Thursday, December 17, 2009

Unit of Study on THEME (middle, part 2)

Subtitle: In Which I Integrate Reading and Composing Workshops

Tuesday I wrote about how I laid some of the groundwork for studying theme with 4th graders. Yesterday, I described the Theme Project we're working on in Composing Workshop.

This exploration of the idea of Theme is in preparation to write Literary Essays, a genre that depends equally on work in Reading and Writing (or Composing) Workshops, so at the same time that I started spinning the Theme plate in Composing Workshop, I began my first round of Literature Circles in Reading Workshop. I chose titles on a wide range of reading abilities, and all short enough for students to complete in the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. All four books have pretty obvious themes. The choices were:
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan
Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher
Each child has a little folded paper booklet in which they keep track of the characters and character traits, most important events, possible themes, questions, predictions, sketches and such. These booklets have helped guide their first foray into literature circle discussions. I'll be interested to see if they want to continue with something like them in future literature circles.

In read aloud, I decided to do a shared reading of Baby by Patricia MacLachlan. I collected enough copies from the public library so that every child can follow along as I read. This book is complicated enough to make it a perfect pick for shared reading in fourth grade. I can help the students navigate the flashback/memories, notice all the clues in the beginning of the book about something unspoken in the family, and think about the ways MacLachlan uses poetry and songs to reinforce the themes in her story.

Coming up tomorrow: what happens when poetry and music are added to the mix.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Saw a typo so here it is again.

    Great stuff! To add to my comments of yesterday, as I've gotten a following for my blog I often forget that one of my reasons for blogging is to write for myself.That is, I find it incredibly helpful to write about classroom practices partly to figure out for myself what I'm doing. Writing for a blog audience forces me to do that (as does writing professional books and articles).

    Writing it all down helps me figure out what I'm doing. Does that hold true for you? That is, does writing these post help you as you reflect on this particular unit?

  3. I'm a HUGE fan of little books for the kids to use to jot down responses when reading! When you say "folded" how are they made exactly? I create little stapled ones I call chapbooks.

  4. Monica,
    Yes, yes, and YES! These blog post are ABSOLUTELY a way for me to capture and think about what's going on in my classroom. And because I'm doing my thinking "in front of an audience," it pushes me to think harder and be more reflective than I might otherwise be. And that, in turn, nudges me to teach a little stronger the next day. It's almost like all of the blog readers are with me AS I TEACH -- I'm thinking about my teaching and what I'll write about...while I'm teaching!! Total metacognition!! (and not as creepy as it sounds...)

    I had to laugh at your comment about the little books. When I wrote that, I wondered if I should explain them in more detail, but they are such an informal little nothing-burger that I hesitated. Maybe people need to know that those little things we create out of a single sheet of folded paper can be powerful thinking and learning tools for kids.

    I'll scan one and post it, but basically, it's a sheet of paper folded in half and then half again. Clip the folds at the top almost but not quite to the "spine" of the little book and that will be enough to hold it together without staples. I have some suggested topics jotted on each little page, but they could just as easily be blank.

  5. Were your ears ringing last night? I shared your blog posts and thinking with some other 4th grade teachers in the district in an informal setting. I can think of about 10 people who will be following your progress and your thinking as you post in the next few days.

    This reminds me so much of how we were when we first started at DR -- planning, reflecting, revising. This is such great stuff!!


  6. Karen,
    No issues with my ears last night, but great to hear that you got the word out to other 4th grade teachers in the district. Now we have to teach them all how to join the conversation by commenting and telling how they took these ideas and made them their own!

    The Mother of All PLNs LIVES ON!!! YAY!!!

  7. Love to hear about your writing process. Ryan's Riding Freedom is a favorite of mine and it seems a little known treasure.


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