Wednesday, November 07, 2007

An elliptical education

The first graders have language arts most of the morning. Many of the New! Hot! reading strategies passed down from on high (such as GLAD strategies and daily literacy centers) have been discarded, but we spend a lot of time on vowel sounds, blending, sight words and so forth. The kids will soon start learning about inflections, endings, and other basic grammar. Language arts takes more than half of their classroom time.

There's an all-too-brief recess, then lunch. The kids walk around outside after lunch, to get a little more cardiac exercise, then they go to specials.

Twice a week they go to music, twice a week to P.E., and one single block of 45 minutes per week is spent in art.

We spend about an hour on math, including calendar time, in which we tally days of school and the kids think up equations for the number day it is. A lot of math --- maybe too much --- is done on the overhead while the kids follow along on worksheets. There's too little manipulative experimentation, and for first graders, that's too bad.

Once a week they go to the library after math to hear a story and check out books.

Science is less than forty minutes long, at the end of the day, and it's a good week when we actually get to it four days out of five. Otherwise the kids just catch up on unfinished work, write in their journals, or hear a book. The science lessons are usually fun for the kids. For example, they loved making paper shapes balance using counterweights, and they enjoy growing plants --- but they don't really understand why they record observations in their science journals. There's just not enough time in the day devoted to the teaching of good scientific practice.


I read the kids a book today about three turkeys on a farm who get excited about the upcoming Thanksgiving celebration and hold a series of contests to decide who will be the Thanksgiving turkey that year. In the middle of their striving, they overhear the farmer talking and realize just what will happen to the "winner."

At that point, I asked the kids for predictions for what would they turkeys would do now. The kids gave me all sorts of answers: they'd hide in the grass, they'd disguise themselves as other animals, they'd keep running right on out of the farm, etc.

One kid predicted the end accurately, and I gave him some attention. But then I said that everyone else's answers were just as important as his. I noted that their answers were imaginative and could easily have ended the story on a satisfying note. I told them I would like to see them write their one endings based on their ideas.

I do think it's important for kids to hear "no" and "wrong" when they have a wrong answer, instead of the more common damning with faint praise ("good try!"). But I also think that kids become better students when they understand that observing, predicting, using strategies and making reasonable inferences and predictions are all just as important as getting questions right.


Churlita said...

So, are you gonna tell us how the story ends?

Chance said...

No, your own imaginings are just as meaningful as authorial intent.

Michael5000 said...

Damn, that was my question too.

I'm thinking they'll let the least popular turkey win the big contest, without telling him what's up.

Or maybe they'll get the farmer before he gets them, and carve him up for Thanksgiving dinner? That would be an interesting twist on the story.

Chance said...

Michael, they began to follow your first suggestion, but then felt bad and decided to escape together.