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"Do Not Fear Me," Said The Spider: Teaching a Diversity of Learners
Kim Kita, 1B teacher
It is always a wonderful challenge to develop a unit with many lessons. One of the key elements of developing a unit is what you want the students to walk away with. As a first grade educator, I'm wired to teach skills. It is part of our training and if you come from the public sector, you live and breathe the California standards. Therefore, the spider unit with its many lessons may appear to be about skills and knowledge. However, it is more about the appreciation of these eight-legged creatures, what they do for us, and how we should respect them, and not fear them.
Once you figure out the overarching goals, lessons are like the steps in a journey with the ending being a showcase of student learning. Beginning the journey is finding out what they know about spiders. Next are the questions they want answered about these arachnids and at the end, what they have learned about spiders. The challenge for the teacher is to develop lessons and activities that are engaging and allow students to access information at their learning level.
After four lessons about spiders, including a DVD, we went on a field trip to Tilden Park. I was impressed with the class when the naturalist quizzed our students about spiders. With only one lesson about spider anatomy and a four-day break, students were able to name most of the body parts. The cephalothorax was the only part they were not able to recall or pronounce. This was in comparison to a previous third-grade class that visited prior to our class. The spider drawing was also impressive because all the spider legs came out of the head part of the spider. They even remembered the pedipalps! So how does learning about spiders fall under the category of diversity?
In any classroom, there are as much as a year to a year and a half difference between what teachers would consider student grade levels. In some classrooms, it can be even greater span of grade levels depending on the type of learners and skill levels. The task for a classroom teacher is how to engage each student so he or she will learn and feel successful.
In first grade, a unit needs to include the elements of reading, writing, comprehension, and some sort of engaging problem solving. Project-based assignments allow a variety of learners to access the curriculum no matter what learning level s/he is at. Students heard read-alouds or read about spiders and were required to know a few facts about these creatures. In creating a simple model of a spider, each student had to plan what exterior body parts to feature and the appropriate location of each part.
For visual learners, it is important to have visual aids to refer to throughout the lesson. Their own drawing of a spider was one of the visual aids provided. The other was a finished model, which clearly demonstrated the expectation of a finished product.
The skills related to writing a story and creating a final draft are other examples of scaffolding a lesson so various types of learners can feel successful. Each student created a simple story organizer using pictures that depicted the character, setting, the problem, and how the problem was solved. By referring to the drawings, a sentence was created for each illustration of the graphic organizer. Students that wanted to add more details did so. One student created a comic strip rather then the usual story formatted presentation. Finally, creating a final copy of his/her own story and having it displayed is an affirmation of all their effort.
The exchanging of student thinking throughout the process -- whether it was what color to use to paint the spider model, what to name the spider character in a story, or figuring out the correct answer to a comprehension question -- was encouraged and allowed to occur.