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I just finished up my fourth year of teaching! Each year of teaching have learned a lot. However, this year was extra special for me for many reasons. I wouldn't be surprised if this year remains my Most Valuable Learning Year. Here are some of the reasons why I feel this way:

1. This was my first year working in the same grade level. I've been around by preference. I've went from 3rd-grade to Kindergarten to 2nd-grade (and next year I'll be in 4th). This year was my second year teaching 2nd-grade. I had mostly everything planned for this year. I knew what routines I was keeping, strategies I was using, and materials I needed. I mean...I'm teaching the same grade level so that much didn't have to change right? Ummm...Wrong! I quickly realized that two groups of kids at the same grade level can be completely different. I didn't use hardly ANYTHING I used last year. It just didn't fit. Yes, these students were the same age as the ones I had the year before. However, overall as a class they were completely different behaviorally and academically.

Lesson learned: Classes really do vary from year-to-year. No two group of students will be the same. It doesn't matter if they are the same age, from the same demographics, or even the same household.

2. Some of my students that were in my Kindergarten class were also in my 2nd-grade class! Let's just say it was a pleasure, but depressing. My word family lessons that I used the last couple of months in Kindergarten, was also my lesson during the first weeks of 2nd-grade. Nope, it wasn't in the plans. It was what I had to do. My students that had mastered recognizing and making words using word families in Kindergarten, acted as if they din't even know what word families were in 2nd-grade. Really! I've never been one to blame the previous teacher. AT ALL! So, the situation didn't cause me to focus on what happened last year in their 1st-grade class. Instead, it made me evaluate myself. I taught it to them in Kindergarten and they appeared to have it mastered. I focused on what I needed to do differently to make the information stick. I always say that I don't teach kids so they can do well in my class. I teach them so they can do well in life. If they aren't retaining the information I'm teaching, then there's no point in teaching it. Repetition & Application & Repetition again was my best friend this year. No matter how well it seemed my babies mastered a skill, I continuously reinforced it throughout the year.

Lesson learned: Use repetition faithfully in the classroom. Do not let a skill just "fly away" when it's mastered. Make repetition of all skills part of the class routine.

3. My 3rd-grade babies (my 2nd-graders last year) were right across the hall. They had a beginning of the year writing activity that their teacher posted on the outside bulletin board. I was so happy to go look at their work. Their work was a NOT SO GOOD way. There were so many misspelled words, run-on sentences, never-ending name it, it was there. This was my high ability-level group. However, I wouldn't have known it by looking at their spelling and their writing. Once again, I reflected on myself. What could I have done differently? I had them do creative writing often and they became really good at coming up with stories on their own and using prompts. But, I couldn't help but wonder if I checked their writing for errors and spelling as much as I should have. No doubt about it, that group overall is a very high achieving group; but I couldn't help but think that I would have wrongfully assumed they were struggling learners if I looked at their writing without knowing them.

Lesson learned: Spelling and writing basics are important. I was once a teacher that didn't think highly of spelling instruction (and clearly it showed), because someone can still read and comprehend words that they can't spell. However, I realized how it can be easy to assume a child's ability level based off of their writing and their spelling. Of course, there are still going to be many words they misspell and that's ok! BUT, basic sight words, word family words, and basic spelling patterns shouldn't be misspelled that often. Word families and spelling patterns practice happened daily in my classroom this year.

4. I had to completely adapt my style of teaching. I consider myself a creative teacher and use more hands-on, problem solving, and critical thinking. My curriculum last year strongly aligned to Bloom's Taxonomy. This year...not so much. I am still creative and ask higher-level questions and enforce critical thinking. I always will do that. However, my students this year needed more "step-by-step" instruction. This year, I used a lot of drill and repetition of steps to get to an answer. To sum it up, I taught in a way I didn't think I ever would. What did I discover? It wasn't that bad! As a matter of fact, I saw the benefit of incorporating more "black and white" learning into my teaching. My students grew tremendously academically and I'm almost positive they wouldn't have if I was stuck in my teaching ways. Last year, I used more opened ended activities. They did a really good job of "teaching themselves" with information they learned. For instance, I would put a problem on the board and ask a student to solve it and then call on another student who solves it differently. Here's a way to get the answer, here's another way, here's another...there's more than one way to reach an answer. My students did EXCELLENT with that type of learning last year. This year, it's different. I inform my students there are different ways to get to answer, but I teach them one way step-by-step. We go over these steps and even make up sayings to help us remember them. These students did EXCELLENT with this type of learning. They weren't good with higher-order thinking as well as my last year group. However, they were great at learning information that I taught them and basic application of the skills.

Lesson learned: Always be flexible in my teaching approach. Adjust my teaching, based off of my students' need. Always make the appropriate accommodations to reach each student.

Welp. These are the main things that I learned this year that I think will have the biggest influence on years to come. I'd love to hear your most valuable lessons!

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