How do I get my students engaged? How do I ensure that what they are learning is relevant to them? How do I make an impact with what I do in Third Grade that will carry over into the years that follow? These are the questions I ask myself every day. Every teacher strives to answer these questions. Children at this age show a curiosity and passion to explore the world and this is something that I can draw upon in my teaching of nonfiction reading and writing
. If we, as elementary school teachers, can get students engaged and excited about nonfiction then hopefully that excitement will carry over to the years that follow. My goal for this unit is to inspire my students to want to learn more.
If you ask my students to name some presidents they will name George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Barack Obama. For the most part, students know only those "famous ones" but don't really know much about the other forty one men who have held the most important office in our country. Around the time of President's Day, I realized that my students were lacking in this area, and I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to enlighten them. I could introduce them to the presidents while introducing the genre of biography and, in the process, hopefully, inspire them. Could I create a spark of interest not about just this one significant individual from the past, but possibly engage them in the importance and relevance of learning history?
With the implementation of the new Common Core Standards, discussions about the new Language Arts standards inevitably turn to the overwhelming percentage of nonfiction that is expected.
[T]he Common Core dictates that by fourth grade, public school students devote
half of their reading time in class to historical documents, scientific tracts, maps
and other informational texts . . ."
Although this seems like a big challenge, students are generally interested in nonfiction, and if I can grasp and hold their attention and interweave nonfiction and fiction, this transition will happen smoothly. Biographies seem like such a captivating genre with which to engage students. Biographies give extensive information about the subject but have more of a plot than textbooks which can make biographies more appealing to students. If my students are expected to read and write nonfiction extensively over their school careers, I feel that it is my responsibility to get them excited for learning through nonfiction. This introduction to informational texts could also introduce them to other historical documents, maps, etc. that they may encounter in their biography reading that will be required reading over their academic years. According to Lucy Calkins, "the impulse toward research and nonfiction writing needs to be nurtured during the early childhood years."
As an elementary school teacher, I believe it is my job to encourage my students to read as much nonfiction as possible. By cultivating a climate in my classroom where nonfiction becomes as enjoyable as fiction I will foster the impulse for students to choose both fiction and nonfiction in their reading selections.
In starting my research for this project, I am finding myself engrossed in the volume of information out there about presidents. I feel every president I begin to research becomes relevant for one or more of my students. From Andrew Jackson who got into fights at school and lost his parents and brothers at a young age to Dwight Eisenhower who came from a poor family to Theodore Roosevelt who was often sick as a child. Each of these notable people could touch something in a student that may spark not only a love of learning but a sense of kinship with someone who made a difference. Children love reading about how people achieved their success and the obstacles they overcame along the way. In our school district, I feel it is ever so important to instill in our students the idea that obstacles can be overcome. By having each student research and present on a different president, students will be introduced to the struggles and successes of so many.