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 urban and suburban students allows for a great deal of 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. Betsy Ross Art Magnet School is a constant learning environment.
Two fifth grade classes will be participating in this unit. Like the other grade level classes in the school, my classes are diverse and culturally rich. Many of the students are children of first or second generation immigrants (like me). The students bring a lot of their rich heritage and life experiences into the classroom. My students fall into three dominant categories: Caucasian, African American, and Hispanic. Along with the diversity of the classroom being a wonderful asset it can also have its drawbacks. Most of the students do not share the same quality and quantity of background knowledge, and therefore, eliciting background knowledge sometimes takes many students interacting by sharing their urban and suburban settings with each other to come to the same experience. Often times I hear the students trying to compare his/her experiences to something that may be more familiar to the students listening. The student is trying to convey his or her experience but also trying to have the listening students be able to assimilate it to something in their own lives. As I observe this happening, I often think to myself how wonderful it would be if the students were able to be as clear and descriptive in their writing as they are when they are speaking to each other.
The Language Arts curriculum is quite versatile. It exposes the students to many genres of fiction 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.