The Common Core and Next Generation Assessments are requiring us to truly evaluate student learning and to take our expectations of them to great levels. To sum it up, rigor has become a central theme to the way we instruct students. This has been a huge focus in my classroom this year as we decided our class motto would be, “We Only Get Stronger When It Is Difficult.”
I focus on making my lessons “difficult” using one key concept – higher level questioning. Many of us are familiar with the traditional “Bloom’s Taxonomy” where you move up the multi-colored triangle. However, within the past ten years, this taxonomy has been revised, placing more of an emphasis on evaluating (providing valid reasoning for the way a thing is) and creating (using the design process to create, reflect, and refine your work).
While the lower levels are needed to ensure a basic understanding of topics, the higher levels are crucial to ensure that students have a sound and thorough understanding of the concepts you are teaching. For example, in my fifth grade class, we just finished reading a World War II historical fictional novel entitled Torn Thread by Anne Isaacs. In this story, two young Jewish girls live in a concentration camp near Poland and walk about 6 miles every day to a factory to produce clothing for the German soldiers. Life was grim and brutal. However, the prisoners in the camp made the best of life. One of the skills I wanted to teach was to consider multiple perspectives of characters in a novel to better understand how characters can have multifaceted character traits. With this understanding of the “hows” and “whys” of a character, they are more able to make deeper inferences as well as improving analytical skills as to the thoughts and actions of all the characters within a novel.
We utilized our “BYOT” capabilities to research various work camps in Nazi Germany (in addition to the real one in our novel) to have a deeper understanding of what day-to-day living would be like. Students then took pieces of what they knew from the text, their additional research, and are currently in the process of creating of their underground newspaper. They are also adding creative touches such as making the paper look rough-edged, worn, and slipshod as the Jewish prisoners had very little materials to produce underground newspapers.
I’m excited to see the end products and see how the students synthesized their understanding of the characters in the novel into having a different perspective about life in the camp. The thinking required is deep, complex and matches my class motto of “difficult.” In the end, they are better off for having a more complete and well-rounded understanding of the characters rather than just a one-dimensional view. I also look forward to seeing the finalized creative touches they utilize to make it look like a genuine and authentic underground newspaper.
Joshua Lemere is a 5th grade Talent Development Teacher at Barringer Academic Center, a partial magnet school for gifted students. He has a passion for teaching, learning, and technology. He would love to be added to your PLN and learn more about what you are doing in your school. You can connect with him on Twitter @mrlemere.