Friday, October 25, 2013

Who knew? Obviously the Common Core Maps Unit Writers Did!

            So, for the past couple of years we’ve been using the Common Core Maps units for the basis of our ELA curriculum. These maps have tried our patience, caused us to carefully consider KCAS content in the name of understanding, offered countless opportunities for us to analyze our practice, and mentally opened up our mindsets about the integration of all things ELA. As we’ve struggled through, we have certainly put to use all of our thinking strategies as thoughtful practitioners. Our background knowledge has guided us, our questions have propelled us, and our inferences supported us as we navigated uncharted waters.  Most recently, I experienced a synthesis of sorts after reading a Readers’ Digest article while visiting my mother. I had no idea it was coming, but after reading the text had a much clearer vision and understanding of one particular third grade unit.

Our Story
The unit titled, “Stories Worth Telling Again and Again,” comes as our second in the year. A focus of this unit calls for students to become familiar with those stories passed down from generation to generation so as to retell them using key details. It features Native American and other cultural trickster tales and asks for students to record a family (parent, grandparent, aunt, or uncle) story of their own.  Of course, our team “got” that this unit takes place in the month of September when we celebrate Grandparents’ Day as a nation, but what we didn’t realize was the researched-value of students knowing the tales of their past— specifically the positive outcomes from family members’ experiences overcoming trials and tribulations.  Who knew? We sure didn’t know the benefits beyond current content, but obviously the Common Core Maps writers did!

…and Our Synthesis
            Last year we attempted to communicate a purpose so our students would be vested as they participated in the activity of collecting stories to retell them, but it felt flat (about as fulfilling as making a cute card). This past year, we made more of an effort and really worked to make the work meaningful to both students and their families, but we didn’t “get it” until we read this article.  “The Stories that Bind Us: Strong families know—and teach the next generation—their histories” by Bruce Feiler caused a synthesis for my third grade colleagues and me. And it came just in time to share our new understanding with our students so they could reap the undeniable benefits of connecting with their families (nuclear and extended). Now their work to capture these precious positive stories will afford them the opportunity to “be more resilient” when faced with challenges.
            While we wish we had read this powerful text about a month sooner then we did, we are grateful to know how we can revise our plans and support our students in understanding the true benefits of sharing and reflecting on those “Stories Worth Telling Again and Again.” Of course the take-away from this experience extends beyond this one unit. Yet again, we see evidence that the authors intentionally wove in meaningful experiences as they designed each of these units.  We are called to be open-minded and obligated search for a deeper meaning and worldly importance of those at-first-glance “surfacy” activities. Though they may not all be the hidden gem that these grandparent stories are, there may just be more than meets the eye, and who knows what ah-ha we will have next?

Feiler, Bruce. (2013, September). The Stories that Bind Us: Strong families know—and teach the next generation—their histories. Reader’s Digest, 32-34.

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