What better way to spend Valentine’s Day than with three site visits (yes, three!)! For the first visit, I drove west from Palm Springs to Irvine, a journey of just over 100 miles. I started the day bright and early, arriving at Santiago Hills Elementary in time for my 8:15 a.m. walk with the fourth grade class of Paula Venable.
Teacher and School Tidbits
Mrs. Venable is in her fourth year using The Walking Classroom. She received her class set through a grant in August of 2014 when she was at Portola Springs Elementary. Her class of fourth grade students is part of an Alternative Program for Academically Accelerated Students (APAAS).
In the Irvine Unified School District (and identified as a California Distinguished School), Santiago Hills Elementary serves over 600 students in kindergarten through sixth grade. The school has been led by Dr. Michele Ogden since July of 2016.
Guides and a Greeting
I signed in at the office, where two of Mrs. Venable’s students were waiting to guide me to the classroom at the rear of the enclosed campus. To get there, we exited the office, turned right, and found ourselves in a back courtyard with several classrooms opening onto it. Just outside the door was a ramp, the railing of which had hooks, each housing a backpack.
As I walked into the classroom, I was awestruck. I was greeted not just with applause (!!) but with a hand-made valentine – a large pink heart covered in smaller hearts with the students’ names! The students had a few questions for me, then we got down to business.
As the class had been studying poetry, they’d recently listened to the podcast about Jack Prelutsky (4-#39). That day, they would be listening to the podcast about Emily Dickinson (4-#38, Combined-#28). As if the greeting and valentine were not enough, Mrs. Venable could not have picked a more perfect podcast. I am a huge poetry fan and am especially fond of Emily Dickinson’s work!
The students completed a “before and after” sheet based on the questions on the comprehension quiz to determine what they thought (and what they thought they knew!). Statements were in the middle of the sheet. Their “before” responses went on the left side of the statements, and their “after” responses went on the right side of the statements.
Anchoring, a Challenge, then Away We Go!
Mrs. Venable incorporated an anchor chart she frequently uses to reflect on the podcasts as well as their reading selections. It has three primary questions (directed at the student) that help to spur discussion.
- What surprised me?
- What did the author think I already knew?
- What challenged, changed, or confirmed my ideas?
There was a bit of discussion centering around those questions, then we were ready to walk, listen, and learn . . . except there were 33 students, a teacher, and I, and only 30 WalkKits. No worries! Ever the resourceful crew, the students were used to sharing!
Fortunately for me, I had a very accommodating partner named Pragnya, who kept me moving with nary a hitch! We were also fortunate to be able to walk beyond the classrooms, traversing a large expanse of fenced-in lawn shaded by trees. Guiding us around the campus was August, who served as our “pace car” and did a phenomenal job maintaining a good pace while keeping an eye on the rather large group!
As students finished listening, they returned to the classroom (and to their desks). There, they completed the “after” side of their sheet. While they worked, Mrs. Venable and I chatted. She said she typically chooses podcasts aligned to the curriculum, but also has “Free Fridays” where students can listen to the podcast of their choice. Interestingly, many students come back to a podcast from earlier in the week, anxious to get a second listen!
Once all of the students had completed their “before and after” sheet, Mrs. Venable had them return to moving for their follow-up! Keeping their chart with them, they walked until they heard a bell. That served as the signal to converse with those nearby. There were several topics she had them address.
The first reverted to a question from the anchor chart; the others covered some of the last statements on the “before and after” sheet.
- What surprised me?
- Is it true that “out of tragedy comes beauty”?
- What’s more important: being a nobody or being a somebody?
Time was built in to share beyond their small groups. The students’ responses were both thoughtful and thought-provoking, with comments usually building on those before them.
As the discussion finished, Mrs. Venable had the students circle the last question on their “before and after” sheet. She instructed them to fold the sheet in half and write “family dinner” in the upper corner. Then she encouraged them to take it home, add it to the “family questions box” they had made for their families at Christmas, and discuss it that evening. What a great idea!
. . . and Time for Me to Hit the Trail!
I ended my visit with a group photo of Mrs. Venable and her students. Then I shared The Walking Classroom goodies I’d brought for them, and we said goodbye. Two students led me back to the office to sign out, and I got on the road to my next destination of the day!