I came into the first grade class that was my substitute assignment for the day, and looked around the classroom. I immediately noticed a different seating configuration. What a great day to sub! It was Parade of Nations and International Food Tasting Day; an annual event at the school I have taught in for more that 37 years.
The day started with the parade in the Community Center and then we went into the classroom where I saw how the desks were arranged in pods (consisting of 4 or 5 desks) and above each pod hung a paper with a continent written on it. After the morning gathering, the first graders had their snack and then were given a wide range of choice for the morning work period (no rotations). They could use iPads, read books, draw or write in their journals. The whole time they were engaged with their peers sharing the excitement of the day. It was an unstructured morning, a different kind of learning day.
Then it was lunch time and what a feast! There before us, tables filled with foods and desserts from the different countries represented by the families at school. All to soon it was time to go back to our classrooms. The door between the two first grade classrooms was open and the students could mingle and spend time together before the afternoon schedule began.
Earlier I had mentioned to the classroom teacher that the room set up gave me an idea for a Geniushour/PBL activity that he might want to look at with his teaching partner. When I explained my idea he said, “Why wait, let’s start it today and you can introduce it.” Well I know, that you know, I didn’t need much convincing!!
We gathered the kids and I told them that when I sub I like to look around and see what’s going on in the classrooms. I said when I came in “I noticed” the new desk arrangements and the paper with the continent hanging down and “I wondered” why that was. I discovered that was the way the teachers called each pod for dismissal and different movement throughout the day. Then I wondered what they knew about their continent (a nice segue after the morning parade where a bit of information was shared about the country represented on stage) and if they wanted to do some research? They were so excited about seeing what they could find out. They worked in groups by pods and used iPads or Laptops. They could choose to record either by writing information, drawing pictures or asking questions. They drew animals in the Amazon Rainforest and were amazed at the number of animals in their continents. Some children were fascinated by the topography (lakes, rivers, mountains). Some were curious about the land mass, the amount of people and the number of languages spoken. Some looked at what countries made up the continent. One student was so excited when he found out that his continent once had a different name.
THE FIRST GRADERS WERE DOING RESEARCH!
We thought that this would continue for one hour, since we could crunch some different periods in the schedule. But the first graders just couldn’t stop. They shared with their peers and with the teachers. Students who often were restless and couldn’t sustain interest, couldn’t stop. Kids who weren’t confident writers, did research and found their own way to record their information. But then after a quick consensus, they weren’t ready to stop and they still wanted to do more, before gathering and sharing what they learned about their continent. They took their written work (and drawings) and put them into their writers workshop folder; waiting to finish their research another day. Their teacher was so proud of his students’ interest and he couldn’t wait to share their Geniushour with his teaching partner when she returned.
This Geniushour incorporated many aspects of readers’ and writers’ workshop. Thinking maybe we did do reading and writing as scheduled. When we are confident as learners, teaching takes another road. Have you found these times given over to students’ interests of value? Can you make time in your schedule to give students’ choice to act on their interests?
And wise words from a first grader before heading to taste the food (but this goes way beyond food): Don’t “YUK” On Somebodies “YUM!”