Recently, I had the opportunity to observe my son’s 4th grade class for a day. These are my observations and I was not prompted to write anything, but felt it might be a help to parents who might be considering a classical education for their children.
We arrived at school around 7:30 am after my wife and daughter dropped us at the front door. For me, I had a bottle of water, a pen and notepad, and no cell phone (the school asked me not to use it while on campus, so I decided to leave it at home). After being checked in and getting my visitors badge, we went upstairs to my son’s classroom. There was a chair in the back right corner of the room waiting for me. I sat down and observed the students getting ready for their day, unpacking their backpacks and putting things away. There are no school bells like I was used to hearing in school, but rather precise time management. The school day started at 7:40 promptly. The students stood to their feet and their teacher led in the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag. Then the students said the pledge to the Texas flag. No offense Texans, but this is the only state that I have ever lived in (California, Nevada, Florida, Minnesota) where they say a pledge to the state flag. A bit different, nothing inherently wrong with it, just just different. Then after the flag pledge were finished, the students also recite a school pledge.
After the pledges were complete, the students had a moment of silence and then the day began with reading of Treasure Island aloud by various students with the teacher asking them about what was taking place in the story. Once they reached the end of the chapter, they put their books away and then had a spelling test. The students not only have to spell the words correctly, they have to divide the word into the correct syllable divisions. The words on the test that day were: consider, consideration, colony, colonies, colonial, colonize, sure, assure, raise, retire, divide, occupy, probably, probable, foreign, expense, respond, response, responsible, scissors. These were good spelling words and probably represented a fair challenge for the students.
After the spelling test, we launched into grammar. The students were learning about phrases and clauses. The students were also reminded before they diagram a sentence to make sure that they analyze the sentence completely by identifying all of the parts of speech, phrases in the sentence. This was a gem, so I wrote it down, to remind my son later on when he struggles with grammar. Did you also know that an intransitive verb has no verbal object? I knew that but it has been a number of years since I have studied English intransitive verbs. About 8:45 the students were instructed to pack up their things and get ready for recess.
The first recess was inside, downstairs in the cafeteria, the kids had time to use the restroom, eat a snack if they chose, and then run off some energy on the carpeted area. Most of them were involved in a tag-like game called frozen. I didn’t quite understand the game, but enjoyed observing as my son and others ran around and away from who ever was it. They were enjoying themselves and then as quickly as recess started it ended and it was back upstairs for more instruction.
Math is different here at Founders because students are grouped by ability rather than their current grade level. For math, my son goes across the hall to the 5th grade class. The students change classes orderly and timely. Math starts promptly at 10:00 am. The teacher goes around and checks their homework ensuring that they have completed the required pages. They go over the previous night’s homework with each student having a turn to answer a question. The teacher has a unique teaching style by always roaming around the room and ensuring that the students are engaged and not talking or distracting others. The other thing that keeps them on their toes, is that they do not know when the teacher will call on them to answer a question, he was changing up the order so students needed to be ready. They were going over decimals and place value and converting decimals to fractions. One of the other gems that I took away was something the math teacher said and of course, I wrote it down. He said, “Before attempting to solve any math problem, first identify what it is that they are looking for” Another gem that I can use when my son is stuck on a math problem. After they finished going over the homework assignment, the teacher had the students come and pick up a small whiteboard and a dry erase marker. They then did some drills with decimals and rounding. The students really loved this and they were learning while having a little fun and using the whiteboards. Once that was completed, they went over what the homework would be for Monday and he also reminded them that they would have a quiz over decimals and converting decimals to fractions and vice versa. The period ended promptly at 10:50. The students went back to their respective classrooms and it was time to head to specials. Today would be Music and Art.
Music was from 10:55 to 11:30. Today the students had two tests, one test was a written test and then they had a sight singing test over Do, Re, Mi, etc. I am not much of musician and do not read music, but I enjoyed hearing the students take their oral test and then when that was completed, they all sang together as a class up and down the Do, Re,Mi scale and did the accompanying hand signals. Class ended at 11:30 and they lined up to go next door to Art.
Art was from 11:30 to 12:05. Today the students were making Chinese lanterns to coincide with their conclusion of studying Chinese History. The teacher gave them instructions and then they were off constructing their Chinese lanterns. When they were done, they hung their lanterns up and then it was back upstairs to the classroom for some more instruction prior to lunch.
From 12:10-12:25 – the students were working a worksheet while others were reciting their weekly poem.
At 12:25 they got ready for lunch. I enjoyed lunch with my son (we don’t get to eat lunch together during the week because he is at school and I am at work) I enjoyed sitting with him and few of his friends. When I finished lunch, I went up to see the Assistant Headmaster and we chatted for a few minutes about various things including my observations of what I had seen thus far during the day. We concluded our chat and the students were on their way back from recess.
From 1:30 to 1:45 – more poetry recitations and working on the worksheet that was given to them earlier. I can’t remember the poem except that it was written by William Makepeace Thackeray. Shame on me, I heard it over 25 times that day.
At 1:45 the students had a History quiz and they did that until 2:30
At 2:30 until 3:20 was their Science period. They were learning about the nervous system. Did you know that a human brain weighs about 3 lbs? I might have learned that at some point in my educational career, but it was good to be reminded again. They also learned about voluntary and involuntary actions.
The school day ends around 3:25-3:30. The students packed up their things and then went downstairs to the cafeteria to wait for their parents, while other students went to tutoring and others went to after-school care.
Overall, it was a full-day and a great experience. I think every parent should go and observe one day in their child’s classroom, so you as a parent know what is going on. I am glad that I went and did this. It gave me a greater appreciation for the superior education that my son is receiving. It also gave me some insights as a parent how to help him in various subjects. It gave me a greater appreciation for all of the teachers who diligently prepare to teach their students each and every school day. I probably did not do a thorough job in recording all of my observations, but wanted to write about this not only for a personal record, but to maybe help parents who may be undecided regarding the possibility of having their child attend a classical school.
Personally, I would prefer a Christian school for my children, but here in Texas, private school education is not possible with our income because it is so cost-prohibitive. I am glad that my son is here at Founders Classical Academy in Flower Mound and look forward to having my daughter start Kindergarten here in the Fall. For a new school, they have a very involved Parent-Teacher Organization and there is a Facebook group for the parents of students which has been very helpful in getting missed homework assignments and other information regarding various events, activities, fundraisers, etc. What did we do before Facebook. We have been the beneficiaries of help when it comes to missing homework pages or assignments and we have always tried to help whenever possible knowing that there would be a day that we would need help ourselves. Also my son has made some great friends and we have gotten together with his friend and his family and had a great time.
I also had the opportunity before I went for my day of observation to watch a video by Dr. Terrence Moore entitled A Walk Through the School. I highly recommend that you watch this video, it does a better job than my feeble writing attempt above.
I purposely did not name any teachers or students for privacy reasons. The school did not ask me to write this review. Comments and questions are always welcome and encouraged.
Yes, I did survive an entire day without my cellphone and it wasn’t so bad…