Thursday, October 22, 2015

Encouraging Students to Take Action of Their Learning

It is not always easy teaching ELA and Social Studies in an hour and thirty minutes. In fact, I have had to get REALLY creative in figuring out how to blend it all together. It is also not always easy to make things that aren't interesting..."interesting" but, that doesn't mean it is impossible! In fact, it CAN be done, and one of the keys to making your classroom learning environment successful and engaging is by encouraging students to take control of their own learning experiences. I started by taking a lot of the weight off of my shoulders and encouraging my students to "take action" of their own learning. 

I realized that I needed to make sure that I was bringing high energy, rigorous, and relevant tasks to my students even when the topics were not always exciting for every student. For example--5th grade students in the state of TN are required to know about Brooks' attack on Sumner. In 1856, when tensions between the North and South were higher than ever, state representative Preston Brooks attacked Senator Charles Sumner due to a disagreement that happened during a Congressional session. I literally had NO idea how I was going to teach this to my students. Then, my amazing teammate suggested having the students make videos summarizing the event. His suggestion turned into the following activity.

I did a short mini lesson on the topic of Brooks' Attack, and then I was ready to support my students as they made this learning experience their own. Our reading skill for the week was asking and answering questions, students were continuing to practice how to create strong, meaty sentences, and we were continuing to focus on our conversation and communicational skills. All of these skills, combined with the Social Studies content, helped me put together a "Breaking News" lesson. Here is a quick breakdown of the activity. 

We reviewed the 6 questioning words, watched some examples of news broadcasts, and then the students got to work. The only tool that I supplied for them ahead of time was a graphic organizer to place their information on and help them collect their thoughts. You can find that graphic organizer by clicking here. They had to write their own broadcast scripts, determine the order in which their information needed to be presented(you can't talk about why before you establish the who, what, when, and where), and practice their script several times with their partner so that they were not reading straight from their paper when it came time to tape their broadcast. They had two days to complete this task.

Students were in charge of all the little details as well. While one group was behind the news desk acting as reporters, one student was in charge of filming, and another student was in charge of cueing the music(find neat news-y music here)

That may seem simple...but it was a lot of work for the students, and they can tell you ALL about Brook's Attack, what it represented, why there was tension between the North and the South, and how this specific event added to the aggression between political parties before the Civil War.