When children enter the Upper Elementary, they suddenly find themselves in a very big and different world. They are sure that they’re in one of the same classrooms down the hall that they used to hear about, but now everything seems a bit off. Things are moving faster: curricula, friendships – it’s like standing on the curb of a busy and exciting, but slightly, terrifying street and wondering how you’re ever going to get across.
But, they do, of course. Fourth graders are industrious and intellectually curious. They look hard for explanations of facts, how things work and why things happen the way that they do. They take pride in their finished work and are suddenly excited to be reading to learn, not simply learning to read. Soon, the world begins to unfold before them again. Where many fourth graders still show their youth is in their inability to truly see big abstract concepts, and in their commitment to rules and regulations. Fourth graders do work cooperatively, but the rules that govern such activities – and the balance thereof – might take precedence over the work itself.
To fifth graders who have been in the class before, everything looks more familiar and comfortable. They are able to concentrate for longer periods of time, they are proud of their academic achievements, and are very receptive learners. Fifth graders enjoy rules and logic, but they don’t get hung up on it as before. Rather, they turn this attention to detail towards deep studies and projects.
Sixth graders, believing that they have it all dialed, are challenged to slow down and reflect and revise previous work. To them, new tasks and experiences are much more interesting than content they previously worked on. That said, sixth graders seem to possess a wonderful ability to abstract – to see the big picture; in fact, these children are beginning to see the world from multiple perspectives. They might believe that their perspective is the correct one, mind you, but they can also articulate the views of others. Sixth graders love to feel grown up and to do work in school that is relevant to them. At times they can be impulsive and argumentative – but that is all just part of them refining their focus back on themselves, as they see themselves as part of the larger world out there.
As students prepare to leave the Upper Elementary, their development tends to again settle. They may feel particularity strong in one content area over another, they can abstract well, and they can see the benefit of rehearsal and preparation to their studies. Graduating students from the Upper Elementary enjoy work that feels real to them as their world shifts to include more and more aspects of current events and pop culture.
At each of these developmental benchmarks, the Upper Elementary teacher works to meet and reach each student where they are. This means not merely responding to how they present, but also intentionally preparing the environment, curricula and teaching strategies so to accommodate these student-chameleons.
For Further Reading, Check Out: Yardsticks by Chip Wood (1997) ISBN: 0-9618636-4-1