Saturday, January 8

Breaking the Rules

I follow this philosophy:  If I wouldn’t shout it down the hallway in school; I don’t say it on my blog or on twitter.

I’m about to shout and I may summon the Reading Workshop Gods/Rule Makers/Police to come down on me in a reign of disappointment and anger.  I’m breaking one of the biggest rules…

(I’m taking a HUGE risk!  Here comes my secret…)

I’m teaching using a novel! 

Those that know me and follow my blog know I am more than passionate about Reading Workshop.  As a matter of fact, I threatened to quit my current school position if they didn’t let me switch to Reading Workshop!  I was determined to rid myself and my students of the dreaded basal and the mind numbing, useless and worthless multiple choice tests.  (Obviously, I work in a private school and I could make this threat.)

To me, the worst and most damaging thing we can do is force students to read the same story.  In the past, I was forced to use a basal that included stories that were boring, tedious and basically, turned kids off from reading.  Using the basal did not give them a chance to apply strategies and reflect their comprehension.  I need to have one-on-one conferences where I can engage with students. 

So, why am I contradicting myself?  Why am I teaching using a novel?  Why am I breaking the rule that everyone should have choices about what they read to foster a love of reading as well as build comprehension?  I’m a firm believer that requiring a student to complete endless worksheets about a novel will foster nothing but drill and kill hatred of the novel and maybe, even reading.

My approach is different.  Here’s what I’m doing.

In fourth grade, the students are required to spend the year learning about Pennsylvania.  The text book that I’m required to use is dry as dirt and boring.  I needed a way to make learning about the history of Pennsylvania interesting and engaging.  So, I developed an integrated approach to learn about the time period after the Revolutionary War and leading up to the Civil War.

I am reading Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson to the students.  Each student has their own copy and they read along with me.  Through this novel, I provide mini lessons each day on the comprehension strategies.  Rather than using picture books, we are reading the novel. 

Then, we are doing a wealth of project based learning activities. 
  • When the students returned from winter break they found the classroom had been transformed into a coffeehouse and each student had to assume the role of an upper class, middle class or lower class person in 1793. This led to reflective essays that they will record as podcasts. 
  • We are creating a radio station (WTSF 1793) to broadcast events from this time period. They are working on advertisements for different products/people that you would find in 1793. (For example, they will advertise Dr. Benjamin Rush’s method of bleeding to cure you of an infection.) The students came up with the idea to do a newscast as well as the radio station and use the video camera, but we are still figuring out if we can accomplish this. 
  • They are creating a giant mural of Philadelphia in 1793. They are using math and measurement skills to design the map that is historically accurate. 
  • The students will create “I Am” poems as if they were the characters in the novel.
  • All of the activities that we are doing are done cooperatively in groups or with partners. 
  • Concurrently, I am still providing mini lessons about informational text, and the students will be doing historial research projects about topics they choose. 
  • We will be taking a field trip that is a Walking Tour of Historic Philadelphia.
I’m admitting that I’m breaking the “rules” of Reading Workshop, but I’m confident that the students will not only enjoy this novel, they will learn in every area of the curriculum. 

So, I’m teaching using a novel. 
It is so much fun.
I hope my fellow Reading Workshop colleagues will understand.


DocHorseTales said...

You may call it Teaching a Novel; I'd revise it to Teaching-a-Novel.Web2.0. Congratulations. Looks to me like a continuation in the spirit of reader response and co-construction of text.

elysabeth said...

Obviously since you are going cross curriculum with this novel, then it can't be breaking too many rules. I read a book (but I don't think it was the same one you are reading) called Fever (I know I got it from a Scholastic book order last year or the year before and cover is definitely not the same as what you are picturing). I think it was one of those Dear America, Diary type books that Scholastic has.

I think this is a great idea to utilize something that can be taken to many levels - math, history, reading, writing, and even public speaking in a sense - you are doing a great job, so don't fear the gods yet - lol. E :)

Elysabeth Eldering
Author of the Junior Geography Detective Squad, 50-state, mystery, trivia series

Where will the adventure take you next?

Mr. Hughes said...

AMEN! I couldn't agree more. I feel that same way and I refuse to teach the basal (I teach 6th grade in a public elementary school). I feel that worksheets are the downer. To tweak Joseph's name for this a bit more it is "Reading Workshop 2.0- Keeping up with the digital generation"! I look forward to reading more about your ideas. Thanks for sharing!

Cybary Man - Jerry Blumengarten said...

MDCCXCIII Looking forward to following the adventures of your class during this turbulent time in Philadelphia. Just don't throw your garbage in the streets and resort to using outhouses.

NancyTeaches said...

Hi Joseph,
Thanks for the comment. I love the labels you used. I'm doing Teaching a Novel Web 2.0. And, the way I read to students is so dramatic that they fall in love with the novel. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Nancy

NancyTeaches said...

Hi Elysabeth,
Thanks for the comment! I love integrating and more importantly, getting students out of their seats and talking. So far, the students are LOVING Fever 1793, so the Reading Workshop Gods should be kind:) Thanks again, Nancy

NancyTeaches said...

Hi Mr. Hughes,
Thanks for reading and commenting on this blog. I think I'm going to use your label instead of Joseph's... Teeheee, I stealing everyone's labels! I love the idea of Reading Workshop 2.0! It truly is what I am doing!! I appreciate the support. I will keep you posted on the progress.

NancyTeaches said...

It is only January 9th and my year is already amazing... Cybraryman commented on my blog!

For anyone who doesn't know and lives in a hole in the ground, you must visit his site (click on his name) for any resource you could possibly imagine. I had the pleasure of hearing Cybraryman speak at a un-conference last summer and it was the most invigorating and inspiring experience. You must visit his website and follow him on Twitter @cybraryman1.

And, Jerry, I will keep you posted on the adventures my class as we explore one of my favorite time periods in American History. Living outside of Philly makes it even better. We will remember to look up for falling garbage and avoid outhouses. The students are delighted by the idea of "bleeding" and Dr. Benjamin Rush's techniques. Thanks again!

Ann Braden said...

I'm so glad to hear that it's going well. I love the way Fever 1793 integrates so many different aspects of life (like the way the African-American community played a major role in treating victims.)

And in terms of individual projects versus one class project, I hear you. I'm a big fan of individual student research, but then it could be really exciting to switch gears and all be talking and thinking about the same thing!

Also, if you have a minute some time, Id love it if you would answer a couple questions on my website about how Fever 1793 was received by the students so we can add it to the collection of reviews. I've read it, but I haven't used it with a class yet.

I hope the unit goes well!

NancyTeaches said...

HI Ann,
Thanks for reading my blog and commenting. I went to your site and posted my review of Fever 1793. I highly recommend it. I appreciate your time and love your blog. Nancy

Ann Braden said...

Thanks Nancy!

And I love your blog post today, too. It's so empowering to find a community of people who support your instincts even if they go against the norm.

loonyhiker said...

It sounds like a great project and after reading some of your students' blog posts, they seemed excited about this unit too. I have used novels a lot in my special ed self contained class and I think it improved my students' reading, writing, and social skills.

NancyTeaches said...

Thanks so much for stopping by and the comment. I appreciate the support. My class is loving the novel and ask to read more each day... a good sign they're enjoying it! I'm making sure they are practicing their comprehension strategies as we read. I'm so glad you had a chance to check out their blogs. It means a lot. Thanks again. Nancy