Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Power of the Story

Social Studies - I did some planning with my colleague, Jill Right, today. I love brainstorming ideas with someone else, especially when our minds work differently and our thinking goes in different directions. That kind of give-and-take allows for me to see things I had not considered before. That's is the space in which learning occurs. It is also during these talks with colleagues (my teaching partner, Melissa Hellwig, and I have these kinds of conversations constantly) that I get my best ideas. So do they! See, in my opinion, the BEST professional development sessions would be structured so that teachers are put in the same room with NO AGENDA and allowed to collaborate and create. They will, and what they come up with will be so much better than anything that would have been programmed for them.

In planning for the Medieval unit, we first plotted out the dates for the Socratic Symposium sessions. I love these events because kids usually come prepared, speak intelligently, agree and disagree with respect, and put forth their best ideas. I only facilitate these class discussions; I do not lead or dominate them. Jill and I plotted the dates for these discussions to make the planning for the rest of the unit more manageable. Each discussion will come at the end of 4-5 days of research on one of the Medieval learning goals. For example, if the learning goal is Feudalism, the kids will have 4-5 days to research and learn about it and then we will have our Symposium on Feudalism. That day of conversation should cement the concepts in the kids' minds. While reading online, watching video and finding other materials on the topic are great for learning, it is the conversation, the story, that really seals the idea for the kiddos. I believe that people's minds connect to stories, narratives, and they learn best through storytelling. That is why, even on the learning goals, I write "What is the story of Feudalism?" I want the kiddos to have the layers and textures, the full body of the historical events. They get that from the stories.

The Europe section of the Middle Ages is well mapped-out, the Kingdoms of Africa section is somewhat planned, and time is set aside for both assessment and the Inquiry Project. We are barely going to get everything in by the end of the year but if we have to cut some of the breadth to make sure we get the depth, then so be it. I would rather the kids connect to a few things really well than try to gloss over many things for the sake of "getting it in". What's the point? They will not remember a bit of it.

This unit will be good practice for next year. My plan next year is to conduct the entire year in social studies through a student-driven model. The feedback that I get from the kids at the end of this year will help me greatly in preparing and planning for next year.

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