Faculty Focus on Betsy Pacey, Grade 5 Faculty

This series focuses on how Faculty bring their passions to their teaching and how their approach to teaching and learning helps students achieve their personal best. We spend the day in the Grade 5 classroom with Betsy Pacey.

What are the key factors that allow you to personalize teaching and learning in the classroom?
The most important ingredient when it comes to personalization is getting to know the students on an individual level. Developing a relationship with each student helps me to learn what they need. I get to know their strengths and their weaknesses; I know where I can push them and where they might need some added support. When I know what they enjoy and where their interests lie, it can make all the difference in the classroom. If a student is having a hard time on a math problem or on understanding a concept in a book and I can relate it to their life, this ultimately makes the problem easier to understand. Ultimately, my ability to know the students and relate to them is critical.

The class size is also key. I have 12 students in my class. This allows me to spend time learning about each student and to dedicate significant time to each person.

How do you ensure each student is challenged?
The King curriculum lends itself toward challenge. For instance, with the Lower School Readers and Writers workshop, I am able to address both whole group skills, as well as differentiate for the needs of each student within smaller groups and one-and-one meetings. I establish goals for each student, based on my knowledge of a student's skills and informed by assessments. Then I help students pursue their goals by reading "just right" books, books that they can decode and comprehend, and by writing about a topic that has meaning to them. This way, students are engaged and stretched to achieve their personal best. It's rewarding to me as a teacher to hear students enthusiastically describe their favorite characters and to witness their growing self-confidence as writers.

Can you describe a lesson using this structure?
In the opening 10-15 minutes of a class, I introduce a new skill or delve deeper into a skill that we've been working on. During this time we apply this new skill together. If we're describing characters with a specific focus on character traits, we will start by reading a model text aloud together. I will demonstrate the new skill using this text. Oftentimes I'll then have students practice with the same text by doing a quick "turn and talk" with their partner.

Next, we work independently. Each student is reading different books at different levels; at this point they will practice implementing the skills that we've practiced as a group using their independent books. While they're working independently, I work with students individually to reinforce and expand the skill. I typically meet with each student individually or in a small group every day.

Grade 5 is an important year for students as they prepare to enter the Middle School. How do you prepare each individual student for this transition?
Grade 5 is a big transition year and I want Grade 6 to be a smooth, natural step for my students. I don't want them to be blindsided. We talk a lot about the responsibility that comes with homework and other school commitments; I make sure they understand that it is their responsibility to complete these activities and to do so on time. I underline how important it is that they are all working to the best of their ability and then I work with each one to develop habits that lead to success. To help develop executive functioning skills and prepare for Middle School, I work closely with students to improve their materials management and long-term planning. For example, I help students use a school planner to track and manage their workload. When students miss an assignment -- if they forget to do it or leave it at home -- I emphasize the need for self-advocacy so students, rather than their parents, discuss the assignment with me. This helps students understand the benefits of taking responsibility for their own learning.

Leadership has become a central focus for Grade 5 students, how is King's personalized approach incorporated into this leadership opportunity?
Grade 5 students play a leadership role in the Lower School, setting an example for the younger students. This presents a great opportunity to introduce them to leadership roles and guide them in the leadership process. Each Grade 5 student chooses to serve on a Leadership Council committee, based on their strengths and interests. Through their committee work, students improve their skills in collaboration, planning, and public speaking. The Leadership Council offers a chance for self-exploration, which is key to preparing for Upper School and beyond.This is a real leadership challenge for the students; by personalizing the roles, we are able to make their first leadership venture a positive one while creating yet another opportunity to guide students toward realizing their personal best.