As many teachers do, after a restful summer break, I entered this 2012-2013 school year with a sense of renewal and excitement at the mere thought of new beginnings. However, I could not have predicted the extent to which my pedagogy, most notably in the area of literacy, would evolve and improve. My sense of rejuvenation and hope for an even more productive year continued to blossom as I familiarized myself with the new literacy curriculum. What made this new curriculum so appealing was that it had been crafted by actual teachers who understood the realities of my classroom setting and population coupled with knowledge of the new Common Core Standards. In addition to this curriculum, I received a rich collection of materials, including a wide variety of high-interest texts in both the fiction and non-fiction genre which came with audio support, so as to be made available to every reader in my classroom.
I am now "in the thick of it" mid-year, and am happy to say that I continue to smile in genuine delight because I have seen the possibilities which are so readily at our fingertips as teachers to inspire our children to enjoy, relate to and learn from both literature and informational texts alike. So too have I seen how high-interest texts of any genre can so naturally guide children through their own process of learning to love reading and writing. In fact, I have found that it is nurturing this strong connection between reading exemplary texts and exploring one's own creativity in writing which can bind the Reading and Writing Workshops together so cohesively. The secret ingredient: choice!
Today, in my third grade classroom at Davis Street Arts & Academics Interdistrict Magnet School, the heterogeneous group of children ranging in age from 8-10 is developing their active reading strategies through sustained readings of high-interest texts they have hand picked themselves. For example, the process of previewing a text in order to find one's 'just right' choice, has been one of our main focuses as each of the texts within the 'Plugged Into Reading' program, not only has an audio component but also has a 'book-talk' card. This 'book-talk' card not only gives an alluring blub of the text, but also provides other related titles and pertinent information, which might appeal to and inform the reader when making his or her choice. Once the children have carefully chosen their preferred text, the program has determined which reading strategies can be targeted and practiced through their book of choice by way of well-crafted graphic organizers, personalized to each individual book. These activities engage the children in various reading strategies before, during and after their reading, thereby requiring them to be more active in their comprehension. I have witnessed children of varying reading levels and abilities enjoy their written response to text through authentic assessments created specifically for each of the literary or informational texts they have read, be it writing a rap using new words they have learned, a persuasive essay influenced by the information they have gleaned through their non-fiction text, or an advertisement they design for a character within their novel or picture book.
In conjunction with this 'Plugged Into Reading' program, I have designed writing mini-lessons, which target each genre of writing, be it narrative, expository, persuasive or poetry. I have sequenced these lessons in direct connection to the particular genre of reading we are focused on during our Reading Workshop time since I find it so necessary to utilize the exemplary texts as a means to inspire and instruct my children in their own writing. Although I have designed this unit with my third-graders in mind, I am confident that it could easily be adapted for use by teachers in other primary and intermediate grades as well, especially those classrooms which actively utilize the 'Plugged Into Reading' program.
In addition to and, possibly, more importantly than the academic objectives of my unit, my goal is to improve the climate of our learning environment by way of raising an awareness to one's own responsibility to bring about necessary change in the world, whether it be in the classroom, at home or in the world at large. It will be my personal goal to demonstrate how reading and writing are the vehicles through which such change has and can continue to come about. Through the use of both fiction and non-fiction, I will expose my students to a wide variety of text structures and introduce them to the different purposes for reading and writing. Eventually they will be able to choose for themselves which type of author's craft they prefer or feel more compelled to read and be inspired to write from. In this way, I will lead my students through a journey for which they take on increasingly more responsibility for their learning and thereby feel empowered to explore my essential question: How can I be the change that I would like to see in my present environment? So often, whether it is within the classroom setting, in the hallway on the way to an enrichment activity or in the cafeteria, the tendency is to blame others for what is wrong, rather than reflect inwardly and look for a solution within oneself. Now this may seem a bit lofty of a task for third graders, but I assure you that, given the proper guidance and modeling (in person and through text), children of any age can begin to assess a critical situation differently as a result of this self-awareness.
My goal is to utilize two peaceful heroes, Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., (as their lives, work and messages of peace have been themes authors of all genres have widely written about), to nurture self-reflection in my third graders by way of active reading and creative writing activities. I will utilize the inspirational qualities of literature coupled with the informative and instructive qualities of non-fiction to facilitate active reading as well as an in-depth understanding of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi. My curriculum unit will be interdisciplinary in scope, incorporating reading, history, geography, writing, and oral language. My students will work in both small- and large-group settings on the activities included in this unit. The unit lessons will be implemented 4 -5 times a week, for 2-3 periods of 40-60 minutes over a 4-month period beginning in February and ending in May. In so doing, I will be able to incorporate two important events which take place at Davis Street School: Black History Month, wherein we commemorate the many heroes of the Civil Rights movement, most notably MLK, and International Day, wherein we teach our students about a foreign country, thus exposing them to a different culture and its many intricacies. I plan to divide my curriculum-unit into five sections, in each of which I will employ the use of fiction and non-fiction texts in an effort to engage them in active reading and enhance their writing abilities. The sections are:
Section 1: Learning about the Civil Rights Movement through the Life of MLK
Section 2: Understanding King's Message of Peaceful Protest
Section 3: Seeing King's Reflection in the Mirror of Gandhi's Life
Section 4: Understanding Gandhi's Message of Non-Violence
Section 5: How can I BE the change that I want to see in the world?