Sunday, September 9, 2012

Letting Go of "Pretty"

I have a confession to make... I am a bit of a perfectionist. Okay, more than just a bit. I love to see things neat and organized. My favorite aisle in Wal-Mart is the one with all of the bins, drawers, and tubs. Oh the possibilities! When it comes to teaching 7 and 8 year olds, however, things aren't always so neat and organized.

This past week, I planned to teach my students about timelines. I always start by asking them what they notice about the word (hoping for someone to say that it has two smaller words inside). We talk about why people would want to use timelines and the different kinds there are. Next, I read the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. This book lends itself to teaching about timelines because the events in the story are in order by the days of the week. After reading the story, the kids put the events in the story in order on a timeline. While this is a great introduction to timelines, I started thinking that I need to go deeper with this skill. Just placing events on a pre-made timeline didn't sound all that challenging.

My friend Jen, who teaches 3rd grade, suggested that my students could put their birthdays in order on a timeline. I thought it sounded like a great idea and tried to think of different ways to make it work. I thought about typing up a pre-made timeline with all of the months in order and evenly spaced apart. Then, they could cut out cards with each child's birthday and picture on it and place them in order on the timeline. Wouldn't those look so nice in the hallway?! The more I got to thinking about it, though, I realized something important. I really need to let go of "pretty". Even though these timelines would look nice and neat with their even spaces and typed out months, I wouldn't be asking very much of my students. So instead, I decided to just let go and leave it up to my students. I would have them work in groups of four at their tables and they could make their timelines any way they wanted, with any materials that they wanted. I let them choose from butcher paper, sentence strips, computer paper, anything. I did give some guidelines that they needed to follow such as: the months had to be in order, they needed to somehow make them evenly spaced, and they needed a line to place the cards on. The kids were really excited about this project!

As they started working, I noticed that all of the groups were doing their timelines a little different from each other. Some were taping sentence strips together, some were gluing strips of butcher paper together, but they were all making timelines.

I saw problem solving (one student asked if their group could use a yard stick because they couldn't make a straight line, another group realized that they didn't have enough paper for their timeline when they ran out of space by September). I walked around and gave them support but didn't just jump to solving the problem for them. I let them work it out and see what they came up with. By the end of the activity, my class had successfully made 6 timelines. They weren't totally perfect, neat, or "pretty", but they were MEANINGFUL. I realized that the kids had learned so much more by creating their own version of a timeline. I was so extremely proud of them.


I plan on hanging these in the hallway tomorrow at school. When I look at them, I will remind myself to keep letting go of "pretty" and keep striving for the most meaningful activities possible!



  1. It's hard to let go of the pretty, isn't it?

    I'm glad you found a way to balance the pretty with authentic learning. There's a place for both {even in a 2nd grade classroom :)}

    The timelines look fantastic.

    Across the Hall in 2nd Grade

  2. I love it! I just introduced the concept of timelines this last week as well. To reinforce the concept I made a classroom timeline for the school year. Each month the kids will choose pictures of the important events/activities we did in the month and we will write the captions together. I have a free template at my TPT store. I hope this helps them to understand how long a year is. Good Luck!
    Bright Concepts 4 Teachers

  3. I, too, need to work on letting go of pretty! I love the birthday timeline concept. I will add it to my to do list!

    EduKate and Inspire

  4. I try my hardest to make authentic learning as pretty as possible, because I am a perfectionist, too!!
    A Cupcake for the Teacher

  5. AMEN!! I read your post on my phone via my blog reader app, but I opened it into Safari so that I wouldn't forget to comment because I wanted to be sure I let you know how much I agree with you!! I love, love, love being a part of the teacher blogger community, but I am not in love with how many matchy matchy craftivities I see. Granted, there are times when I expect my students to create something that matches my format or example to a T, but for the most part, I am all for letting students take the reigns and having complete creative control. I am super OCD about color coordination, labeling, and having things match, but when it comes to student learning, the one size fits all mentality that comes with premade templates usually doesn't lead to student buy in or real learning anyway, so I applaud you for being honest and sharing your thoughts! I've found that my students are way more proud of their effort and work when they're creating something truly original as opposed to simply cutting and gluing something I've already created or started for them. Plus, the more we let our students go the DIY route, the less time we spend on prep work, and who doesn't love that?! :)

    Yay Third Grade

  6. I am so glad to hear you realized the concept of letting go. And even better, you realized letting go of "Pretty." Leaving your teacher hat for a facilitator in the classroom of student leaders is letting go. By allowing them to showcase their thoughts and abilities is letting go of pretty. You are doing less so that they can do and be more. That is powerful. WAY TO GO! :)

    Always A Lesson