The Animal Research Report
Students are grouped in a variety of ways according to purpose. Work groups, which are long-term and stable over time, are made up of four or five students who will work well together. The objective for these is that they be able to work independently while Char meets with small groups.
Instructional groups are fluid, based on ability level or the need for a particular skill. Reading groups, for example, are flexibly based on ability; they shift and change as students learn and improve their reading skills.
District technology objectives include interpersonal ones such as sharing and taking turns, so children are frequently paired or grouped by interest for technology projects. Children researching the same animal work together, sharing resources and ideas while each creating their own books. During this project, there are seven groups, plus students working on their own.
Ninety minutes of the morning is devoted to reading and literacy centers. This becomes project time for several weeks, when children are reading and writing about animals as part of their work. Some days include whole group instruction and individual work time. Other days Char meets with reading groups or checks on progress while the others work on centers. The block allows her to meet with each of the four groups for 20 minutes.
Structures for Success
Clear instructions and monitoring are important for children at work on a long-term project. A checklist of all steps in the project attaches to the front of each research folder. Char checks off completed step and makes notes on incomplete or missing areas.
Hands-on processes and small steps make the project "doable" for young students. Research folders are tangible, and give visual cues that help students keep track of the research process. Color coding clearly shows the relationship between questions and answers. Letters on note cards match letters on sticky notes on books or magazines where facts are found.
"Alll of the things I do in the classroom are carefully considered, based on the needs of first graders. They weren't meant to sit for long periods of time. . .In using movement and music I'm seeking to accommodate all the needs and developmental needs of all the learners in the class." Char Soucy
To provide for young children's need to be active, movement and activity are planned into the day. Math manipulatives are in common use, transitions are done with movement and song, and the research process is hands on. Mid-morning recess and a nutritious snack keep up student energy for learning.
Differentiation and Support Strategies
"Young children at varying developmental levels need the teacher to be differentiating for them, and in a project in some ways it's a lot easier to see how to differentiate the lessons." Char Soucy
Char employs differentiation strategies to address the needs of children at different levels. Students who qualify for Title I receive additional tutoring and support for reading from the Title I teacher and aide. Support strategies permit all children to successfully complete the project:
Work with a partner - students who have difficulty writing or staying focused may be more confident and experience more success if they work with a partner. Each student makes their own copy of the project.
Change the rubric for individual students or groups of students. The requirement for the number of research questions may vary, as in this project: average students - 5 questions; struggling students - 3 questions; high achievers - more than 5 questions. The number of sentences required for each response to a question may also vary.
Have parent helpers or upper grade "reading buddies" help with reading, do some of the typing for some students, or point them in the right direction. An adult might read aloud from a resource and have the child identify when she /he hears a fact to take notes.
Adjust the amount of writing. An emergent writer may fill in a blank in a sentence, other students write in whole sentences. Similar adjustments can be made on the template for the computer presentation.
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