Oooohhh! I'm fired up. I did a little Google search looking for sites having to do with teaching ELA to fourth graders. I found an article that was really very good. It focus was on teaching theme. Theme can be challenge to teach to fourth graders and as the article states, the confusion between theme and main idea is real. I loved this article because I was READY to read it. It was just the thing to get me thinking about the literature I teach and and how I can really capitalize on the rich novels I've selected. I loved the author's ideas when it comes to helping my students to select independent reading on the same theme as our whole class novel or read aloud.
(Confession: There was a brief moment when I allowed my self to go all, "Woe is me, our basal reader is chock full of crap literature so having rich conversations around this shared text will be nearly impossible." Then as I've been reminded before, I remembered that the program is a resource. Even though the trainers told us that the reading/writing handbook was the backbone of the program, I could put more emphasis on using the anthology where more real literature exists. The reading/writing handbook mostly contains fiction, non-fiction, and poetry written by committee to teach specific skills and strategies while incorporating 8 specific vocabulary words. The anthology contains better literature and some pieces are actual excerpts pulled from books written by real authors. My conclusion: I can do this!)
I'd really like to go back to a reader's notebook where students are responding, in writing, to the literature we read. These notebooks would provide students with a place where they could simply react to what they've read. In addition, they'll provide a place for students to write about theme and what they're noticing and what they're wondering. Finally, these notebooks will provide a place for students to answer text dependent questions. I know this is not rocket science or truly innovative but the idea has me excited to teach literature and has sparked some ideas around using Wonders alongside the novels I love.
The article I read was also awesome as it linked to some other really good articles. Looking for a little inspiration like me? Here are links to the articles:
11 Essential Tips for Teaching Theme in Language Arts
The Text Says What? Intro To Text Dependent Questions
One of my colleagues is itching to read something good that will get her excited for the new school year ahead. Another has already taken a three day workshop and another is wondering why we can't just enjoy the first week of vacation without thinking about professional development. Professional development is a really personal thing. There are times when I've experienced PD in a powerful way. I had either signed up for a workshop or course or read a book and the timing was just perfect. I was ready to learn and could easily see how what I was learning could have an a immediate and powerful application to my practice. There are other times that I wasn't in a the right mindset or didn't see the connection between what I was learning and what my students needed most. In those instances I felt like PD was being done to me. I blamed the provider or the presenter but never took the time to reflect and realize that I might be the problem.
In the end, PD is personal. I have had many conversations with PD directors over the years who have wondered what PD to offer our district's elementary teachers. More than one has taken care to survey teachers and ask them about the PD that they want. I wonder if the right questions were really asked. What would we say if we were asked to examine our practice and to determine where it was the weakest? What if we had to choose a focus that would make the most impact on our day to day teaching? My focus would be different. As a rule, elementary teachers don't want math PD. I want it badly but don't likely need it as much as I want it.
My ELA instruction needs a major overhaul. I want to turn to the familiar places I've received inspiration in the past. Lucy Calkins' work and the work of Gail Boushey and Joan Moser light me up. There is this voice in my head that invites me to become immediately discouraged because our district has chosen to be a basal reader district not interested in student-centered, innovative teaching at the elementary level. I have worked hard to find a place where Wonders reading and the Daily Cafe can co-exist and I have come away with iterations that don't do justice to either. This is my problem. This is where I need PD. Like the little mouse, Despereax, I am on a quest. I hope it will be an exciting one! I hope I'll find what I'm looking for.
The Daily Cafe
The Lucy Calkins Project
The Tale of Despereaux
My classroom library is awesome.. It includes all the best authors. Kate DiCamillo, J.K. Rowling, Beverly Cleary, Andrew Clements, Gail Gibbons, Lois Lowry, Judy Bloom, Rick Riordan, Roald Dahl, Louis Sachar, and E.B. White are all there! The big concern: they go mostly unread.
I see two big problems with my practice. I do not give my students nearly enough time to read books of their own choosing. Also, my students have no idea what gems can be found in the library. I know I have to add time for independent reading. I'm wondering what makes the most sense. I used the CAFE structure for quite a few years. It might make sense to return to this structure. I have never been able to find a good flow/balance with CAFE and our Wonders curriculum but perhaps that is a project worth investing time in. There are other options. I'm wondering if I could have students read upon entering the classroom at the beginning of the day and after lunch. Would this be enough time? Also, how can I introduce students to books in my classroom library? The read aloud certainly lures students in and attracts them to some of the better authors. Still, I want my students exposed to MORE books and more authors. I'm wondering how I can design a routine where students share what they're reading with their peers. I want students to feel accountable but I don't want this share to have the same grind-type feeling as a traditional book report. I love reading reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. Can we create our own version where students review books in a way that they'll consider engaging? Is there a way to do this so we also have a go to resource for finding great books?
Lots more to think about and some research to do too!
Mike Anderson from Turner Falls, MA understands fourth graders and the challenges associated with teaching them. I fell upon his 2011 article, "The Early and Elementary Years/The Leap into 4th Grade" when I was hunting for something else. I'm glad I took the time to read it. He validated everything I have come to know and love about fourth graders.
Check out the article here!
My big take away was that making time for the routine instruction in the beginning pays dividends. We have choices. If we choose to rush into our curriculum right away, we'll be redirecting and revisiting expectations all year long. Building community is critical in fourth grade where students are industrious, curious, anxious, and emotional.
I know that our Harry Potter theme will help to establish community. My students, upon being sorted, develop a house identity. They quickly learn that their housemates are their tribe and their house is a place where they belong.
What I'd like to add to our routines is an end of the day meeting. Giving my students an opportunity to work on their communication skills, practice listening, and develop empathy will all help to build a sense of community in our room which will undoubtedly go a long way in supporting each student's social, emotional and academic success. I'm focusing on intentional reflection to improve my practice. I know that giving my students a vehicle for the same kind of reflection will help to improve their ability to develop as a fourth-grader. We will start with ten minutes. My students are worth it.
Have you ever said "NO!" to an opportunity? It can rattle you a little. At least it rattled me. I recently said no to an opportunity that would have challenged me professionally in a way that I've not been challenged in my entire 24 year career. It was exhilarating to consider what might be possible in this new role. As I contemplated taking this leap and as I weighed the options, I felt very alive and sort of nauseous at the same time. And then I said no. I said no for some good reasons. I'm okay with having said no.
Or maybe not. Maybe not because there is this relentless voice in my head that keeps saying, "Fine. It is fine that you said no. But what is next? Because you can't just keep going along as if..."
I have no idea what is next. There is a long list of things that should be next or could be next. I'll likely share some of these ideas as we go. For now, I have decided to start this blog. I have decided to be reflective and make my reflection visible.
Here are some of the things I'm thinking: