My literacy lesson was taught to a fourth grade class, and it was comprised of a read-aloud, a large class discussion (occurring before, during, and after the reading), small group discussions, and a written activity. The story book I read was entitled One Hen and it was an exceptionally well-written TRUE story about an African boy who encountered many obstacles, worked hard, became educated, persevered, and despite his many struggles, became the most successful poultry farmer in all of West Africa (and in the process helped his family, community, and entire country). The written activity required the students to reflect on the story, and engage in high-level thinking. I had the students write a letter to the main character of the story (Kojo), and explain what they will/would do to help their community.
First and foremost, I’d like to say that I was blown-away by how enthusiastic and engaged my students were throughout my two day lesson. My lesson began on Friday afternoon and I completed the lesson on that subsequent Monday afternoon. The students could not wait! As soon as they saw me on Monday morning, I was bombarded with questions; “Are you finishing the story today Ms. Forstat?” and “I can’t wait to hear what happens to Kojo, Ms. Forstat!” etc. It was very endearing. Not only that, but during the discussions, every single student participated; before, during, and after the read-aloud. Normally, I have two or three students who sit back and let his/her classmates take the burden of the work…not this time! I didn’t even have to call on students; they were happily voicing their thoughts and opinions.
That being said, I was surprised as to how difficult it is to facilitate a classroom discussion; as opposed to a “recitation”. In my lesson reflection that I turned in to Judy, I went into more detail as to how much I struggled in terms of taking that step back and allowing the students to take the metaphorical steering wheel. Honestly, I’ve tended to judge teachers rather harshly for their, supposedly, lazy approach to class discussions. I was arrogant enough to believe that they (teachers) were just too “stuck in their ways” to develop a more student-led teaching approach. Well, I’d like to take this time to apologize to those teachers whom I have discourteously judged. A student-led discussion is a difficult strategy to promote and I no longer believe that it can come naturally; this will definitely be something that takes some focus, and sincere thought.
Finally, I’d like to end this post with a comment relating to my students’ innate ability to empathize with human beings who may appear (on the surface) to be different from them. Before I began my lesson, I was worried that the class wouldn’t grasp the underlying themes of my lesson. I was anxious to see how my fourth graders would handle such issues as: global citizenship, poverty and poverty alleviation, perseverance, community, and helping those less fortunate. I NEVER should have doubted their ability. The thoughts and feelings my students shared were insightful, sincere, and extremely empathetic. The fact that these fourth graders are able to understand the importance of kindness, empathy, and global citizenship, when so many adults lack these insightful characteristics, is, truly, inspiring.
By the way, in case you are interested...this website...has wonderful activities, lessons, games, and information about the book One Hen, and about the country of Ghana. Make sure your speakers are on because beautiful African music plays in the background!