Want to Teach on a Higher Level? Drop the Textbook!
This year has been one of the most challenging years in my teaching career, and I am happy to say that this is a good thing. It has also been one of my most rewarding school years to date. Why? Teaching in a school that places an emphasis on learning outside of a textbook, worksheet, and scripted curriculum creates outside of the box planning and thinking. When you finally put the textbooks away, and I mean really away, you find that you have to really rely on those higher level teaching skills. Group-work, hands-on, music, movement, the works. This kind of learning is not only more fun and meaningful for my students, but for me as well. I'd like to share my five tips on managing the curriculum standards without relying on a textbook.
Photo: You won't find these directions on solving algebra problems like this in a textbook. I am including information on ordering the hands-on materials for this unit.
Textbook Disclaimer: This is not an anti-textbook post! In fact, I have at least four different math programs in my classroom, and I have used each of them at some point this year. However, I can't remember the last time I saw a student excited about something they were reading/working on in a textbook. I can quickly think of faces excited today over lessons that did not involve a textbook or workbook, though.
Tips for Managing a Curriculum Without a Textbook
Tip #1: Small Group Work
Working with a gifted population that can come to you already knowing the "3rd grade curriculum" really makes working through a textbook a totally unrealistic plan of action. Instead, we have to base a lot of our curriculum on pre-tests results and alternative resources (which may or may not come from a textbook). We also rely on working in small group settings across the curriculum in order to meet everyone's needs. This means reading, writing, spelling, and math are taught in a small group setting every week. This can be quite a challenge, but it is very rewarding to work in a small group setting so often. Today I addressed adding and subtracting unlike fractions, finding the LCM, and turning improper fractions (also called rational numbers) into mixed fractions. For another group we addressed comparing unlike fractions. This was all based on the previous day's work. Because most of this is above our grade level, we relied on dry erase boards, fraction strips, and calculators instead.
Photo: We are fortunate to have reliable weekly help for small group instruction. Here, a group of seven students work with two parent volunteers on word problem solving strategies while I work with another small group on algebra. On Fridays, all groups are managed by a parent or me.
Tip # 2: Solicit Parent and Peer Help
Along with soliciting parent help in the classroom, I had a parent help organize one of our social studies units. How can you bring a government unit alive without a textbook? How about having a parent organize and plan government speakers for your class? We have had several senators, a judge, and city council members speak, and even have a federal level speaker planned for the future. I know I learned more about how our government works from these visitors than from anything I found in a school textbook. The bonuses included being able to answer student questions of interest and having educational items to take home (brochures, pamphlets, pencils, etc.).
In addition to this, I have found myself asking for help more than I ever have in my career. Luckily, there are plenty of good teaching ideas to share. I have borrowed ideas from kindergarten through 6th grade. Moving beyond the textbook can be a great way to begin collaborating with others, and I am so happy that I have needed to do so.
Tip #3: Hands-On Matters
This is sometimes the most challenging, but most exciting part of my job planning. How can I bring in something to make my lessons hands-on? I find myself asking this most for math planning, but it works across the curriculum. From algebra to lessons on schema, I try my best to bring a tangible link to learning.
And proving that I am not anti-textbook, I was happy to see the manipulatives provided by Investigations. I use the hands-on materials frequently.
To learn how you can make your science curriculum fully hands-on, try reading an archived post from my blog last year, "Science Inquiry and Science Notebooking." It includes several videos and photos.
Photo: Students work in small groups with a parent to reinforce the skill of measuring angles. Students also made "angle-a-tors" with paper plates and brads.
Tip #4: That Howard Gardner Guy . . . He Knows What He Is Talking About
I have found myself stopping and checking to see if I have incorporated some of Gardner's multiple intelligence research into my planning.
Naturalist learner? We have written outside by the birdhouses several times in the past week or so.
Musical learner? Rockin' the Standards, Mr. Duey, Songs of Higher Learning . . . get to know them. They rock. Honestly.
Interpersonal/intrapersonal learner? We worked on our individual spelling lists today, but students had the option to work with their "study buddy" or on their own. Students often have a choice to work how they best see fit.
When I am creating lesson plans, I find that this is a rather important component to our learning week.
I also wrote a post on incorporating multiple intelligence theory and reading/writing practices, "Combining Reading Strategies and Multiple Intelligence Research," last year, for more on this.
Photo: Students used a hands-on approach to learn perimeter and area before tackling volume. We also used a song from Rockin' the Standards that really helps to teach these skills.
Tip #5: Internet and Professional Literature
And last but not least, there are my good trustworthy friends: the Internet and professional literature. Without these two resources, I don't know what I would do on a day-to-day basis. From Scholastic resources (the Mayflower links are amazing) to a professional book recommended by our school librarian, I feel revitalized when I learn about new methods and practices I can use in the classroom.
Photo: I am not afraid to "borrow" ideas, even anchor charts from other teachers or authors. Anchor charts become an important feature in your room when you don't rely on a textbook.
Some Links of Interest
Are you interested in what I am ROUGHLY teaching this year? My year-at-a-glance not only has a grid for the school year, but also lists my favorite resources on the second page. I stress that students determine the pace and content in our classroom.
Wow! Can your students solve problems like this: 2(3x+1)= x+22? They can! Please click on the following link to see a video on how your students can solve complex algebra using a hands-on approach.
Songs of Higher Learning: Tons of music with printable lyrics. Many songs are geared for the upper grades. Many songs available.
Mr. Duey: Takes a hip-hop/rap approach to learning content across the curriculum.
Rockin' the Standards: 4th grade teachers, these musicians focus on math content songs. Very catchy!