Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Deep Understanding of Non-Fiction Text

Question:  How can I get all of my students to independently read and deeply understand a piece of non-fiction text?

I love teaching Social Studies!  It gives me an opportunity to dramatically tell a story, inspire kids, and use all the wonders of the web to showcase a multimedia presentation that would make most fifth graders heads' start to spin.  After I have thoroughly fired them up about a particular topic I usually set them loose on a piece of reading and then they finish up by answering a few well thought out questions on a worksheet that I have created.

This gives me the chance to walk around and help students out with the reading.  I answer questions and probe for understanding along the way.  It seems to work.  I get the sense that students are learning...but is it enough?  Of course not.  There's always more students can do with a particular subject but I am still struck with the never ending question:  How can I get all my students to independently read and deeply understand a piece of non-fiction text?

I tried something a bit different today.  I assigned a piece of non-fiction text to read and then asked THE STUDENTS to tell the story instead of me.

Here's what happened

First:  The students read through the text and summarized each section without my dramatic story before hand.

Then:  We went to the computer lab with our text books and notes and began creating a presentation that they will use to tell their dramatic tale.

Page 169


Here's one example of what one of my students created based on the article above.

Does this student deeply understand what they have read in that first section of the article?  You betcha!
Roanoke Island

Here's another example of student work based on the section titled "The First Try" from the same article above.  Again, I can clearly see that based on the images and text on the slide that the student has a deep understanding of what they read.

The beauty of this lesson was that it forced the students to read, reread, understand thoroughly and then decide what type of images they'd use to help them tell the story of Roanoke Island.  This was incredibly engaging for all students and much more challenging and complicated than to just listen to Mr. Howell, read the text and then answer questions on a worksheet.

Roanoke First Try

This lesson can be a great jump start into using Creative Commons images, determining validity of sources, and a slew of other possibilities.  However, my main objective was to answer the never ending question:  How can I get all of my students to read independently and deeply understand a piece of non-fiction text?

Now that the students have had this critical thinking opportunity it will allow me to take this subject matter much deeper.  For instance, I can begin to ask students questions like:



  • Why would another country want to start a colony in the first place?

  • If you were to start a colony, what sort of people would you want to take along with you?

  • What challenges would you face when starting a colony?

  • What effects would this have on the Native Americans already living here?

  • Imagine your are a Native American.  What are your thoughts on these visitors?

  • What would you have done differently than this first group of English settlers?

  • What do you think happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island?

Overall, I think this lesson helped me reach my objective and has set the foundation for an even deeper learning experience.

What are some of your strategies you use with non-fiction text?

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Authentic Learning

Where do I begin?

I’ll start with Authentic Learning.

My understanding of this is it’s an opportunity to utilize a variety of skills and talents to create something magnificent.  To have a rich experience filled with challenges and obstacles that allows you to use your strengths and possibly develop a certain skill set to solve problems.  To be able to design something you are passionate about and then share that with a larger community.

An authentic learning experience brings people together and gives them a chance to synergize and create something more wonderful than they could have done alone.  It is collaborative, yet there is an understanding and a call for creative autonomy within an interdependent situation.

Authentic learning experiences requires a plethora of effective personal characteristics that if used well, leave those involved with a sense of great satisfaction and accomplishment and inspires others.

Does such learning even exist?  If so, where?

Well my friends, I am here to tell you Authentic Learning does exist and it can happen on a stage.

We have just finished our second annual musical performance, Pirates of the Curry Bean, with about 60 elementary students from K-5.  It was a monumental undertaking that brought our entire community together.

I humbly witnessed the depth and breadth of talent that the parents of our school community brought with them to this production in order to give the students this authentic learning experience.

I was so deeply touched and moved while watching our young students day in and day out step up to the challenges that a full production like this offered.  Kids are quite amazing and can accomplish so much when appropriately challenged and given the support to succeed.

I am grateful to have been a part of this musical production and to have witnessed this amazing authentic learning experience in action.





From bended knee, I thank thee.