Third-grade students at Wheeler Avenue School recently began reading “Bull Frog at Magnolia Circle” by Deborah Dennard. But before teacher Jennifer Navarra told her students the title of the book, she spent a week giving them clues so they could figure out on their own what they would be reading about.
She provided them with numerous quotes from the illustrated book, and showed them some pictures, too, but nothing with frogs in it. They had to use evidence from these clues to formulate their guesses. At the end of the week, they had a class discussion, and Navarra revealed the not so secret topic.
“You’re correct,” she told her class. “It’s about frogs.”
The students responded enthusiastically. Navarra said as part of Common Core, she introduces topics in this mysterious way to get the students’ minds turning. “They’re figuring it out on their own, which they like,” she said. “I’m not just telling them. They’re really thinking. They’re coming to conclusions on their own.”
It’s a change from the past when Navarra would simply tell the students what they would be learning about. She likes observing their discussions, as they listen to each other’s ideas and try to learn from one another. That, she said, encourages the deep thinking that is at the root of Common Core.
More poetry in classes
Danielle Dodge, a fourth-grade teacher at Howell Road School, was particularly inspired when an accomplished poet spoke at the district’s superintendent conference day in November. Since then, she has incorporated more poetry into her lessons.
On a recent Friday afternoon, she had her students read the poem “Saturday” by Monica Gunning. But they didn’t just simply read it. They did a “close read” which is actually a three-step process.
First, the children read it to get a general understanding of the poem. They read it a second time, underlining the words they knew. During a third read, they circled the words they didn’t know. After each time, the students discussed their findings, both in pairs and as a whole class.