I teach fifth grade language arts and social studies at Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School in New Haven, Connecticut. Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School is a unique school. It consists of grades five through eight. The students attend five academic classes and one art class on a daily basis. The school is part of the inner city school system and is also an arts magnet choice school; that is, students from surrounding towns are able to enroll in the New Haven Public School System. The mixture of both urban students and suburban students allows for diversity. The students learn not only what is taught by a teacher but also what the students teach each other about their ethnicity and personal cultural background.
The language arts curriculum is quite versatile. It exposes the students to many types of fiction genre and nonfiction texts. The language arts curriculum also incorporates social studies themes into the shared reading texts. Five of the shared reading texts in the language arts curriculum are historical fiction as well as two historical nonfiction texts. Each shared reading planner focuses on the six comprehension strategies (predicting, connecting, wondering, figuring out, picturing, and noticing) along with setting a purpose for reading the intended texts daily assigned pages. The students apply these six comprehension strategies to both fiction and nonfiction texts, but the nonfiction texts are taught with the use of text features. The students are taught to utilize text features to locate information quickly and effectively. I teach my students to change each of the subtitles into questions using the five W's (who, what, where, when, and why) and one H (how) and to answer each question using the paragraph. Comprehending nonfiction text is often difficult for students, due to the fact that each sentence is important. Each sentence in nonfiction text contains facts to support a main idea and it is important for the students to determine which facts are most important to comprehend the text. Most students do not have enough exposure to nonfiction text such as: recipes, food labels, and newspaper articles etc. Along with the limited exposure to nonfiction most of the students can not define unknown vocabulary used in nonfiction pieces of writing.