In third grade, we start off the year by reading a book about a young girl who meets an astronaut. The astronaut gives her this advice: “Big things are really little.” The girl comes to understand that this means she can tackle any big issue or problem if she takes it one step at a time. It is a great analogy for third grade.
Throughout the year, we guide students to become competent and confident learners one step at a time. Their successes and accomplishments reinforce their learning, whether it is taking on cursive, multiplication, or their first long-term project. Learning a whole new way of writing (cursive) and a whole new set of math facts (multiplication and division) can seem daunting to students at the beginning of the year, but we guide them through the process one step at a time, one letter, one group of facts, and before they know it, they have learned it all. They are so proud; they experience first hand how practice and persistence lead to success.
Competence builds confidence in all areas. For example, in writing, students are explicitly taught techniques such as showing not telling feelings, grabbing a reader with a strong beginning, using dialogue, and expanding the hot spot of a story. Through exposure to mentor texts and targeted practice, students begin to incorporate these techniques in their own writing and to recognize it in the writing of others. In addition to class writing projects, students start almost every day with a free writing time followed by sharing. During this sharing time, students learn the power of their voice and realize their own skills. They see that they can entertain and engage others with the stories they create. When your classmates beg you to write more or laugh at your funny stories, your confidence soars!
Long-term assignments are a new challenge for third-grade students, and they begin to take more responsibility for organizing their time and completing their work. These projects are broken up into small pieces with check-ins along the way. At the end of each project, students present to the class and are taught to speak clearly and look at their audience. After completing her first long-term project, one student announced proudly, “I didn’t think I could do it. I was scared, but I did it one step at a time!” With each project, each poem they memorize and recite, each class performance, and each small group discussion, they grow. Through practice and persistence, third-grade students become confident learners.