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One thing I have learned is that children approach learning differently.  There are those that pick up reading, as if it was as easy as speaking.  Then there are those that struggle with all aspects of literacy.  They struggle with fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.  I was one of those children.  Some children chafe at all aspects of education – they just don’t like being boxed in a classroom.  Some of this resistance is due to boredom, others is due to the student feeling that education has no basis in their personal reality.

I once read an article by K.H. Au that made me stop and think about some of my students and how the pulled at the yoke of education.  The article stated “It may be helpful for the teacher to have an understanding of the students’ cultural backgrounds and the values they bring to school” (Au, 2002, p. 397).  For this purpose it is imperative that we bring multicultural literature to the table.  It helps students recognize their own cultural identity and broadens the world to all students in the classroom.

A common misnomer in education is that literacy instruction stops when the reading block is over each day, or when the students’ leave language arts class.  The truth is that all teachers are reading teachers, whether they teach mathematics, social studies, science, or language arts.  Alvermann, Swafford and Montero explain that while teachers continue to follow traditional routes of instruction research “suggests good content teaching reflects practices similar to good literacy instruction: teacher-led class discussion, collaborative small groups, and sustained time for individual learning” (Alvermann, Swafford & Montero, 2004, p. 162).   As literacy instruction is integrated in core content areas students’ are provided with a rich literacy environment that meets them individually.  Well developed and balanced lesson plans incorporate the different stages of reading acquisition.

A multicultural unit using Cinderella is a perfect way to “use reading and writing for the acquisition of new content in a given discipline. Such ability includes three principal cognitive components: general literacy skills, content-specific literacy skills (such as map reading in the social studies,) and prior knowledge of content”  (McKenna & Robinson 1990).  Cinderella provides opportunities for teachers to touch upon themes across cultures, discuss setting, comparing and contrasting, and add some multiple intelligence activities to reach the strengths of each child.  Each tale offers students and educators alike the possibilities of exploring history, culture, art, math and science.  I’m sure there are others contents out there that will be discovered as I continue to root out the plethora of Cinderella stories!

Developing a unit of study is like baking a batch of peanut butter cookies.  Each time I bake my prize winning cookies (I won the 4H blue ribbon at the county fair when I was in fourth grade) I start off with preparing the ingredients.  When I follow the recipe by the book they turn out great, but sometimes I am flexible and I will add another ingredient or twelve.  The recipe for my lesson plans include the basic elements of lesson plan design – title, objective, purpose, time allotment, materials, anticipatory set, procedure, modeling, guided practice, check for understanding, modifications/accommodations, closure, independent practice, assessment – wow lesson plans sure do have a lot of commponents!!  The elements may not change (Just like peanut butter is ALWAYS part of my award winning cookies) but how I implement those elements vary.

My thematic units have a skeleton frame that includes the following:

Learning Log: a learning log is prepared by combining lined paper for journaling, unlined paper for student art work, and I like to add the worksheets the students will be working on as well so that for those students that like to work ahead they can work at their own pace.  This is a great way to differentiate learning!  Students use the learning logs throughout the unit.  Students will journal (I like to have them do double entry journals).  Students will include vocabulary lists, summaries, graphic organizers, etc.

Double-Entry Journals: These types of journals make students find quotes they like and then reflect upon WHY they chose those particular quotes.  They prepare their journal entries by drawing a line through the middle of lined paper.  After the students read they go back through the story and write down quotes from the text that they enjoyed, learned something new, or what they don’t understand on the right side of the lined paper.  On the left part they write down a reflection.  Why did they enjoy that particular part of the story?  What did they learn?  What questions do they have?  This gives you the parent/teacher a chance to respond to their journal!

Graphic Organizers:  So many of us are visual learners and graphic organizers are a staple in any unit.  They provide students with a concrete way to deal with abstract ideas.  They provide visual representation of ideas, concepts, information, facts, etc.  This allows students to see the big picture as they are trying to piece together what they have read.

Guided Reading:  Make sure you set a purpose for reading.  Introduce the title, author, and illustrator.  In small groups, or one on one, have the student read softly .  This way you can support your students that need help with decoding unfamiliar words, help with new words they encounter.Talk about the book.  Ask questions, and ask the students to ask each other questions.

Independent Reading:Have the students read it on their own.

And Tons of Other Activities: Stay tuned for more specifics!!

Resources

Alvermann, D. E., Swafford, J., & Montero, M. K. (2004) Content area literacy instruction for the elementary grades. Boston: Pearson. ISBN: 13: 9780205463671

Au, K.H. (2002). Multicultural factors and the effective instruction of students of diverse backgrounds.   In S. J. Samuels & A. E. Farstrup (Eds.), What Research has to say about reading instruction (3rd ed.)Newark, DE: International Reading Association, Inc.

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