If you've read the blog you know by now that the 3rd graders are deep into a unit of study about civics, government, and communities. We spent a lot of time learning our rights and studying points in history when people needed to fight for their rights. We came up with a list of rights that we have in the classroom, and used those to develop a class constitution which includes what rules need to be in place to protect our rights. This week we are transitioning to learning more about how the government works, but before we do, I wanted to pause to ask this question: So what?
Why are we learning this? What's the big idea?
The answer is cooperation. We are studying these topics in order to help us better understand the importance of cooperation in maintaining healthy communities. After all, no community - no family, school, city, or country - could function if its members did not cooperate.
To begin our discussion about cooperation, we made a mind map.
Students volunteered connections, examples, and definitions of cooperation and added it to the chart. I prompted them to think deeply about the books we've read and the discussions we've had, and to use those as catalysts for understanding all the many facets of cooperation. This mind map will be posted in the room so that we can refer back to it and add to it as we go further in our unit.
After thinking all the thoughts we could think about cooperation, we embarked on an activity that would require a lot of cooperation on the part of the students. I began by telling the students that they would now be writing and performing skits. Before I told them what the skits would be about, I had them divide themselves into groups. I told them I wanted at least 2 people in each group, but that they could have more if they wanted. Interestingly, the class divided into two groups by gender. I told each group to pick a number, which they were able to do quickly and with consensus. Based on their number, I assigned the topic of their skits: the girl group was to create a skit showing cooperation, while the boy group was to create a skit showing the opposite of cooperation. Both groups were excited by the task and eager to get started!
Observing them as they prepared, it was interesting to see the different ways in which cooperation was evident. From a glance, it would appear as if the girls team was not cooperating. Everyone was loudly shouting ideas and interrupting each other. However, a careful observer would notice that all ideas were being taken into account and put into action. Even though they were talking over one another, everyone's ideas were being heard and respected. Though it looked chaotic from my point of view, they were functioning in a way that was comfortable for them. The boys team was much quieter, and each member had a job delegated to him. However, towards the end of their preparation time, the boys realized they had left one member completely out of the skit. Luckily, they all realized this was unfair and they quickly fixed the problem. It took cooperation not only for the boys to fix the problem, but also for the one who was left out to be willing to forgive and join back in.
The final result was two very different but very clear skits. We discussed the two groups' different approaches, and how the team members' working together allowed for a coherent final product to be created.
You are probably well aware that the 3rd graders at HHAI are given lots of opportunities to make choices. Last week, we took the idea of choice to a whole new level, introducing what is called "academic choice." Academic choice is a teaching strategy that comes from Responsive Classroom. You can learn more about it here. Basically, the idea is that the teacher decides what she wants her students to learn, and the students get to decide how they learn it. When students get to direct their own learning, they intrinsically become more motivated learners. The learning becomes a part of their identity. They retain the information better and gain confidence in the process.
Inspired by this idea, I decided to infuse academic choice into our current unit about civics and government. In the past, the 3rd graders learned about two points in history where people fought for their rights: the Civil Rights Movement and the Women's Suffrage Movement. This year, I decided I would let each child choose to either learn about one or the other. No matter which topic they chose, I knew they would come out with an understanding of what it means to fight for one's rights.
After they decided on their topic of study, the students were given a task sheet that looked sort of like a grid. Each square had a resource to read, watch, or look at along with a simple task such as a question to answer or a poster to make. Each task was given a point value based on the degree of difficulty or the depth of understanding it required. As a way of differentiating, each student was given a different goal they had to reach. Goals ranged from 80 points to 140 points, depending on the student's reading fluency, average work pace, and other factors. Differentiated point expectations, along with the freedom to choose which tasks to do to earn the points, made for a learning process tailored to each student's needs, abilities, and interests.
Once they were given this task sheet, the learning was put in their hands. Day after day, they decided what to work on and did so at their own individual pace. Ms. Silverman and I circulated the room, offering support when needed. From the start, the positive effects of this type of learning were clear. The room was quiet, but alive with the buzz of learning.
The information they were learning felt like treasures they had discovered, and their excitement was evident in their eagerness to share what they'd learned with their peers and with me.
Stay tuned to read about the exciting Makerspace project they are working on to show what they learned during independent learning!
Last week marked the beginning of our first conceptual unit of the school year! Each unit this year will combine language arts and social studies to create a blended subject called "humanities." Our first humanities unit is called "Building A Community," and it aims to deeply cover the 3rd grade Civics and Government standards alongside the reading and writing standards. We will examine the dynamics and levels of power that help our classroom community to function harmoniously, then use that understanding to learn about our local, state, and national government systems.
To start things off, we dissected the concept of "rights." After all, our country was founded to secure and protect certain rights, and those rights are the reason why we have laws, elections, and governments in the first place! To begin, we read aloud a beautiful picture book called I Have the Right to Be a Child.
This powerful and beautifully illustrated book points out rights that children (and adults) often take for granted, such as the right to have enough to eat and to be free from violence. I wanted the children to hear the word "right" used over and over in context so that they would develop an intuitive sense of the meaning of the word.
Next, I wrote 4 sentence starters on 4 pieces of paper. "A right is kind of like..." "A right reminds me of..." "A right is not..." and "A right looks like..." The groups had one minute to jot down their thoughts on the page before rotating to the next page. In the end, the papers were covered in responses to the sentence starters.
Finally, after talking around the meaning of "right," we worked together to come up with our own definition:
Little people, big minds.