Teaching and Concepts

It occurred to me this morning, that a teacher reading my blog might get the idea that I am a nay-sayer who points out the problems and offers no solutions.  They may conclude that I am critical, but not constructive.  So in thinking practically about how I would organize curriculum and instruction upon return to the classroom, whenever that may be, I printed out the tiny printed lists of State Standards that each student is supposed to be able to know.  We are talking tiny font here and the lists covered half my dining table.  And this is a year when so much of the time in class is devoted to the fundamental reading, writing and arithmetic, and RTI requiring close observation of children's progress.  The RTI doesn't scare me, I am familiar with frequently assessing my readers and writers and guaging instruction appropriately, moving children to more appropriate reading groups and so on, and doing so often and based on children's needs rather than an arbitrary schedule.  What did make me pause was the extent of factual knowledge that is required of first graders, not all that different from when I first taught, but definitely created the perverbial "box" in my mind that I have been basically communicating in my blog that teachers ought to think outside of.  

I know every teacher in elementary school uses theme based instruction (ie.:  fall, butterflies, gardens, animals) to leap the hurdle of too much information to cover in one short period.  My solution, (which isn't mine at all, I learned it in grad school), is to try to organize the curriculum by Universal Concepts, timeless and abstract,  as a starting point for organizing the big picture of what I will teach and hope for my students to learn.  In this way, themes, subjects and areas of study will present themselves, but always will be connected to the Universal Concept and thus create a path for concrete understanding and higher level thinking about the abstract Concept.  By creating a map of standards to be learned within this concept framework, I will be able to communicate with parents and importantly the students, what we will be learning and why. A clear framework for what is being taught, and what problem is being solved provides the mental framework for children who need to "see" the big picture in order to file new information in their brains appropriately, this is particularly a challenge for the children with attention and executive function difficulties.

 By creating interdisciplinary lessons I will not only be able to teach more compactly, but also the children will be able to learn more authentically.  In real life, we don't "do math", we make a list or some type of plan, we navigate to the appropriate store, we keep track of how much we are spending as we go, and we make decisions based on needs and wants in order to stay within a budget.  Authentic learning with a purpose and meaningful problems to solve are the key to being sure that every child walks away from school with an education.  A variety of assessment tools and methods to accomodate different output styles in students, and importantly the use of rubrics to clarify expectations and determine who needs reteaching and who's got it, will streamline the reteaching and allow time for those who are clear on the standard to enrich their learning.

Right now I am enjoying puzzling over the best Concept or Concepts to use in a cross disciplinary first grade curriculum.  It is challenging but fun to think about how to organize a comprehensive year of learning and develop organizing questions to guide learning.  I began this process in my previous teaching role, and I continue to evolve my thinking to be more comprehensive than before.  I continue to strive to provide connections between the classroom and the world where children live and learn. 

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