Why Third Grade is a UNIQUE Grade to Teach
Transition from the Lower Grades to the Upper Grades
3rd grade seems to be a year of many transitions, but one of the most difficult transitions seems to be the change from the "elementary" years (K-2) to "upper elementary" or (3-5). You see in third, students start becoming more independent and begin to mature. Let's be honest, though, they're still babies! The only problem is that what is being demanded of them is not baby material by any means.
A good friend of mine once made the best comparison when she said that 3rd grade is like kindergarten all over again.
Like kindergarten, parents panic in the third grade and it is my job, as your child's teacher, to help you learn to let go. I have to remind kids that it is not their parent’s responsibility to make sure homework is in their bookbag. In some cases, I even need to remind parents that their child can and should carry their own bookbag.
I need to help parents see that their child needs to be more responsible and that they need to help their child become more independent. Your son or daughter needs to start finding their own voice and figuring out what "they" believe and what "they" think and feel in order to keep up with the demands of the grade level.
Part of their transition, also includes moving away from practicing and mastering basic skills to moving on to much more complex problem solving.
Moving from Learning to Read to Reading to Learn
K-2 students are learning how to read. They learn their letters, phonics skills, how to chunk, how to sound out, etc... They read predictable texts, easy readers, and primers. In third grade, however, the texts they are reading are much longer, more challenging, and filled with facts on difficult concepts such as the solar system, or simple machines. They are taught to do close reads of challenging text. They are expected to analyze the author's point of view and central message.
They no longer simply read a text and answer "right there" questions. As a matter of fact, many of the questions they are given are analytical questions where they must infer based on evidence or clues they find from the text.
For most children, this is the first time their reading work focuses more on thinking and talking about what they've read in order to dig deeper into the text.
Form, explain, and defend opinions on various topics.
Part of the reason we work so hard to teach our 3rd graders to become more independent is because they need to be able to form opinions and hold educated discussions with their peers. Up until now they've relied heavily on their parents or teachers to tell them what is right or wrong... what's good or bad. They haven't had to reason, justify, or explain their thought processes in words let alone in their writing.
But now for the first time they are being asked challenging questions and asked to form their own opinions. For an adult this might seem like an easy task, but for 8 and 9 year olds this is quite difficult. Especially since they don't have much experience giving opinions besides the usual questions...What's your favorite ice cream flavor? or What's your favorite pet?
Some of their prompts might include questions such as "Do you think homework is beneficial to students?" or "What do you think is the most important career?" Those are some tough topics to tackle and it's exactly what we are expecting of our 3rd graders.
Students must now explain their opinions and most importantly SUPPORT IT WITH EVIDENCE. In order to do this they need to THINK, ANALYZE, and REALLY understand why they feel a certain way.
They are now being asked to collaborate more with their peers and to engage in educated conversations where they must defend, persuade, and explain their thoughts.
Is this frustrating for many? In the beginning most definitely. Some students just aren't developmentally ready when the year begins. However, with teacher support and repeated practice, it is doable and AMAZING to see how much growth students will demonstrate by the end of the year.
Reading plays an important role in other subjects
In the 3rd grade parents might begin to notice student’s grades in subject areas other than reading being affected. This can be attributed to the fact that now subjects such as science, social studies, and even math are beginning to rely more heavily on analyzing text. That's part of the reason why some students that may have been performing well in other grades might begin to struggle in 3rd.
Unfortunately, the transition for K-2 to 3 is not a gradual process, but feels more like an abrupt change. Whereas in the younger grades, a struggling reader may not have had a difficult time in math or science, now it becomes more noticeable. This is the time where reading starts to affect other areas as well.
A student that may be great at math computation, and may have done well in the 2nd grade, may now begin to struggle with math application. Because of a reading difficulty, a child may not understand what is being asked of him in a story problem.
It's also no longer as simple as teaching our children key words in math that mean to add or subtract. Students must now be able to explain their thinking and how they went about solving a problem.
With a seemingly simple move from second to third, students are asked to become more advanced readers, writers, thinkers, speakers, and even mathematicians over the summer break.
So as a third grade teacher who has to go up against all of these factors and then some, what do I do? How do I teach a class of 19 babies how to think, speak, and write critically?
My answer to you is simple....
We will take it one day at a time!
We will work together as a community.
I promise to NEVER claim to know it all...
At the end of the day, we will work together. My goal, just like yours, is to provide our students with the BEST EDUCATION possible.