By Jess Hylek, first year AmeriCorps member on the City Year McDonough Elementary School team
Working in the fourth grade has a unique set of challenges and opportunities. Fourth grade is a significant stepping stone for students in elementary school; they are beginning to understand more complex concepts, ask deeper questions and challenge authority. As City Years, we can push their learning to a higher level and engage more deeply with subjects in a way that third graders may not be able to understand. Something I really love about fourth graders is that they haven't lost the sense of wonder and awe that a typical third grader still has about learning. While fifth graders have a higher capacity for understanding, it can be difficult to get them engaged with certain topics and often the "buy-in" takes a little more time. A typical fourth grader has yet to develop that "too cool" attitude about learning in school, which is beneficial in tutoring groups because it is easier to get students engaged in their learning.
Fourth grade is famous for the number of field trips the students get to go on as well. Early in the year, we went to Strawberry Banke, a historical reenactment of a colonial New Hampshire town, complete with a tavern, governor’s home, and a typical townsman’s house. Just recently, we went to the SEE Science Center, where students were able to explore hands-on and interactive displays related to different subjects in science. They also got to compete in a building competition together. These opportunities allow the students to learn outside of the classroom and expand their understanding of the world around them through interactive history and science programs.
As role models in the fourth grade, it becomes crucial to walk a line when coaching students with their classwork and behavior, to push them in the right direction, but also encourage independence and problem-solving on their own. In the fourth grade, students are really starting to crave more autonomy, but also consistently seek out approval for their choices. It is a delicate balance for a City Year to coach students on thinking critically for themselves and push that even further, but also encourage them to feel confident that their choices are the right ones to get them ready for fifth grade and eventually, middle school.
There is a student who I am so proud of on my behavior focus list. He craves approval, but also actively tries to gain autonomy in the classroom by being defiant. We've been working this year on his self-awareness of how he relates to others in class because when he is talked to about his actions he openly denies that he did anything wrong. Working with this student has been a challenge because he craves any attention, even negatively, so coaching is a balance between encouraging independence, and reinforcing positive choices. Recently, however, there have been multiple times when he has stopped himself from speaking out in class, from saying something mean to a classmate, or from losing control when he is angry. We've come a long way and every time he shows that gleam of awareness, I get so overjoyed.
I really love the fourth grade. It’s amazing to be a part of a child’s early education and help them shape their view of the world and how to interact with that world in a meaningful way.
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