Hello Everyone. My name is J.C. Lenk and I am excited to start sharing with all of you. I am beginning my twelfth year as 6th grade social studies teacher. I have the great pleasure of working with Garth at Beachwood Middle School and have been here for five years now. Previous to Beachwood, I taught 6th grade Social Studies at Conneaut Middle School. I have my masters degree from Baldwin Wallace University in the Leadership in Technology program that integrates a variety of tech tools into the classroom and school building. I have created a paperless classroom using Chromebooks and free software to change the idea of what teaching and learning can be, and providing ownership to my students. I have started presenting with Garth at local and regional conferences to share our experiences with others. Find me on twitter @jclenk.
The first week of school, especially in a new school, can be really intimidating and we all know that it’s supposed to set the tone for the rest of the year. When I realized I was entering my 12th year of teaching, I began to reflect a lot on what I was doing, what I was about and what I want my students to take away from my class. Here’s what I came up with: I want my students to look forward to spending 45 minutes a day in my space and I want them to enjoy the experience of 6th grade Social Studies. I want my focus to be more on the experience than the learning.
Now, I will admit, it is easier for me to take this approach as I do not have a state mandated test like most of us do. Today’s 11 or 12 year old have a ton going on. Basketball practice after school, ice-skating before school, private violin lessons and the list goes on. They place quite a bit of pressure on themselves, and they want to perform well on the state mandated tests, so there’s that stress also. I do not want to add more to their plates, they are already full. I took this same approach a few years ago when my course did have a state mandated test and many students said they felt more at ease taking the Social Studies tests versus the other ones. Even before I realized it, I was more focused on the experience than the learning.
I am a firm believer that if you want your students to enjoy the experience, that we must do the same. I enjoy learning about and trying new things. Before school even starts, already know a great deal of my students and their interests before ever really meeting them thanks to FlipGrid. I send them a “grid” while they are in fifth grade to get to know them and to also get them excited for next year. Middle school is a big step in their young lives, they are nervous, scared, anxious; but when I know their name and say something about their interests during orientation, you can see much of their nerves go away. It doesn’t take me that long to watch a 30 second video that a student made and remember them. I guess I have a gift for remembering them, this year it took me one day to remember 133 students’ names. That seems to impress them and also make them feel special that I actually know them so quickly. Their experience is off to a great start.
For those of us who are concerned about test scores and value added, I get it, it’s easy to get wrapped up in that but we also need to put ourselves in our student’s shoes once in a while. While their plates are already full, they need to enjoy the experience as well. And I will argue, that as I take the focus off of learning and key in on the experience, my students learn more and more importantly, remember more.
I hope everyone’s school year has gotten off to as good of a start as mine has. Enjoy the experience everybody.