'First day of school' photo (c) 2010, Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/I am anticipating this fall in much the same way as many students are—I will be facing new challenges, learning new material, trying new things.  I have many hopes and dreams for the school year, as do they.  And like them, I am partially responsible for preparing them for an uncertain and unknowable future.

This year, in addition to being the librarian at my school, I am tackling the challenge of being the 5th grade language arts teacher.  This challenge is both new and old for me.  I spent twenty years teaching beginning college students how to write and how to read literature.  Since then, I have been an elementary school librarian.  Both (I hope!) have helped me be ready to teach the wonderful 5th graders I will be working with this fall.

I hope that I can teach them to love reading as much as I do.  I have chosen some new material and some old favorites – we will be reading some newer novels (Because of Mr. Terupt, reviewed elsewhere on this site, and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate), we will be working with the Junior Great Books Program, and we will be doing some classics (The Watsons Go to Birmingham, Love that Dog, and Tuck Everlasting).  We will read poetry, journalism, and science writing.  And I also want them to read for pleasure, books that they choose because they look fun and interesting.

I hope that I can help them love to write, or at least not be intimidated by writing.  I want them to become fluid, confident writers, who know how to use the writing process to their advantage, who are willing to experiment, who understand what audiences need.  I want them to play with words and sentence structures, while still understanding that grammar and spelling are important.  I want them to love language.

Yet I am trying to prepare them for a future that is ambiguous and unclear.  As Virginia Heffernan observed today in her essay “Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade”, students who are in school today are likely to be doing jobs we can’t even imagine in the future.  She cites a study by Cathy N. Davidson as advocating that “Even academically reticent students publish work prolifically, subject it to critique and improve it on the Internet.” She goes further and asserts that:  “A classroom suited to today’s students should deemphasize solitary piecework. It should facilitate the kind of collaboration that helps individuals compensate for their blindnesses, instead of cultivating them. That classroom needs new ways of measuring progress, tailored to digital times — rather than to the industrial age or to some artsy utopia where everyone gets an Awesome for effort.”

To that end, I am planning to have my students go that further step – I have created a class blog for them to “publish” their polished pieces of writing.  I am still trying to work out how much autonomy my students will have in commenting and posting in the blog.  For now, I will do all the posting, and we will work out if that approach will need to be modified or not.

So now I am also reaching out to my PLN community.  If you are a teacher of students in the 4th through 6th grade range, and would like to collaborate by having our students read and comment on each other’s writing, I would love to have you email me.  I think the best way I am going to be able to have them learn how to collaborate and how to write for an audience is to work with a wider range of peers.  They need to learn what I already have—the world is our community, and we need to help each other learn.

I can be reached at lydia dot schultz at bookfrontiers dot com, or at my work email at lydia dot schultz at ttsp dot org.  I hope to hear from you.