily 5. This way if I need to spend 5-10 minutes with my higher kids to help them get started on a challenge task, I can but then I can still give time to my lower level learners so they can find success.
I think it's going to be a lot of work up front to create these Choice Menus the way I want to make them....but honestly if it helps my kids make gains, I think it will be worth it. And once I make them, I have them and won't have to create them again.
Should be interesting to see how it all works out.