Monday, February 17, 2014

Let's Hope the Weather Stays Nice for Another Two Weeks

I had a hard time getting out of bed this morning.  I hit the snooze button several times, and definitely more than I usually do.  I know it's because 1) I had a rough time getting to sleep last night and 2) I don't think my body is used to only getting a couple of days off work for a weekend.  You know, being that we've had so many snow days this year.  But, this weekend, the weather was beautiful and the forecast looks to be the same for at least the next ten days.

I'm actually very excited about the weather that's forecasted for the next couple of weeks.  And that's simply because I want to be able to actually complete a unit ON TIME without delays and reteaching due to several days off.  

Since the beginning of January, I've had an idea for a reading unit for Black History Month.  That unit was supposed to start two weeks ago, but... well... you know.  So, this weekend, I sat down and hashed out and redid the unit to customize it to a two week unit instead of the original four week time line.  

Last week, I found some great leveled reading books about Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and The Freedom Riders.  I made a few changes to the unit so that instead of the students self-selecting their own subject for the unit, they would be put in to leveled reading groups.  That will make life a little easier.  Sometimes, it can be a bit overwhelming for 4th graders to pick a subject or person to study.  Plus, a subject as big as Black History Month can be a little overwhelming.  There's so much to choose from, and my kiddos really haven't had that much exposure to the topic.  I mean, sure, they've learned a little about slavery, and civil rights, etc., but not really enough for me to let them run free in a library to select a subject.  

I also dug out several books from my own library about famous black people.  I created a text set back in college when I had to create a social studies unit, and my topic of choice happened to be Black History Month, so it's nice to actually be able to try that out in my own classroom now.  So the kids will be able to read and learn about different aspects of black history along with their assigned reading.

The main goals, or skills, that are the focus of this unit are comparing and contrasting and problem and solution.  Along with text features.  Those are the skills my students are struggling the most with, right now, and the focus for the entire fourth grade team for the next couple of weeks.

Teaching in such a diverse school is a very exciting endeavor, for me.  You see, I've always had an interest in learning about different cultures.  I love learning about different cultural beliefs, religions, and history.  And, I've found, that kids are often just as interested in learning about different people... where they came from, what struggles they've overcome, and how their differences have impacted and shaped our country.

Plus, they are able to relate to some of the subjects we learn about, and become motivated and inspired when they hear about the struggles and hardships that were overcome.

For this unit, I went with a layered curriculum model.  And, the more that I work with layered curriculum, the more I like it.  Layered curriculum is basically a list of activities broken in to three "layers".  The first layer introduces the student to their reading.  Having them read with a friend, or create a KWL chart, or come up with a few questions they want to answer during their learning experience.  Level two has the students selecting activities that guides them through the reading process, like using context clues, answering questions about the text, using the senses to comprehend and understand what they are reading, watching videos about their subject and comparing and contrasting the information from the video to their book.  And level three has the students presenting their learning and understanding of the material by creating a presentation to share with the class, such as a poster or newspaper article or a Facebook page.  Each level offers several choices, and it's up to the student to select the activities they want to do, and racking up the designated amount of points (each activities is worth a certain amount of points).  

What I've learned, and from what numerous studies have shown, students like to have choice.  They like to feel empowered with the opportunity of choosing how they learn.  And, by offering choice, the kids are more prone to work harder because they are in the control seat manning the ship to the final grade that they earn for their project.

Plus, I'm a firm believer in the fact that students need to be reading in order to learn how to read.  And it goes much deeper than being able to sound out words, understand what words mean, and simply explaining to me what they just read.  I want them to understand how reading can help provide information, how the information can be connected to other information, how reading can open up a world of discovery, and ultimately how to wade through information to answer questions and show actual understanding of the text they've read.

Reading goes much deeper than picking up a book that looks interesting and reading it cover to cover.  There are so many different purposes and uses for reading.  And, I want my students to be aware of that.  They don't read just because they have to.  That reading can answer so many questions, create new questions, and send them on a "quest" of learning.  

So, today, my kids are going to embark on a journey of reading to learn and to learn by reading.  

I'm excited about it.  My kids were excited when they found out last week that we were going to be starting this week.  So, now I'm very curious to see how it all plays out.

Wish me luck.  

This can be the beginning to a fantastic learning endeavor... one that provides so many skills.

So... here we go....


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