Fourth-graders in Tiffany Thurston’s class at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School filed into Lindsey Montgomery’s room.
They sat on the floor, opened up their Chromebooks and were ready to learn.
Behind them, Montgomery’s third-graders sat at their desks with their Chromebooks out and were set to learn, too.
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For the second Friday in a row, the two classrooms collaborated on a lesson to end the week.
Most students only interact with others in their class or grade, but Thurston and Montgomery decided to bring their different grade levels together.
While talking after school one day, Thurston and Montgomery learned they both only had a couple of kids in their classrooms participating. Even if other students knew the answers to the questions they asked, they just weren’t giving them.
Both teachers focus a lot on close reading and paired texts, so they thought collaborating may help encourage participation.
During the first collaboration Sept. 14, the classes read articles about Hurricane Florence.
“The amount of participation we got, I think both of us were really surprised at how well they intermingled,” Thurston said. “I don’t know if it’s the third-graders trying to step up and be like the big kids or the fourth-graders trying to be leaders and kind of show them the right way. They absolutely loved it.”
During the second collaboration Friday, the students read articles about the benefits of eating a healthy breakfast.
“I think it has really pushed my kids to work harder and try to keep up with those fourth-grade students and build that conversation,” Montgomery said. “When we talk to fourth-graders, we have to be on task in talking about where we’re supposed to be, so it has been great for them to have a little extra challenge with the fourth-graders.”
Thurston said the kids were very engaged with the first collaboration because the hurricane was happening right then, and they could relate to it more.
The breakfast lesson was chosen because September is National Better Breakfast Month, so it was a good opportunity to teach main idea with articles, teach kids how important breakfast is and throw in some reading skills, too, Thurston said.
Brown students can eat breakfast free every day at school, but Thurston said they don’t always take advantage of it.
“Maybe just a push to, ‘Hey, we’re sitting in a gym. We need to go eat breakfast because we learned this in class,’” she said. “It serves as a good reminder for us. I have a hard time getting up, and I have a million things to do in the morning. I make sure my kids eat, but myself, it doesn’t always happen. I feel the lag about 11 o’clock when I’m starving.”
So far, the students have liked the Friday afternoon collaboration time.
Fourth-grader Max Campbell said doing the paired text lessons is a good refresher since they first learned that as third-graders. Plus, he likes helping the younger students.
The same goes for classmate Miller Acton.
“I like teaching them the bigger words that they might not know and teaching them details that they might not pick up in the articles,” the fourth-grader said.
Third-grader Remy Cockerham said collaboration time is good because the fourth-graders make it fun to learn.
“They are smarter than us, and they know more and can help more,” she said.
Classmate Jackson Smith agreed.
“They can help us do new stuff,” he said.
The teachers see several benefits for the students.
For one, Thurston said research has proven that kids who can look deeper into a text do well and have a better understanding of what’s going on.
“It’s good any time we can look deeper into the text and make comparisons because that’s what they are going to be asked to do on any big test that they ever take,” she said. “If they can get practice in doing that and be able to understand these tough words, it’s not just being able to regurgitate the information. It’s looking into it and being able to kind of dissect the text.”
It also breaks up the normal routine. Thurston said she teaches skills in three stations Monday through Thursday each week, and there’s only 30 seconds between each one to rotate. Then Fridays, they take their skills tests.
The collaboration time is a good way to end the week, she said.
“They get to show it. They get to pick things up and move them around. It’s not just a piece of paper in front of them,” Thurston said. “You wouldn’t believe the enjoyment of things like this rather than if we were to put a piece of paper on the tabletop in front of them. It’s just being able to move and mingle.”
Montgomery said it helps both of the teachers, and the students are more engaged with interaction and conversation.
“She says something just a little bit different than I do or I say something a little bit different than she does,” Montgomery said. “It’s just an amazing way to work together and collaborate and bounce ideas off of each other. It’s so awesome to see our kiddos collaborating and sharing ideas and strategies to solve problems with each other.”
Since it has gone well so far, the teachers plan to keep collaborating.
“I think we might just because all week last week, I would have random kids coming up to me in the hallway that I didn’t even know and they would say, ‘Do we get to work with you this week if we behave?’” Thurston said. “That was something that they had talked about and something that we had talked about, but they really enjoyed it. … It’s just something that’s different.”
Montgomery said it’s a great opportunity for everyone.
“I would love to keep doing it. I think our kiddos would love it,” she said. “If the kids are learning and growing, then it’s great.”