The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Fourth Grade Red Fish Society

Earlier this week, my awesome grade-level partner and I decided, somewhat on a whim, and mostly through her doing, to start something new with our fourth grade classes to try to help propel them into a higher level of social and emotional learning, thinking, and behaving. We have struggled throughout year with helping our students really just learn how to get along in social settings. Not just within the classroom but within the grade level and even within the building. After a particularly trying period of time, we both felt we needed to do something to help our students realise they needed to get over their differences and start working together.

In addition, we wanted a way to recognise the awesome contributions that so many in the classes have been making to this end. After all, it is rarely a majority, or even a large plurality, of students who cause most of the unwanted drama. (For those long-time readers with excellent recall, I actually reflected on this nearly a year and a half ago when placing student behaviour on a bell curve.) The majority of students are those who want to be at school so that they can learn, grow, and become better at what they want to do.

With less than a month left of school, we felt it was time to make a change and, as Michael Jackson so wonderfully put it, if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.

So first I made a change within myself. I’m probably going to slip up, because I’m not perfect, but I am going to make a conscious effort to change how I approach what my students do in my classroom. I am going to acknowledge those who are doing what they are supposed to do, and do it in a way that is more than just saying thank you and pointing out what they are doing. I need to be able to reward them for their efforts.

But we also needed the fourth grade students to also take a look at themselves and decide to make a change. It all started with Swimmy, the little fish who taught his friends, who were all little red fish, how to work together and overcome obstacles. After reading the story, we led the class in a brief discussion about how they are stronger when they work together and we wrote down their ideas. Then we asked them to think about what they could do to make this change. After another brief discussion, this is what they came up with:

  • I will encourage others and never give up on my fourth grade family.
  • I will listen to others and value what they have to say and what they can do.
  • I will put aside differences and be a friend to all.

Finally, we told the class that we would be giving them the opportunity to track their behaviour each day and then, at the end of each week, those students who have been living up to this simple creed would be invited to participate in a celebration with one of us while the other students would be invited to do work with the other teacher. The successful students would be a part of the Fourth Grade Red Fish Society. We have a bulletin board outside my classroom with the Red Fish Society creed, the story of Swimmy, a copy of the students’ behaviour chart, and a large red fish made of small red circles with each fourth grade student’s name written on one. (In the story, Swimmy is a little black fish who leads the way so, of course, my awesome grade-level partner and I are the eye of the fish.)

We started this project on Tuesday, and set a goal for the students. The celebration was to be able to participate in an extended afternoon recess. I am glad to report that every student in the fourth grade was able to participate in our very first Red Fish Society celebration. Of course, next week we will be upping the stakes for participating in the celebration, but I think that this is going to be a wonderful way to propel everyone upward and onward toward the end of the year.

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