Thursday, April 6, 2017

Book Timelines!

We are knee-deep in our 5th grade historical fiction unit right now. This is always a favorite each year. We've blogged about our various HF adventures HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

In 5th grade, kids have already completed a HF unit when they were with us in 4th grade. During that time, they all read the SAME book. This year, to take them a little deeper, the kids main focus is studying the ERA they selected. Due to this, kids are all reading DIFFERENT books that are within the same era as their book club members. Our students also had to select a different era this year from the one they studied last year in our space. Eras we focused on this year: Colonial America, Revolutionary War, Westward Expansion, Civil War, WW2, and Civil Rights. Our favorite part of this, is that kids of all levels are in book clubs together, really creating fantastic discourse tied to era understanding and how their book fit together.

A huge part of any historical fiction unit is nonfiction understanding of the era they are studying. We spent the first week+ immersing ourselves in nonfiction materials tied to our era. Kids shared ideas with each other and created a group timeline outlining important events from their era.
As we have been working through our books and discussions, they started to bring up and share where their books fit into these non-fiction timelines. Last year, we made "double timelines", which were fun, but only one book could fit in that framework.

This year, our amazing student teacher, Megan Leverence (she's looking for a job, people...anyone hiring?? :) found a great blog post. You can read it HERE. She took the idea and changed it up a little bit, and found a way to connect it to the timelines the kids created.

Rather than write up "reviews," like the blog suggested, she had the kids create "book timelines" of the books they had been reading. She had them find 5-10 important events in their books (no spoilers allowed), and create a timeline "flipbook."
Once the kids created their "flipbook timelines", they placed their books on the nonfiction timelines. This created a fantastic visual of where all of the books we were reading fit across history. We utilized a huge bulletin board in our hall to hang all the timelines and books on. It's been a great discussion and visual tool for all of our kiddos.
How have you taught HF units? How do you bring in nonfiction? We'd love to learn with you!

Happy Teaching,


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Why Personalize?

We get asked often: "Is it worth it?" "Would you ever go back to a traditional classroom?" Isn't it just so much work?" And, truly the answer is: This is the best work of our careers, and we would never go back to a traditional classroom. It is WORTH every minute, every drip of sweat, every ounce of stress. Why?? I'll answer with a story.

Meet one of our students. For the sake of anonymity, we'll call him "Jay." Meet Jay.
When we met "Jay" during our first week of 4th grade, we knew he was smart. He was a good student. He "played" school really well, and had every year prior to us.

We start every school year with a variety of team building activities. These are critical in the development of our culture and climate. These tell us so much more about the kids in front of us than any test score could. We use these as building blocks for our time together and how our classroom runs.

During a particularly challenging activity (Spaghetti and marshmallow towers), "Jay" completely shut down. His group was "failing," and so he stopped trying. He put his head down and refused to go any further. At one point during those first few weeks, he said "Can't you just give me a worksheet??" No, Jay, we can't, nor would we.

What will we do instead? We will personalize the learning you receive. We will push you to places that might make you uncomfortable. We will work on not only your academics, but also your soft skills. We will teach you that "failing forward" is a much better option than shutting down. We will instill confidence in you. We will believe in you. We will help you believe more in yourself. 

Flash-forward to almost two years later. "Jay" is teaching his peers in this picture. Jay has taken on the entire 8th grade curriculum in math--by his own choosing, and will be starting high school math as a 6th grader next year. Jay now seeks out challenges that frustrate him. Jay now has confidence to the point where failure does not frighten him. He has empathy for his peers. He holds his head up high. Jay is proud of who he is as a learner.

And we couldn't be more proud of him.

That is just one reason of a thousand of why we personalize. Why is your WHY? We would love to learn with you.