Finding Joy in a “Free Day”
It’s that time of year here in Michigan: the dreaded standardized testing window we now call M-STEP. My 5th graders just endured five days of this testing over a two-week period. The first two days were ELA tests–hours of online reading and writing. Needless to say, after the second afternoon my kiddos were in need of a break.
We did a little bit of our read aloud, which is something that even at 10, 11, or 12 years old my students still truly love. We had a conversation and then it was time for independent reading and writing.
They’d already had hours of it that day, so I decided to let them be in charge of their literacy that day. I told them they could read and/or write in whatever way they chose–they just had to be involved in literacy in some way. The result was not what I expected.
Questions came firing at me:
“Can I write poetry?”
“Can we write a story together?”
“Can I write fiction?”
“Can I do more concrete poems?”
“May I quietly read in the hall?”
Yes, yes, and yes. Then I watched something I haven’t seen in a while: true joy.
My students were happily engaging in worthwhile activities throughout the room. Even those who are usually off task found this freedom liberating and inspiring. Books were being created (and are now several chapters long). Concrete poems have been published in large numbers and are hanging in the hallway.
This day really got me thinking about workshop and curriculum. We power through what we need to teach: mini lessons, teaching points, big ideas. We give kids lots of independent practice within the unit we are teaching.
Yet there are always those kids who don’t like the genre, who don’t really engage during independent time, who are just going through the motions waiting for the time to be over. This “free day” was just that for my friends: freedom. They weren’t constrained by what they “had” to read or write or do. This freedom allowed them to enjoy literacy.
Clearly, this is something I need to build into my year, not just at M-STEP time, but all year long. Though I’m not sure how to make it happen, I will. The evidence is clear. This is the outcome we want for our students: to find joy in reading and writing.
Now, when my students ask if we are going to have a “free day” soon, I think back to those smiles and enthusiasm and answer, “Yes.”
Beth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006. She is blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner teaches all of their math and science. This enables them to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University.