Sunday, April 28, 2013

Teaching the Civil War: Using Literature to Support Student Learning

One of my favorite Social Studies unit to teach is the Civil War. The past two years I have been using literature to give some depth to my lessons.

The Underground Railroad: Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt
This is a wonderful book to read when talking about the Underground Railroad. Clara is a slave and makes a quilt that is really a map that will lead slaves to freedom.

After I read the book, I had my students make a classroom "freedom quilt." The students used geometric shapes and color to symbolize different things in nature. The students then had to write a paragraph explaining what their quilt square resembled.

The Underground Railroad: Henry's Freedom Box
Henry's Freedom Box is another great story that shows students the lengths slaves went through to get to freedom. This is a true story about how Henry Brown mailed himself to the North so he would be considered free.

Chapter Books
Whenever I start a new unit in Social Studies, I always display chapter books for the students to read during Read to Self time. 

Bull Run by Paul Fleischman
This book is told from the perspective of 16 different people who were alive during the Civil War. There are characters from the North and the South. Even the most reluctant reader will enjoy this book.

 The Civil War
This is a choose your own adventure book that is ALWAYS flying off my shelf! There is a different story every time you read it!
 Soldier's Heart by Gary Paulsen
This book is about a 15 year old Minnesota boy that lies about his age to join the Army. This is a historical fiction book that describes Charley's time spent in the Army during the Civil War.
 The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick
Twelve-year-old orphan Homer runs away from Pine Swamp, Maine, to find his older brother, Harold, who has been sold into the Union Army. Homer outwits and outruns Civil War-era thieves, scallywags, and spies as he makes his way south, following clues that finally lead him to Gettysburg.

I have also brought in from the Wright County Historical Society a trunk filled with Civil War artifacts. The students really LOVE looking at all of the belongings from the Civil War.

I hope this inspires you to add a few new things to your Civil War curriculum.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

My Life as a Reading Teacher

I encourage my students to read 20 minutes each night. In the past, I have had students fill out a reading calendar. Yes, it was easy for me to see if the students had been reading or not, but it did not give me a chance to hold my students accountable for their reading. At the end of last year, I felt that a lot of my students were being dishonest about the amount of reading they had been doing at home.

This year I implemented at home reading notebooks. Each week, my students are responsible for writing me a letter about what they have been reading on their own time. This is one way for me to see WHAT the students are reading and IF they are comprehending it. I really enjoy reading and responding to my students journals. Yes, it is a lot to manage and a lot of writing, but I feel like it is worth it. This is also a place for me to suggest new books for students to read and a place for students to work on their writing.

I stapled a list of writing topics on the top of the page that students could write about. Here are the forms that my students have in their journals. My students liked the choice of what they could write about. It was nice to have my students branch out and try new things instead of ALWAYS writing a summary of what they read.

I am planning on creating a rubric to grade my students on for next year. I am hoping to continue to add and improve upon these reading notebooks. 

Hopefully this post inspires you to try this in your classroom!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Interactive Math Journals (Action Research)

I have been implementing interactive math journals in my class this year. I use these journals as a place for my students to take guided notes, participate in in-class activities, and have concrete examples of formulas or processes to math equations. I started journaling with my class in October and I have noticed a lot of student successes this year.
  • Students using their journals to help with homework before asking a teacher for help!
  • Students taking guided notes to increase understanding
  • Students synthesizing what they learned
I am starting to look at student journals and correlating their notes to their test scores. Ultimately, I am hoping that students will have a better, deeper understanding to fifth grade math. I am hoping by having students participate in this assignment, students will carry this knowledge over from year to year. I don't want my students to forget everything they learned while they are on summer vacation.

On the last two tests, ALL of my students have scored 80% or higher!!! I hope their high scores are from deeper understanding of the concepts by using the interactive math notebooks.

Things that I would do differently for the future are:
  • make students write in pen. The pencil has been smearing on some of my students notebooks. I am hoping for next year to use different colored pens instead of markers too. (I found some GREAT ones at Wal-Mart. a 10 pack of every color under the rainbow for $1.98)
  • Use spiral 3-5 subject notebooks. The composition notebooks work okay, but after gluing a lot of extra materials in, the notebooks no longer close.
  • Have my students ALWAYS use the same page number as my example. Some of the kiddos have a hard time following directions... well their notebooks are a MESS!