This project began w/ a team coaching conversation with Michelle. We were all struggling to fit Thinking Routines lessons and activities within our Literacy block while really trying to focus on teaching kids to read. Turns out, our “mini” lessons were anything but ... we were really teaching content lessons, and not mini lessons focusing on a reading strategy.
Michelle suggested we use our end of day skills block as our Thinking Routines block, and try to integrate skills such as handwriting and phonics practice into our Reading block. I decided to make one change, and began to integrate Big Ideas with our learning around Dr. MLK and make that their handwriting practice which they did during independent reading time. Throughout the unit their handwriting practice has included:
“Martin Luther King, Jr. believed in non-violent protest.”
“Segregation means ‘separate but equal’.”
“Not everyone believed in Dr. King’s dream.”
“Rosa Parks helped to change unfair bus laws.”
“African Americans in Alabama boycotted the bus - they walked everywhere.”
I took these Big Ideas and wrote them on sentence strips. I told the kids they were going to work in groups to illustrate their learning of these Big Ideas. I have always felt that I’ve struggled to get good artwork from my kids, and yet I’ve never done an Art Rubric before ... I took the time to (literally) illustrate with pictures and words what a “1,” “2,” “3,” and “4” piece of artwork looked like, and the kids helped with the language. What a huge difference it made in the end product!
The kids chose which Big Idea they wanted to work with, and then we set the foundation for working in groups: they had to first activate their schema and have a discussion to determine importance as to how they wanted to illustrate their learning. This involved asking questions of each other to have healthy discussions to clarify their thinking and to determine what should or should not be included. Their illustrations had to show relevant sensory images, and they had to defend, to me, what their vision was before they were allowed to put pencil to paper. They were encouraged to use all the books and resources in the room to find ideas.
I learned several things: 1) I had to re-think my Lit and Skills block (mostly Lit) from a planning view, focusing on a 5-10 min. mini lesson on a reading or thinking strategy so the big content lesson would come at the end of the day. 2) Integrating Big Ideas from content into their handwriting has had a two-fold effect: yet another exposure to the big idea and essential understandings around Dr. King and civil rights, and a marked increase in neater handwriting. 3) The next big thing I learned is nothing new, yet always seems to be a surprise: go slow to go fast. I have never taken the time to show the kids an Art Rubric, yet when I took the time, I got work that is far better than any I’ve seen yet this year. 4) An important side effect: one of my African American boys, who struggles and has shown no evidence of "visible" critical thinking all year, latched ON to this content. He was inferring, determining importance, synthesizing, and memorized Dr. King's speech. It was a huge lesson to me that we have to be consciously teaching content in a way that will engage this group of students.
By modeling for them the difference between a really incomplete piece of art v. a fully complete piece of art, the kids took more ownership and made sure their ideas were relevant, important, and had details. I took my time ... they are taking their time. It has taken a week to complete these projects, and the time and effort (I believe) is revealed in their artwork.
"Dr. King believed in change through non-violence." (He's preaching on one side, standing next to Gandhi on the other.)
"Not everyone believed in Dr. King's dream."
In the future, I will revisit the Art Rubric when asking for sensory images, and will remember that if I take the time to fully show them what I’m looking for (go slow), then I will more than likely get more appropriate work next time (go fast). We are beginning inquiry circles in a few weeks and those always culminate in a project similar to these. I am expecting the kids to be more focused and provide more details with their end of unit learning because of their experience with their Dr. King artwork.
Also, I will continue to integrate Big Ideas from content into their handwriting practice. I am consistently hearing (during this group work) active use of relevant vocabulary. Almost everyone can name the key players in the civil rights movement and define “segregation” and “boycott” and “non-violent protest.” AND, I’m getting neater handwriting as yet another benefit!