Every year my students arrive with a great deal of enthusiasm. However the enthusiasm is tempered somewhat by the knowledge that there will many changes that will require their attention and adaptation. Just months ago they were securely nestled into their fairly self contained fifth grade environment. Now upon arriving in sixth grade they are faced with the challenging reality of having to change classroom environments at least eight times a day. Additionally they will navigate a nine period schedule that requires them to implement new organizational strategies. The need to adapt to this change, as well as others, with a sense of immediacy, can create a varied level of stress and anxiety for them. One of the ways to minimize this, is by developing a community and a culture that inspires a love of learning and creates a safe haven where this can occur.
Creating a community that promotes a sense of belonging for my students has been a priority throughout the early part of this school year. The existing seating configuration has enabled the building of peer relationships and provided valuable early collaborative experiences. Currently, we are studying the Five Themes of Geography. One of the five themes of geography that we are examining has particular appropriateness when considering the circumstances currently confronting my sixth grade students. The theme Human Environment Interaction is one that focuses on how humans depend on their environment, how humans modify their environment and how humans adapt to their environment. The consideration given to "depend", "modify", and "adapt" as it applies to my current group of students can strongly influence the quality of their learning experiences throughout the year.
My students depend on their classroom community to provide a culture that inspires them. They depend on a culture that creates opportunities for collaboration with their peers. They depend on a culture that helps them continue to build their love for learning. They depend on a culture that allows for the free movement of ideas and the respect of others when sharing those ideas. The growth of my students depends on their ability to cultivate a culture of learning and take full advantage of all of the resources that have been provided within their classroom community. One of the many things that my students can depend on this year is that many modifications will be made within their instructional experience.
The manner that our classroom community is modified depends on whether we are creating learning opportunities that require consumption or creation. If the daily experience is geared to the consumption of ideas and information, there may be a great deal of peer to peer collaboration. The students will work collectively to unpack the knowledge that they have just acquired. Furthermore, if consumption is the goal, than interactive discussions may be occurring to facilitate and support any learning that is taking place. On other occasions our students will be given the chance to create. This will occur on a collective or individual basis. When these situations arise, the students will be empowered to act independently and engage in various activities that require them to adapt to a variety of changing circumstances. The success of the sixth grade student requires the understanding that modifications will occur and that they are capable of adapting when they do.
Beginning in sixth grade, social relationships begin to take on primary significance for my students. Finding time for friends and for their studies in a balanced manner is a challenge that most find difficulty adapting to. With the advent of digital technologies this challenge has been magnified exponentially for students within the past decade. Furthermore, the academic landscape of the sixth graders day has changed drastically and navigating through it successfully can be quite challenging early on. My students have four content area teachers and as many as four cycle teachers. Their success requires them to familiarize themselves with the teaching style of these teachers as well as meet their expectations. Additionally the workload has increased and learning to manage their academics and a possible extra curricular schedule, creates its own set of challenges. The life of a sixth grader provides them with many challenges to endure and in which to adapt. The more effectively that educators, students and parents partner at this stage of development , the more successful the student will become and the easier they will find it to adapt to sixth grade.
The arrival in sixth grade every fall for my students really is " A Whole New World " for them. As I build relationships with them and their parents it is important to remember that there are things that they need to "depend" upon to help them achieve success. Essentially their environment will be "modified" greatly and they will be confronted with new circumstances that will necessitate their ability to "adapt". A conscious effort to be mindful of the stressful challenges that transition can create and a guiding hand to assist with adaptation, will greatly strengthen their ability to succeed. This success that they achieve will lead to a consistent increase in confidence that will ultimately give them the necessary courage to take risks and grow as learners.