I am lucky enough to work with an incredible team of teachers. We collaborate a lot and everyone is all about what's best for the students. This is the time of year where the heat is on! We only have 3 more months before these kiddos will be moving on up to the next grade level--yikes!
Sometimes colleagues will try higher-level activities with their kids and the lesson fails miserably, so they are hesitant to undertake that challenge again. Trust me, we have lessons all the time where I'm ready to pull my hair out looking at my kids work. We did one recently where I wanted them to come up with a creative idea to explain "Where Do Rainbows Come From". You want to guess what half the kids wrote--"the sky"! Yes, I want to roll my eyes and just fall back into the lower level lessons, which would be easier and give me less gray hair. But I don't do it, because the more you do the challenging activities-the better they get at it. They really do! If you give up, they do too!
Just a few ways to incorporate a challenge into your daily routine:
1) Journal prompt-make them think! Ask them to write about the big idea of a photograph-birds flying in formation, a rose growing in debris of a hurricane--what does that pic mean to you? Ethics-which character was right and wrong. They need to be able to make an argument for their answer. Perspective-compare an igloo to a cabin-what do they see differently, how does it feel, etc. We do this so often when I looped with my Kinders last year in 1st Grade they were still always starting a sentence with: If I were a....
2) Bring in past/future. This is a tough concept for kids who usually tell you after school tomorrow they went to the library and got this book (they mean yesterday). Write about a character in the future-what do they become. Put a story in the past-what would be different if this was written 100 years ago.
3) During my whole group routine every morning the kids think-pair-share on a topic. Sharks will make a good pet-one takes the pro/one takes the con and has to defend it. They amaze me at what they come up with sometimes.
4) Every day they also list things based on a certain topic. Things that grow (one of them thought of fingernails, which I thought was really good considering most were just naming different vegetables). Things you can't see-one said "hope" which made me just say Awwww!
5) Use poetry. Wonderful tool for vocabulary and inferencing. You may have to explain things to them a little bit the first time you read it, but then they get it and they remember!
6) Read to them above grade level. Read chapter books in Kindergarten. Is this easy in the beginning? No! It's not. But keep with it. This year's group couldn't sit still to get through one whole chapter for about 3 months-we read 1/2 a chapter. :) Remember many of these kid aren't being read to at home-they need to develop those listening comprehension skills and vocabulary somewhere. Besides they can go so much deeper in activities about characters they have gotten to know over time.
7) Math-I've been using photos to open my math instruction as well. A real-life pic of a row of houses. How many squares? Which one is 3rd? Talk about bringing in real-life connections!
8) Have them build/invent/create! Doing sink/float, give them a bunch of materials and let them make a boat that will float. Create leprechaun traps. Have each group make a kite out of different kinds of paper-predict which ones will actually fly and then go out and test them. Invent something new they will have in the future.
9) Do art! And by art, I don't mean cut out all the pieces and let them glue them on the pre-made paper-I consider that to be more of a craft. You get all the same answers. Let them paint, use clay, teach them a technique of a favorite artist-you can bring in social studies this way. I just LOVE to see all the different ways their little minds see the same topic and hey, there's your bulletin board fodder! So, it's not on the standardized tests, but thinking creatively is necessary for life!
10) Get it in wherever you can. Transitions, projects, writing, daily activities--they need that challenge. If you have high expectations for them-they will rise to those expectations-it may take patience on your part, but they will get there. :)