ARCHIVED—Connecting For Success
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It's never too early for students to start seeing the connections between what they learn and real life. Even at the ripe old age of seven or eight, young students have life experience that a teacher can tap into to make learning more interesting and relevant.
For Loretta Van Brabant who teaches Grade 3 at St. Teresa Catholic School in Edmonton, this means looking at all the elements of the curriculum and thinking of creative ways to make it meaningful.
"I call it connecting for success," says Van Brabant. During the first few weeks of school, she looks for connections with students' interests and their learning styles to enhance each of her theme units, which in themselves already connect together many elements of the curriculum. "I connect students to the curriculum and connect the curriculum to students' experience." The students can then enjoy success, no matter where they are as learners.
The friendship theme Van Brabant teaches at the beginning of the year is a good example of the connections she makes. Here are the various activities that make up that theme:
- introduce themselves to the class, share interests and ideas (public speaking);
- write a poem incorporating knowledge of what a friend means to them (written language arts);
- explain and reveal hopes and dreams for themselves and the world (religion);
- create a dream catcher (art);
- learn and accept the unique and special qualities of each other (family life);
- survey and graph physical characteristics and personal favourites (math);
- analyze and discuss stories about friendships as they relate to their lives (language arts);
- use co-operative games on the playground (physical education); and
- celebrate friendship with other Grade 3 classes in the school (drama, music).
(Van Brabant organizes her themes and lessons using a grid that she developed to help her make all the connections across the curriculum. See "A Practical Tool For The Elementary Classroom".)
Creating artwork, which children love to do, plays a big role in many of Van Brabant's classroom activities. For a unit on rocks and minerals, for example, she has the children build little people out of small rocks and other materials.
And she soon discovered that children love to talk about their art. This gave her the idea to improve on the age-old activity show and tell and make even more connections with the curriculum.
Instead of just bringing in any old thing from home to show the class, the children talk about what they have learned in the various units or about the crafts they have done, such as the rock people.
In a social studies unit on Christmas (since she teaches at a Catholic school), for example, the children may make and talk about a Christmas ornament, their family's traditions or a favourite toy from when they were younger.
Van Brabant does not hesitate to call these oral presentations "public speaking" and to treat them as opportunities to teach important skills. She sets up a monthly schedule for the presentations and explains to the children about the importance of preparing well, of practising, and of not being afraid to be expressive and share in their own terms. She also teaches them to listen politely, not to interrupt or criticize, to clap at the end of each presentation, and to ask questions.
(Close cousins of public speaking are role-playing and drama, which are also effective ways to engage students; see "The Day Stalin Dropped By,").