The Window: A Glimpse Into Our Classrooms
The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword
On Monday, the nation celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to commemorate the birth and life of a man who non-violently led the nation to end legal discrimination based on race. We remember Dr. King as a great orator, one who could inspire and energize millions with the rise and fall of his voice and his visionary speech. King was also a master of rhetoric in writing, arguably best witnessed in his seminal "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," which he wrote in response to criticism of his actions by several white Alabaman clergymen. In it, King eloquently appeals to his "fellow clergyman," while simultaneously appealing to the American public, to meet injustice with protest, wherever it rears its head, and to more carefully weigh the fairness of laws before blindly agreeing to follow them. Despite drafting the letter on the very newspaper which contained the white clergymen's critique, King wrote a masterpiece of ethos, pathos, and logos, so much so that the letter has become a cornerstone of as many high school writing classes as history classes. Although, arguably, the instructional value intrinsic to the letter is less in demonstrating how to write than in making clear why to write. The continued celebration of this day is a reminder that there are many battles left to fight on the road to peace and, as the old adage goes, the pen is mightier than the sword.
This week's Window highlights the work our children are completing in non-fiction writing. The work of learning to describe, inform, and in certain cases to persuade is foundational to the refined writing work students will do one day in the Middle School and, more importantly, as citizens. Read on to learn more about two of the ways students of the Lower School have been inspired to use research and inquiry to put pen to paper.
Following Inquiry in an Evidence-Based Way
In 1st grade, students complete several non-fiction reports over the course of the year. To begin this process, they are given a general topic (such as the migration of animals) and then collect their ideas using a (K)now/(W)onder/(L)earn chart. This KWL chart organizes children’s knowledge and curiosities through the categories designated for what they already know, what they wonder about, and what they have learned by the end of the investigation. Using the information collected, students identify a topic within the broad inquiry on which they are most interested. They then research the topic at the library with the support of library and homecorner teachers. As the students collect information, they are given other tools to help them organize the data they are collecting. For example, one tool creates sections for answering the five “W”s (Who, What, Where, When, and Why). In their recent unit on Migration, as one part of this writing work, the 1st graders completed animal reports, several of which are included below. Currently, they are working on another non-fiction writing project, which is closely aligned with a unit exploring the role of weaving in different cultures. Becoming more practiced with this process not only supports the children to follow lines of inquiry through an evidenced-based approach, but it also teaches them how to share the information they collect in a way that can be understood by others.
Whales migrate by swimming.
They go very far, from north to south and back again.
They migrate to find food and have babies.
They face danger from sharks and humans.
I wonder how they eat?
Bald Eagle Migration
Bald eagles migrate by flying.
One of the places they go on their journey is Alaska.
They migrate to find food.
They are endangered by people and farmers who use poisons.
I wonder…how we can help them escape the poisons?
Zebras migrate by walking or running.
They migrate through the Serengeti in Africa.
They migrate to find food and water.
Their predators are cheetahs, lions, and tigers.
I wonder…how do slow animals survive danger that’s faster than them?
Using Research to Inform Writing
As part of the 4th grade unit on World Celebrations, students practice key skills such as how to find appropriate non-fiction information, read it, and then explain it in one’s own words. Using age appropriate texts and information gathered online, students begin to think carefully about the key words and phrases in the text, highlighting or underlining them, and gathering them together in note form. Using only these notes, they then practice composing a non-fiction report, organized into paragraphs, in which they consider the information they have gathered and how best to distribute it into paragraphs, bookended by an introduction and brief conclusion. Alternatives to just writing the information include presenting the same kind of factual information in a poster or a Keynote presentation on the iPad. Later in the year, students will use factual information gathered from non-fiction texts to form the basis of the plot of a fictional story they will write about the rainforest, so the mastery of these skills is very valuable in many arenas.
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