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Monday, December 3, 2012

Reading/Writing Workshop PBL

Reading/Writing Workshop PBL: How is my Community the Same/Different from Communities Around the World?

The planning of this PBL (Project Based Learning) unit was the result of some observations I had made in my classroom and some goals I wanted to reach in my teaching.

First, as part of our Reading curriculum, first grade scholars are required to ‘make connections’ with the texts they read. I presented lessons to achieve this objective pretty much as I have done in the past; choosing books (I used some old favorites and some suggested on teaching websites), modeled how I make connections while reading, scaffolding scholars as they made connections and gradually released them to make connections on their own. Ultimately, I assessed the connections they made…they were not great.  The connections were pretty low level and clearly did not require any depth of thought on the part of the scholars.  I really wasn’t sure what they learned and was pretty sure they wouldn’t be able to articulate their learning either. I knew I had to rethink my teaching approach.

After thinking long and hard about what it would take to get scholars to make the kinds of connections that would meet and exceed my expectations, two thoughts came to mind:
1 – I had to choose different books. My thought was that maybe my scholars couldn’t make meaningful connections because I was asking them to make serious connections to silly stories or stories that were intended to be entertaining.
2 – In order to make meaningful connections, scholars would have to first identify similarities and differences between themselves and their lives and book characters and their lives.
I also wanted this PBL to help me achieve some goals I had for my own teaching:
First, I wanted to integrate Reading Workshop and Writing Workshop into Reading/Writing workshop. Scheduling both Reading Workshop and Writing Workshop into my day was resulting some very ‘choppy’ teaching and learning. Also, by combining the two workshops, my hope was that scholars would begin to see the natural integration between the two disciplines.
Second, I wanted to integrate Social Studies into the Reading/Writing Workshop allowing scholars to apply their learning from SS to their thinking in Reading and Writing.
And Last, I wanted to integrate technology into the PBL.  As a digital classroom teacher, I am always looking for ways to increase engagement and rigor through the use of technology.
So, the new PBL went something like this….
I created a Nearpod presentation as an entry event to engage scholars through the use of images selected because of their relationship to each of the literature pieces. I was also able to survey scholars regarding their thoughts and ideas and immediately share the results with them. Their views and ideas also gave me valuable information useful in my lesson planning.
I researched and made new literature selections:
Rain School, James Rumford (Chad, Africa)
Giamoto, Karen Williams (Malawi, Africa)
The Librarian of Basra, Jeanette Winter (Basra, Iraq)
Beatrice's Goat, Page McBrier (Uganda, Africa)
Each of these books is a true story about a community in another part of the world. While the similarities are clear the stark differences would also be evident. These texts would allow scholars to build background knowledge about their world, deepen their thinking about ‘communities’ (a S.S. objective) by identifying similarities and differences between communities. As an added bonus, we were reading these books around Thanksgiving so a frame of reference – ‘thankfulness’ – was drawn around their thinking. As each book was introduced, we used Google Maps to locate the setting for each of the stories and called Siri to ask about the time and weather in each country. A prereading vocabulary activity was also designed for each book to give scholars clues as to the storyline of the book, allowing them to make better predictions, and build vocabulary.
The connections scholars made to the characters, settings and important ideas in these texts did indeed show depth of thinking and scholars began to use text evidence to support their thinking without me even having to prompt for it!! It really is about choosing the right books!
For the writing component of this PBL, I chose to teach scholars how they could use mentor texts to compose their own writing. We had just finished studying patterns in Math and it was clear to me that noticing patterns and playing with patterns was definitely something that was in the 6 and 7 year old wheelhouse.:) I thought that using a pattern structure to write about the ideas form the books would be a good way to go.  So I chose some simple pattern books and we read, reread, read in groups and read in partners until the patterns became quite clear. I created and anchor chart as a reference point for scholars to use as they began writing.

 Scholars then chose a pattern they wanted to ‘borrow’ for their own writing and got to work. During this writing time my job was to facilitate, scaffold and applaud the efforts of these young authors. Daily teaching points were derived from observations of the previous day’s work and included noticing the patterns in scholars’ writing, adding details that would answer questions that the reader might have and a variety of conventions mini-lessons.
As a way the share the work, scholars went to the media lab and with the help of our campus technologist, learned about Photo Booth.  After a bit of ‘playtime’ they got right to work recording their books. Their recordings were uploaded to YouTube.  
Check them out below.
Finally, as a result of their learning, scholars began thinking about giving and wanted to learn more about Heifer International.  I created a Nearpod presentation that contained information that would allow scholars to think about the benefits of a variety of different animal gifts. After doing a bit of research, and taking a class survey, scholars are now accepting donations to buy hens for a family through Heifer International. How cool is that?!







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