62 lbs. No, that’s not how much weight I’ve resolved to lose this year. Or, maybe it is.
62 lbs. is the weight of spelling workbooks, teachers’ guides, math papers, social studies quizzes, memoranda, and a laptop that I hauled across the snowy school parking lot today after the long weekend.
62 lbs., almost exclusively of paper, much of which I was unable to address over the long weekend (oh, you thought teachers rested on long weekends?) because there simply wasn’t enough time. There wasn’t enough time, despite giving over two full days to school work. Days that could have, should have, been spent with my children.
62 lbs. that symbolize much of what frustrates me about elementary education. 62 lbs. that sucked up time that could have been used to create new Guided Reading lesson plans that were tailored to the needs of the small groups I take each afternoon. Time that could have been used to find materials to supplement my unit on the 13 colonies. Time and mental energy that could have gone into figuring out what to do about the student that still struggles with understanding place value or the student who thus far refuses to go beyond the surface meaning in our reading. Oh, and time to enjoy my daughter’s company before she returns to college next weekend.
The spelling workbooks were by far the weightiest portion of this load, both literally and figuratively. We have no time in our schedule for students to do this work with teacher support during the day. Daily correcting time during the school day so feedback is faster isn’t available either unless I stop doing hands-on experiences in science and social studies. I’m stuck going over huge stack of pages (still in the workbooks) at the end of the week, despite knowing I’m short-changing my students. Giving students feedback too late and in the wrong format on spelling and vocabulary errors is worse than useless. I dread the time I spend correcting these.
There IS a better way and it is available to us now, if only we would put our resources to work. There are online components for spelling and math computation that give instantaneous feedback and provide additional opportunities for practice until students reach mastery. They also include performance information that assists teachers in knowing who needs extra help or intervention.
And it doesn’t stop there: there are a myriad of ways to reduce the paper, speed up the feedback, and make our planning time more meaningful, so that we can create more authentic, more targeted and dare I say, more important learning opportunities for our students. Instead, we are bogged down with paper and data entry.
I realize that not all students have equal access to the internet. However, I know that almost all of my students have Facebook accounts and adequate computer access to keep them updated. We have the ability to provide computing options if we untether our netbooks and maybe even some iPads from the school grounds. My focus is on 5th grade curriculum – surely there are those out there who can come up with ways to use technology to set us free.
I’d really like to lose 62 lbs. this year. If we all put our heads together, surely we can make some progress. Heck, I’d be happy if I could lose 31 lbs this year.