Earlier in the school year, I remember reading this blog post by the always-thought-provoking Franki Sibberson about how she approaches introducing new topics to students. In this particular post, she explained how she let kids "have a go" at something before she provided any explicit instruction or modeling; doing so can send the message that she already thinks they don't know how to do it. Not only does this provide time for productive struggle, but I believe it also serves as a formative assessment tool to determine what students already know about a given skill or strategy. Franki's words have played over and over in my mind as the year has progressed. I've tried to find a way to build in that natural inquiry process of letting them start to figure it out on their own.
This week, we threw caution to the wind as we started wrapping our minds around the idea of nonfiction "text structures." Rather than simply introducing each possible text structure and expecting kids to somehow magically absorb that knowledge, my teaching buddy Maria and I decided we'd give kids time to dig in and try to figure it out. We gathered stacks of informational texts and provided butcher paper. As we explained the task at hand to our classes, we simply told them it was their job to figure out how authors organize their thinking in the books they write. Once they figured that out, they had to provide proof (text evidence, if you will.)
About 15 minutes into the task as we were bouncing from group to group, nudging and pushing them to keep trying, I looked at Maria. "You hate me right now, don't you?" This was definitely messy, messy learning. We both laughed and agreed that this is exactly the kind of deep learning our kids need to be doing.
Shortly after that happened, we noticed a few groups starting to talk in terms of "fact and opinion" and "ABC order," while asking questions like, "Isn't that a main idea?" Slowly but surely, they were making sense of it. We quickly pulled the groups together and asked just a few to share out what they were currently thinking. You could see lightbulbs popping up around the room as kids shared. We sent them back to continue working on the task, armed with this new knowledge. Pretty soon, we were hearing about lists, comparing and contrasting, chronological order, and more.
On day two, we only gave kids about 15 minutes to review the previous day's thinking before we gathered together for each group to share one book and its structure. Truth be told, our 4th grade learners came up with some possibilities I hadn't even considered! We created our anchor charts together so these ideas will be visible in our rooms. After seeing the list they generated, I am confident this was way more effective that the traditional "sit and git" instruction!
Where do we go from here? We invited our learners to use these structures as they are working during Readers' and Writers' Workshop time. It also opened the conversation about the possibilities of presentations for our next student-led EdCamp (more on that to follow!)