Saturday, January 19, 2013

Regions Project, Part 2

The final part of our regions project was for the kids to put everything together (synthesize, if you'd like) and explain how the regions were the same and different. Probably every teacher and class has used the popular Venn Diagram to compare two, three, or even four different things, but I wanted to do something a little different - something a little more structured for my kids.

When comparing, younger kids tend to go with the "tall / not tall" or "fiction / not fiction" comments, and I really wanted my students to think differently about comparing. My goal was for my students had two parts:

  • To describe the specific characteristics of each individual item before beginning to compare
  • To use an organized paragraphs to explain the similarities and differences of 4 of the 5 regions of Pennylvania

As I mentioned in this post, I really believe my kids are capable of anything with the proper modeling and guidance so I started this part of the project by modeling the steps needed to meet my goals with a topic very familiar to my kiddos: me and my two teammates. I created a chart with our names, started with some basics and allowed the students to add their own ideas. The ideas did not tell how we were the same or different, but the kids explained how they would describe each of us. I'll add that finished chart here when I get to my other computer.

Next I said to the kids, "Great, so now what do we do? How do we explain how the three of us are the same or different?" The kids talked about whether or not it would be better to talk about similarities or differences first, and they decided that we should go with the similarities because there were fewer of them so it would be easier to manage. The students came up to the Smartboard and highlighted each characteristic that was the same for all three of us, and they decided that they wanted to use check marks for those that were the same for two of the three of us. (I'll add this picture, too.)

After the kids had identified the similarities about the teachers, they worked together in their regions groups to identify the similarities about the 4 regions they studied. Each group checked in with me to make sure we had the similarities. There were several great discussions about whether or not "in PA" could be a similarity because the regions were all in different parts of Pennsylvania. All but one group decided to wait and use the locations and a difference instead of a similarity. One group highlighted it, but they also decided they would use other details first.

Once all of the charts were highlighted, we worked together using a graphic organizer (main idea, three details, and a conclusion) to put the items we highlighted into an organized paragraph. We talked about the purpose of the main ideas, which details we wanted to use, how we could "show" people what we were saying instead of "telling" people the details, and how we could wrap it up. Our paragraph ended up reading like this:

     Mrs. Bair, Miss Conrad and Mrs. Towsen have a lot of things alike. The teachers are very funny. Sometimes they prank call each other on their phones during the day. That makes us laugh. All three of them like to go to the beach and have some relaxing time. Our teachers are also kind of crazy! One morning when we came in to school Mrs. Bair jumped out of Miss Conrad's room because Miss Conrad and Mrs. Towsen were doing karate! As you can see Mrs. Bair, Miss Conrad and Mrs. Towsen have a lot of things the same, just like the Three Stooges.

While some teachers may be offended at being labeled crazy, funny, or one of the Three Stooges, this made my heart happy. My kids understand the joy that the three of us bring to learning. So judge if you will, but I love this paragraph and wouldn't want it any other way!

Now that we had worked together to write a similarities paragraph, I thought the kids were ready to go. As always, I offered the kids the chance to work on their own or with me. The 6 chairs at my table filled up, and extra friends were seated on the floor around me. We talked about the main idea, it's purpose, and the important ideas we needed to include:
  • 4 regions of Pennsylvania
  • some things are the same
I wrote those two things on the whiteboard and was so excited to see what happened. This excitement quickly turned to frustration for me and the students. Many of my students simply copied the two phrases as their main idea sentence. So as each child showed me their work I went over complete sentences: "Let's read this out loud. Does that make sense? Does it sound like a whole idea that you would walk up and say to somebody?"

Some of my kids were able to say that it didn't sound right, others answered with a, "No???" You know, the one that is their answer that they *think* I want to hear. I tried for about 10 - 15 minutes to help my kids, and finally we just had to put our papers in our folder. I had to admit defeat. As we talked they could tell me what we were trying to do, and they could show me the similarities on the chart. But putting it into their own words and putting those words onto paper was a true challenge.

As successful as most of this lesson was, I felt like I failed as a teacher because my students struggled so much with the writing portion of it. I talked to each of the kids who had difficulties with that part and asked them what made it so hard for them. 7 of the 12 kids said they just didn't know how to write what they wanted to say, and 3 couldn't verbalize for me what was so hard. My struggle now is, "How do I help my kids create sentences from their ideas?" My teammates suggested more modeling and the use of quality mentor sentences, which we do often, and I also asked our building's speech and language teacher for any suggestions she might have.

So it's back to the drawing board with the writing portion of this activity. I will continue to search for suggestions or recommendations about what I can do differently to help my students share their ideas. But until then, we push on... because 4th graders MUST write four-paragraph pieces, whether they are ready for it or not.


Lani said...

I don't think anything is ever failed. It's what did we learn.

I'm wondering what if the students recorded what they wanted to say. If I'm understanding they can talk about what they've learned but writing is the barrier. If they can say, if they can record it, then what if they listen and then write what they hear themselves saying?

I know there are state writing standards-- and yet if your youngsters are so challenged by writing, can't they share their ideas another way? an audioboo? a fotobabble? and then if there has to be piece of writing evidence, can't they write what they've been saying?

Not failure, what did we learn?


Becky Bair said...

You're right as always, Lani. Nothing is ever a failure if we can learn from it, and I am definitely trying to figure out that missing puzzle piece for these kids.

But sometimes when you're in the moment, and they're frustrated and you're frustrated, it's hard not to feel like you've somehow failed.

The only real failure is if you let them fail and don't do anything about it. Right?