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

By Finnan, Christine | Phi Delta Kappan, February 2009 | Go to article overview

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.

--5th-grade teacher

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. …

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