That first week back from vacation I, and my class, were on fire. They seem to look forward to the topics we’re covering (a language arts unit on taking a stand for what’s right, ecosystems in science, and Ancient Africa and India in social studies). They were chatty, but much of it was on topic. It was one of the most productive weeks of learning we’ve had.
This week was not bad, but it wasn’t as good, and the kids are clearly getting ready for Spring. For those who have not taught or seen sixth graders in elementary school, Spring is a special time in the classroom. It’s full of wisdom and insights that you just can’t get with the younger kids. It’s also full of the impulsivity, noise, smell, and general drama that are typical of children turning 12 years old. In addition, as at many schools, we have a week-long (actually 4 days in February) class field trip, and the promotion ceremony to look forward to. I’m seeing new grey hairs emerge daily. In addition, my experiences at home with my 14 year old starting high school have not been entirely smooth. The kids (my own, and my students) haven’t signed up to blog their stories here, so I’ll just leave it in the general, but I think you can imagine what’s going down.
I put that up, because I’m going to share some pretty amazing things that have happened in the last few weeks, and I wanted to give some context to readers. My classroom is not perfect by a long-shot, and I just wanted to give a little context.
The unit, Taking a Stand, in Open Court is not bad. The stories are under 15 pages, and feature topics immediately accesible to students (picketing a store that won’t give refunds for shoddy merchandise, a school closure), and more abstract (abolition of slavery, MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the life of Ghandhi, and Chinue Sugihara). The story of the Grimké sisters, was very suitable, but appeared boring to me. Fortunately, American Experience has just started a series on the Abolitionists featuring Angelina’s story. In addition, it includes Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and John Brown. It is excellent, but has some very intense moments. I showed less than 15 minutes of the first chapter to start, and I gave students the option of leaving if they needed. A couple students (excellent ones by the way) took me up on it, but the rest loved it, and asked to see more. It was engaging, and one of the better depictions of the movement for emancipation, and the social and political context of the times.
Next week, we’ll move ahead to the American Civil Rights Movement, and preparing students to create their own persuasive speeches by introducing them to the subject with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I’ll have them read the speech, and listen to it (video of the entirety not being available unless I pony up $20). I’ll then have a number off speeches in print (Diane Ravitch’s American Reader is a great source), and listen to (American Rhetroic’s Top 100 Speeches is a good resource) through the weeks, since exposure to the genre is the best starting point. In subsequent weeks, I’ll be teaching the specific elements of the genre. I’m still looking at resources for this (Larry Ferlazzo’s site, Share My Lesson Plan, the Teaching Channel), but if you have some that are late-elementary or middle school appropriate, leave a comment.