As you may know by now, I teach first grade. Before I was a first grade teacher, I was a reading specialist. However, first grade is the only grade I have taught in a classroom. I've always thought I was destined for older kids though. I think they would get my sense of humor a whole lot better than 6-year-olds. I think I would have a lot more patience for fourth or fifth graders. But, I'm part of a fantastic team and don't really want to leave them for the unknown world of Intermediate grades.
Recently, a couple of my colleagues came up with an idea that allows me the best of both worlds. We are encouraged in our district to think in an innovative way. To think "outside the box" if you will. The plan they came up with definitely fits the bill. They called it "vertical learning." In this vertical learning model, a teacher would decide on a topic of study. I think of it as a workshop. Students from all different grade levels would have the opportunity to sign up for their class. Only the students of the teachers who have decided to teach a class would be able to participate. In theory, you could have students from first through fifth grade in the same class. The teachers would connect their class to the curriculum areas that weave through all the grade levels.
I decided, with a little prodding from my principal, that I would give it a shot. But, what could I teach? Some of the topics were: Egg Drop Challenge, Lego Cars, Cooking Fun, School Newspaper, Song Writing, Travel Brochures, and Amazing Structures. What could I do that would be as fun and catchy, yet interesting to me and connect to the curriculum? I have always enjoyed scrapbooking so I thought about what I could do that incorporated scrapbooking. Then I realized that scrapbooking is all about telling your personal story. All grade levels spend time on teaching Personal Narrative. Now I was getting excited! And because I was participating, my students get to participate. They get to work with older kids and really challenge their thinking with some of these activities. We are calling it "Learner's Choice" and they were so excited to get to choose.
I hit a hurdle when I realized that the time slated for this activity was right when my kids were in specials. However, that was easily taken care of by switching with a teacher who wasn't participating and had the same special as me, yet at a different time. We were off and running. I let the teachers organizing the event know that I was in. They held sign-ups and I got a whopping 8 students who wanted to participate. At least it wasn't zero!
Today was our first of two meetings. I have two first-graders and six third-graders. It was so interesting to see how far their writing had come in just two years! They really seemed to enjoy it and understand the purpose of our lesson. On Wednesday we will have our second meeting and they will get to choose colorful paper, use funky scissors, and put their stories together. I'm really looking forward to seeing where they go. I also can't wait to hear the stories from my students as they come back with their own innovative experiences.