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Creating Relationships, Rigor, and Relevance to Teach My Students

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“Do you like cake or pie?” Food questions are among the most common I am asked by my 6th grade students during our Thursday, Ask the Expert, warm-up activity. Each week I plunge my hand deep into the bucket of anonymous questions, and somehow I seem to pull out a slip of paper with this type of topic scribbled on it. “Neither,” I share. This, of course, leads to a roar of disappointment and surprise, which undoubtedly transforms into ten-plus follow up questions. While their reactions exemplify the beauty and humor of teaching middle school students, I revel in the spontaneous spark of inquiry dominoing off of one simple answer. My answers lead to their questions, their questions lead to their stories, and ultimately their stories, and…show more content…
Flip Flippen, the creator of the Capturing Kids’ Hearts curriculum, wisely said, “If you have a child’s heart, you have his head.” I sought to put this notion to the test, by placing a higher importance on building my lessons around their relevance. If I begin by forming relationships with my students, I can better tailor my lesson to meet their needs and spark their interest through relevance. After months of becoming acquainted with my students, I began to use the world of mountain climbing as a way of teaching characterization, media, and point of view, within the context of the novel Peak, by Roland Smith. For four weeks we referred to the classroom as Base Camp and set up tents for our weekly silent reading time. My students were not just reading a novel, they were personally encountering the plot diagram. They were researching the tools necessary to scale a mountain, and exploring the Tibetan-Nepalese conflict, all while becoming personally invested in their education. By making a novel about mountain climbing relevant to my 6th grade students, who had never climbed a mountain in their life, I saw a higher number of completed novels, and in turn, better performance on final assessments. My students didn’t feel like students, instead, each day, they were mountain climbers continuously scaling their way back down to Base Camp ready to explore the next
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