Planning Ahead by Asking Kids to Look Back

A MiddleWeb Blog

kids_cusp2I began writing this final post of the school year a little over four weeks ago. Four weeks ago, there were two weeks left of school (New Jersey ;).

Four weeks ago, I had a 100% rock-solid Plan A for finishing out the school year.

Four weeks ago, the operating system on my computer still supported my version of Microsoft Word.

Goodbye, Plan A

Without warning, on a quiet, coffee-laden Saturday morning, my version of Microsoft Word no longer opened on my reliable friend, my MacBook Pro. Just the day before, my thoughts about this year’s final weeks had appeared on the screen when I clicked to open the document.

As disbelief morphed into a small gasp of reality, my mind kicked into overdrive. The second cup of coffee, a previously welcome addition to my quiet morning, turned up the volume and velocity of thoughts that had begun to compete for attention in my head.

I knew this was not good. I knew there were end-of-year report card comments to write, student memory book pages to create, and a final MiddleWeb post for the 2015-2016 school year to finish writing and revising. I knew this was going to affect my big plans.

911 keyboardAfter numerous attempts to open Word, in some form or another – which included numerous shut downs, log outs, and restarts, along with a little walking around the living room in circles muttering, “This is not happening. This is not happening,” over and over again – I shut the computer down and walked away, discouraged and defeated.

A few hours later, Round Two ensued (I’ve never been one to give up easily). Feigning more confidence than I actually felt, I took a breath, said a little prayer, and started up my old friend again.

The Internet was still working, so we began to research how to update our “OS” which I learned refers to our Operating System. Then, and only then, would we be able to download and install an updated version of Microsoft Office.

“I can do this” replaced my negativity. “You don’t have to be a tech guru to figure this stuff out,” quickly became my new mantra, as MacBook Pro and I dove into the solution, clicking download and install as prompted. A palpable sense of calm gradually found its way back into my chest.

Exhaling all the worry of hours before, I selected our final “install” and sat back to reflect on my ability to slow the spin, become a problem-solver, and seek a solution when things don’t go as planned. The install percentages on my screen steadily increased, as I allowed a slow smile of relief to form. Then a new dialogue box appeared on the screen.

It didn’t work.

I needed a Plan B. I didn’t want a Plan B. I wanted Plan A.

After multiple error messages and a few more half-hearted attempts to download and install, I finally gave up on this particular plan of action. I had to admit that, while I have made quite a bit of progress in the Age of Technology, I have many limitations. This is an accurate self-assessment.

Self-assessment for kids, too

Being able to accurately self-assess has infinite value. It’s part of life’s continuous operating system update process.

Kids often have a tough time accurately self-assessing. Their focus is still on grades and report cards, their ultimate definition of success. It’s my job to help them learn how to look a little deeper, how to assess their individual strengths and weaknesses, and how to set positive goals as individuals, despite the confused values placed on their performance by the “accountability system.”

boy w guestionOne way to stay updated on my own progress as an educator is to look back at where this year’s group of fourth graders were in September and where we are now. So I looked back at the beginning of the year and chuckled at all the parts of my 2015-16 Plan A that had never come to fruition.

Things didn’t work out as planned, but they did work out well.

Despite my duress, during our final two weeks we were able to spend many “planned” moments being reflective in our assessments of ourselves and our year together. (Thankfully, the school laptops were all updated with working versions of Microsoft Office.)

Our final brainstorming session

Before sitting down to open our laptops for our final “on-demand” writing topic of the school year, we gathered on the rug for a whole-class brainstorming session.

We discussed our thoughts on what assessment meant, categorized academic subjects, and talked about why making mistakes is part of learning, why setting new goals and looking forward is important, and how we can learn by looking back at the road behind us.

We shared some of the year’s most amazing moments and laughed at the many gaffes made along the way. There was a wonderful camaraderie to it.

Then we sat down to write.

laptop-mix-240The level of honesty that kids possess is refreshing. It can also be a clear indicator of each learner’s ability to take a frank and accurate look at his or her own progress. Here are a few examples of unfiltered, honest assessments to enjoy:

“In September, I didn’t know how to convert fractions. I doubt I even knew what convert meant then.” ~BC

“I tend to work better with partners. I think it’s because I get to bounce off ideas with whomever I’m working with…I just ask them what they did to find that answer and sometimes it helps me more than when Ms. Tarashuk teaches it.” ~AG

“One of the things that have also gotten better is during math…the first thing I don’t get, (I no longer) just sit there making myself feel bad for me when I could be solving the problem.” ~GS

“A BIG thing I have to work on is paying attention when directions are being told…I forget stuff a lot, not just in school.” ~TF

“One of my strengths is keeping my desk clean. It is weird because I am really messy at home.” TK

“We started making too many conversations about our books so Ms. Tarashuk had to shush us.” ~CF

“I used to be shy like a butterfly during recess, but now I’m a tiger racing for its prey! On the other hand, I should work on saying more things during group work.” ~GP

“I take doing something wrong as doing something terrible. But it is something I need to work on.” ~AK

“I stay out of drama.” ~GC     More thoughts from Room 4-T.

Planning this reflection activity for next year

After our discussion, I created a more formal graphic organizer to use in the future and added it to my “Plan A file” for September. Our brainstorming session this year was a messier version, but the essential content was the same. Here are my notes from that session added to next year’s organizer (click to enlarge).

MT-graphic-org-w-notesLooking ahead

In the end, Plan B worked. My laptop had to wait until summer arrived to receive my undivided attention, a much needed OS update, and some other software upgrades.

Over the summer, a new drop-ceiling will be installed in our classroom and a new coat of paint will be put on. The room will be fresh and inviting come September…just in time to formulate a new Plan A for 2016-17.

For now, it’s summer and time to update my personal operating system, install some new ideas, and reboot.

Thanks for reading us here at MiddleWeb!

Hope to see ya’ in September!


Mary Tarashuk

Mary Tarashuk teaches 4th grade at Wilson Elementary School in Westfield, New Jersey. Mary has been an educator for over 20 years. She has served as content writer and creative consultant for the national, award-winning initiative The Walking Classroom since its inception in 2005. Mary’s work has been published in Education Digest and was honored with the SmartBrief Education 2016 Editors’ Choice Content Award. Trying to balance her old-school teaching style with New Age methods that integrate ever-changing technology keeps her on her toes. She believes that fresh air and exercise enhance learning and engage students of all ages. Follow her on Twitter @maryrightangle and visit her personal blog (launched in 2021) Behind the Doors of the Teacher's Room for some adult conversation.

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