The Big Feelings of Third Graders

We have a lot of feelings in third grade. We visit all of them. On a moment to moment basis, all of the feelings come into our hearts and then into our classroom.

Today we had big feelings about taking the district tests. (NWEA) The intricate ways that a child can create avoidance and procrastination behaviors is spectacular. It reminds me so much of Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes. The relentless search to figure out how to get out of doing school work took him hours in planning. If he’d done the work…he would have been done in a few minutes.

Oh overthinkers. Ha. I see you.

It is spring but not really spring in Montana. Snow is on the schedule for weather multiple days this week, and it was 32 degrees at 1 pm. After our confused sunny/60 degree Saturday, it makes all of us, but especially the small humans, very antsy.

Electrical box wrapped with art, seen on the way to work in downtown Billings.
I HEART these boxes.

I’ve told this story to several people in the last year, and it feels fitting to say it here.

Third grade is a time where children go through massive developmental change. The child shifts from being in early childhood to adolescence. Their brain is more developed and they are developing a new sense of self. It is highly likely that they will retain a lot of what they learn about themselves from this year.

Think back. You remember 3rd grade, don’t you? Unless you had a great deal of trauma, you probably do.

Third grade is also a year where a lot of abstract and complicated subject matter concepts are initiated. It is a HUGE year in elementary school.

They learn multiplication, division and fractions. They learn how to compare numbers and use quick strategies and mathematical properties to complete complex, multi-step problem solving tasks. They learn to read a passage and cite evidence to back up a claim. They write reports and cite evidence. They write opinions. They learn cursive. (If I’m the teacher) They are expected to already know how to read proficiently. They are expected to write the alphabet proficiently.

Last week at reading group I sat my students down, 1-2 at a time, and went over their goals. My co-teacher had this idea and it was brilliant. We conferred with each child and had them declare on paper what strategies for test taking they had and what they were going to do in order to do their best. We shared their score from winter (taken in December) and what their new goal is for April.

I ended up with a group of students lamenting about taking the tests. They had a lot of anxiety about it. Because I had us casually sitting at the kidney table, students were coming over, pulling up a chair and talking about how worried they were.

There were some deep worries:

  1. They have this concept that no one, from school to parents, will be proud of them if they don’t perform well.
  2. Many were engaging in limiting and negative self talk, like “I am bad at math.”
  3. Some were comparing themselves to classmates or older siblings, and feeling they could never measure up.

I called them in, instead of calling them out. I told them I refused to listen to them trash talk themselves. I gave my 30 second elevator speech about vulnerability and perfectionism and perseverance.

I developed this story in my teacher education masters program. I had to take several standardized tests and kept.failing.over.and.over. (**I kept taking a timed Praxis math test and running out of time. Finally did the CBEST and scored very high. I say this so you know I am actually a licensed teacher that knows some things.) This was an incredibly challenging time for me.

The fact that I had to write a caveat to having failed as a 50 year old professional woman illustrates, hopefully, some sense of how hard the potential of failure is for children. That fear is very very real.

The third grade students at my school scored in the top 5-10% in math, of all 3rd graders district wide on our winter test. We are so proud, and am encouraging them to really know us what they know. That said…it’s still a crazy thing we do, test kids on a whole year of knowledge and see what stuck. No, I’m not debating testing here. Just remaining curious.

I’m pondering all the things we ask young people to do that we as adults are shaky to middling at. We don’t always “stay calm, talk it out,” or feel “unteased and accepted.” Being a third grader is really hard. We expect them to show how to do a lot of things-academically and emotionally.

Hug a third grader. They are working really, really hard.

Thank you from the inside.


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