Although I primarily teach math, I do have the opportunity to teach reading every morning. It is always exciting for me to see text come alive to students, to watch their eyes light up as they begin to relate to the characters and make those connections. I have to admit, this year, it was a rare occurrence to see this happen for my reading students. I think in part it is due to the inoculation of the idea that assessment is the end all, be all to determining a student’s ability to read and comprehend. You know what I mean…AR tests, Lexile scores, read so many books from the library then take a test or answer some questions, it goes on and on. But where is the part where we forget about levels and abilities and just encourage reading because they will love it, because it will open a world both figuratively and literally to them?
As fifth grade teachers, we sometimes live by the adage that students have already learned to read and now their job is to read to learn. We no longer offer read-alouds or even just some quiet moments to read for pleasure during the day. Why? Because there is no pleasure in reading. It is now constantly linked to assessment. The fun has been sucked out of reading. How sad! One of my favorite poets/authors, Maya Angelou, voiced her opinion on the subject of reading in schools today here, and I must say that I agree.
So, the year wore on and this weighed heavy on my mind as I watched students struggle to engage with the texts in which we were insisting they immerse themselves and bask in the joy of reading (which wasn’t happening, in case you were wondering) and it dawned on me to read to them. They still need to hear fluent reading so that they can become fluent readers. So, after our regularly scheduled reading group, we embarked as a class on a journey through The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer (see this).
As we journeyed deeper into the novel, we realized that the characters were on the most exciting scavenger hunt of their lives! A STEM light bulb went off, so I created this STEM from Stories lesson plan.
The students were presented with a problem (Alex and Conner need to get home) and I asked them to think of ways to help them, a way to solve their problem. A map, of course, was the consensus. From that brainstorm, the design brief was presented. The students immediately went to work! The world that they envisioned in their minds (with help from evidence in the text) came to life for them as they created the maps. What most amazed me was the self-differentiation that took place! Take a look at the sample pictures and see if you can tell how they self-differentiated. As we continue with the novel, the students still get their maps and add landmarks and details.
Finally, I see a group of students who are anxious to read, to escape to this new found fairy-tale world and to their new found love of reading!
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