Darlington School: Third Grade: The Magic That Happens in the First Two Rooms on the Hallway
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Third Grade: The Magic That Happens in the First Two Rooms on the Hallway

Steve McConnell | September 1, 2015 | 498 views

The First Two Rooms on the Hallway in Thatcher Hall look like every other room. Each room has desks, chairs, books, SMART Boards, and anything else a student needs to "have at it" when the day begins.

But come the middle of August each year, the First Two Rooms, in particular, are filled with young learners eager to embark on the next phase of their educational journey. For Darlington third-graders, it is not just about beginning the second phase of ELA-8, but the second phase of school altogether. It is where both homework requirements and expectations change, and truly is a big step forward in almost everything that they do! 

Understandably, we have families every year that are anxious about the move from ELA-2 into the “big building,” and everything new that comes with the third-grade year. These students have been given a glorious start in ELA-2 at Darlington, or, awesome starts at locales in other schools in Rome or even other parts of the world. Yet somehow, when they enter the First Two Rooms on the Hallway, there is still an uncertainty about the day, the year, the workload, the expectations ... the teachers (especially the guy!)

The students in these First Two Rooms on the Hallway have entered a place where learning will continue to soar, expectations will be high, and self-responsibility is the concept they will be asked to grasp this year as third-graders.


As the guardians of the First Two Rooms, Mrs. Massey and I have the undeniable opportunity to provide our third-graders with the foundation to begin building the pathway for their new journey. 

The foundation is constructed around a growth mindset with a whole lot of "Yes you cans" and "I knew you coulds," dashes of "I bet you can do more than you think" and "Don't be satisfied with the minimum," and sprinkles of "WOWs," "Well dones" and "YAYs" mixed in for good measure. And Mrs. Massey may even drop in a sticker or two!

When our students enter the First Two Rooms on the Hallway, they are wide-eyed, curious and even a little scared. All of the scary stuff goes away very quickly, though, once they get through their first week. Open House lets us know that all of our parents aren't quite as certain! We encourage them that they know what it's like to pass through third grade, and that their students will be just fine.

So, how do we go about getting these building blocks in place? 

Posing four overarching questions, we have discovered when we get the students thinking about them—and not every question, every day—their mindset changes dramatically!

Question #1: Are You Prepared to Think?

We use this as a basis for everything we do. We ask our third-graders to think about something important every day.

It may be how to solve a word problem in math, what makes a sentence a complete thought, how is it possible for a third-grader to impact their community as a citizen, what connections can they make from their reading selection to the rest of the world—in other words—we ask them to think inside and outside the box.

We also ask them to support their answers. We do our best not to ask yes or no questions, so we don't want them to give yes or no answers.

Question #2: Are You Prepared to Explore?

Now, are we asking them to explore strange new worlds and seek out new life and new civilizations? Probably not! But we are asking them to go where they might not have gone before now.

In Science, they are asked to investigate how things work, how they are made, or why things are the way they are; in Art they explore how just the slightest brush stroke can change a painting from an idea into a masterpiece; in Music they explore how note combinations make for amazing sounds; and in Spanish they explore how the world will change for them when they become bilingual and can communicate with a different culture.

We also ask them to explore in the First Two Rooms on the Hallway. We ask them to explore and to prove why math works, what happens when writers write, how they can chase their dreams when getting lost in a good book, how summer reading allows them access to their friend's worlds, how exploring the lives of Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians help them realize why it is important to coexist and give thanks, and how researching the life of a famous human being allows them to explore the times of long ago!

Question #3: Are You Prepared to Work at the Learning Process?

Perhaps the biggest jump for our learners is the idea of working at their craft! Yes, third grade is a craft and one that must be worked at and refined over the course of the year.

They don't automatically become third-graders just because they enter these First Two Rooms. They become third-graders when they begin to realize that the work they put into this year will lead them to some rather spectacular results. The work they put into their homework, the Friendship Feast, the Wax Museum, Reading Workshop, Math, finding their way through the writing process, the Community Project, and the many other smaller tasks we put in front of them each day will, by the end of the year, allow them to grow and change in ways they did not see coming.

Working at the learning process is an ever-changing dynamic that goes on throughout the year. Some will hit walls and think they cannot get around them and others will appear to be on "cruise control" and seemingly figure out the process with ease. But, all of them will come out on the other side and will look back and realize that the things they accomplished and the work they put in has prepared them for life beyond third grade!

Question #4: Are You Prepared to Take a Risk?

This is perhaps the toughest question we pose to them throughout the year. Each new third-grader brings different learning styles and people styles with them when they enter those First Two Rooms in August. Despite their styles of going about life and learning, we challenge them to do something they have never done before—and hopefully to do this every day!


We ask them to write more than they think they are capable of, we ask them to help solve conflict when they have an issue with someone in their homeroom or perhaps on the playground, and we ask others to find a way to overcome any shyness they have and raise their hand or ask a question. 

We help guide those who want to be leaders to learn how to lead—we ask others who are very strong in certain subjects to be class "experts" when we have group work and to watch them be relied on by their classmates, or, we ask those who may struggle with certain subjects to ask more questions of their teachers or their homework buddies and then watch them light up when they realize they can do something that is new and seems hard to accomplish. We find a way to applaud all of these successes and to remind our students that the risks they take in a most safe environment was worth their effort!

Someone much wiser and smarter than me suggested the following title for this blog "The Hallway: Where Learning Cultivates the Mind of Third-Graders." Perhaps she was right, and it is definitely a title that is worth pondering upon.

This I do know: the entire grades 3-5 hallway has an attitude of gratitude and a powerful commitment to getting our students ready for the rest of Darlington. The First Two Rooms on the Hallway are a passageway to amazing educational opportunities! If there was a better rest of a hallway to lead our students into, or, better hands to place them in when they leave the First Two Rooms, we would be hard-pressed to find it. 

When you meet one of our current, or even former third-graders, you will hear in their voice a fondness for what is/was an extraordinary place. These "alums" know that the First Two Rooms on the Hallway are where seemingly ordinary folk will do extraordinary things! And before all is said and done—even the most uncertain of parents will know it, too!