Supporting and Nurturing Students and Teachers in Grades 3-6: Upper Elementary Grades Are a Neglected Area of Schooling, Even as Accountability Relies on Their Achievements
Finnan, Christine, Phi Delta Kappan
I really could benefit from a professional organization. Some of the magazines focus on younger and others on older students, and I ask, "Where do my kids fit in?" There is a little piece here and there. We get 5th graders reading on a 2nd- or 3rd-grade level, and how do you incorporate that into 5th-grade stuff? You have to take everything and modify it. You ask, "How will I use this, how will I change it?"
Even when I'm at a teacher store or a conference, it's all for the little kids. It's not for our kids.
Fifth-grade teachers often express a dilemma I faced as a teacher educator. Unlike early childhood and secondary teachers, very few resources targeted the upper elementary teachers. The paucity of resources became evident to me as I designed a course for preservice teachers that would help them determine if they wanted to teach early childhood, elementary, or middle grades. In selecting readings for each of these levels, I found excellent choices for early childhood and middle level, but nothing targeting the upper elementary grades.
As I joined my future teachers in upper elementary classrooms, I wondered why these important grade levels and fun, energetic, curious, and responsible students were being overlooked. I spent much of the next two years researching and writing a book focused on upper elementary grades and students (Finnan 2009). My initial impression, that few resources are aimed at the upper elementary grades, holds. As Table 1 illustrates, the only support targeted to the upper elementary grade/age span is the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards' (NBPTS) Middle Childhood/Generalist.
TABLE 1. Professional Supports for Early Childhood, Upper Elementary, and Middle Grades Teachers Resource Early Upper Middle grades childhood elementary Professional National None National organizations Association Middle for teachers for the School Education Association of Young (NMSA) Children (NAEYC) Journals Eight No journals One national national specific to journal journals upper elementary grades Web sites www.naeyc.org None www.nmsa.org National Early Middle Early Board Childhood Childhood Adolescence for Generalist (3- Generalist (7- Generalist Professional to to (11- to Teaching 8-year-olds) 12-year-olds) 15-year-olds) Standards Advocacy for NAEYC None NMSA students Source: Finnan, Christine. The Upper Elementary Years: Ensuring Success in Grades 3-6. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, 2009, 8.
The lack of focused attention to these grades is surprising given that these years are pivotal in identifying students who might otherwise drop out of high school, become social isolates or misfits, or disengage from school and other productive activities (Roderick 1993; Scales, Sesma, and Bolstrom 2004). Upper elementary teachers can make the difference for students who are teetering between success and failure, acceptance and rejection, and engagement and disengagement. These teachers understand that part of their responsibility is helping students develop identities as people who are capable of accomplishing challenging goals, who feel they belong in and contribute to their social settings, and who are engaged in learning and other important activities. Accomplishment, belonging, and engagement, then, are the critical components of identity development. No teacher can help all students develop positive identities single-handedly, but upper elementary teachers are at a disadvantage because they have had fewer supports than their early childhood and secondary colleagues. …