Friday, September 27, 2013

14 Cows for America

There are days that I REALLY miss teaching in the classroom. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my job as a librarian, but I miss that cool connection that you get with students in the classroom. So I was thrilled when Mrs. Williams asked me to come into her classroom to share 14 Cows for America, a moving, powerful picture book by Carmen Agra Deedy (978-1-56145-490-7). 

This lesson exemplifies the beauty of true collaboration and co-teaching. Mrs. Williams and I talked about some of the problems her struggling readers were having, and we identified that asking questions while reading was one of the areas that needed improvement. It's ironic that educators sometimes stifle the natural questioning ability in students. Think of any 3-5 year old you know, and I bet that kid asks a million questions. Will that same curious kid ask as many questions as he/she gets older? Probably not. Is it because school often programs students to ANSWER the questions rather than ASK them? That's my theory, and maybe the topic of another blog post... So we decided that we would model the kinds of questions that go through our heads while we read a text. 

Mrs. Williams started the class with a journal entry: "What do you know about 9-11, Africa, and cows?" This started their basic K-W-L chart, accessed their schema, and piqued their interest. It's a small victory when a group of teens WANTS you to read the book to them because they are curious. I then introduced the lesson and pointed out that good readers ask questions in their heads while they read. I shared the book, making sure to show the pictures and talk about "illustrator's purpose," which is a great way to scaffold kids into author's purpose. Mrs. Williams wrote the questions down under the "W" for things we wanted to know as I read, and we modeled these questions together. I just have to say that the kids were ENGAGED in the book, and they even threw out terms like "symbol" and "theme." It made my former English teacher heart happy.

There was a third teacher involved in this collaboration: Matt Nichols, the technology facilitator and iPad guru on our campus. He helped Mrs. Williams integrate the iPads into this lesson, and he took a pic and tweeted it while I was reading:

After we finished the book and students found out that this was a TRUE story, their questions became even more relevant: Where are these cows today? Why did the Maasai do this? Who are the Maasai? Students used the iPads to research one question that interested them. They used this website that is referred to in the back of the book: We used QR codes to help the students get to the website. It's a HUGE victory when teens WANT to research something that they are curious about, and it proves that picture books can be used as a springboard for research!

This is when the power of collaboration really kicked in: During the first class, we tried to have the student do too much with the iPads. We wanted them to make their KWL chart on "Tools for Students" app, then find three facts to answer their question, and create a Skitch to present their information. We did not have enough time to do this during the first class, so we decided to just have them make their KWL chart on the iPad and submit it to Edmodo for the other two classes. This worked MUCH better, and we will use Skitch in the future as the kids get used to using the iPads.

Even though the students weren't creating anything really "cool" in Skitch, they still were truly engaged in completing their KWL charts on the iPad. It just shows that using technology can turn something ordinary into something cool:

Using Skitch to present his 3 facts about the Maasai Tribe

Typing his KWL chart
Helping a fellow student submit to Edmodo

Overall, this lesson with three different classes was a great success because of our ability to monitor and adjust to make it work. It was fun to co-teach with these great educators, and I hope to do it again and again. This picture says it all:
You're never too old for a good picture book, especially when you get to use an iPad! 

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