I share a ‘block’ with our computer teacher and counselor so I see each grade for three weeks out of every nine. Those three weeks are chunked so that I can teach a 3-week mini unit. Lately I feel like I’m overly ambitious in my planning and can’t fit it all in. With checkout time that leaves three 25-minute lessons. It doesn’t always feel like enough time for quality. I tend to over-plan and then the lessons go unfinished and can flop. Sometimes the rotation changes and I’m uninspired. I have to get over that soon though because after 6 years of library teaching and as many blogs as I read with good ideas I need to get some planning done!
Here’s some of what I’ve done….
Kindergarten: Fiction/Nonfiction with Bears
We used PebbleGo and texts to learn real facts about bears and did a simple notetaking chart to describe their habitat, diet, body and actions. Brown Bear, Brown Bear and Goldilocks played a starring role in our fiction stories. I do like this unit in the fall, but I think next year I’ll switch my topic for fiction/nonfiction and move all of the bear info to the winter. I have taught a winter animal research unit before with Kinders. I think though that I’ll add the Bear Cam and teach a unit focused on the resources available for learning new information. I want to go a bit deeper and really dig into what is available even to our youngest students to learn from.
First Grade: Pete the Cat Sequels
We read the Pete the Cat series and then planned a sequel. Students brainstormed plots and narrowed it down to a final choice using a multi-vote. Another round of brainstorming generated all of the events for the book. The next week each student picked one of the plot points from a stack of index cards and drew/wrote their page of the story. Later I scanned in all of the pictures and pulled it together into a digital story.
If I were to do this next year I think I would try to make it a collaborative project with our technology specialist. Students could have a graphic of Pete to put into Pixie or KidPix and could illustrate their page around Pete’s likeness or draw their own Pete. Their story could be easily narrated. The trick is to keep it simple because of the time limit, but transfer most of the tech experience of the project over to the students so they can be the storytellers.
First Grade: Fairy Tales
I hadn’t intended to do a fairy tale unit with first grade. I had intended to do a poetry unit incorporating You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You: Fairy Tales. Instead, I overlapped with the first grade classroom theme more than I intended and we read several tales. I created an interactive white board money activity for the Three Silly Billies. Students loved just listening to Falling for Rapunzel, The Three Dassies, my horrible Cajun accent with Petite Rouge Riding Hood, Manana Iguana, and Armadilly Chili. Right before my last class I remembered my recording of Mike Artell reading Petite Rouge. Our Library Assistant kindly told me that my reading was better, but I was glad to turn the reading over to Mr. Artell!
It wasn’t the most inspired unit, but I’ve been coming to a slow realization lately that it’s okay. The first grade teachers have told me many times that they love it when I just read a lot of great books. As long as I can keep students’ 25 minutes on the carpet engaging with just a bit of action for them not to sit so long then reading a lot of great books is wonderful.
Second Grade: Ecosystem Notetaking
Students used laptops and worked in groups to use PebbleGo. Each student took notes using pictures and text. This unit was very simple, but I loved it. It was the first time I had used laptops with a class. That’s not very tech-saavy of me, I know. The laptops are on a shared cart and often require rebooting after startup because they miss their regular overnight updates because they are powered down on the cart. It’s logistically impossible to have students be responsible for booting these up during the lesson. Instead it takes about 30 minutes of prep prior to the lesson. It’s not challenging, but investing this time every day for three weeks adds up. That’s more than an entire school day! I wish there was a simpler way to do this. I’m envious of libraries with ipads or dedicated laptop carts with space in libraries. At the same time, there are libraries with no laptops available. It was worth it for this unit!
Second Grade: Prep for Research
In January our second grade students research severe weather. I led into that project by reviewing components of their project around winter break. Students were exposed to the library catalog. We looked up weather books and practiced locating them in the library. During one lesson we used a rubric from the Cyber Smart curriculum and evaluated two weather websites to determine which would be best for second graders. For our last lesson students used a shorter rubric to evaluate a weather book. We practiced locating the table of contents, index, and glossary; determined if the book was a ‘just right’ reading level; analyzed the pictures and graphics; and identified a favorite aspect of the book.
I think I would keep this unit almost exactly the same. Each of the skills directly translated to their research project a few weeks later. I think I might put together the rubrics into a packet or something to cumulatively document student work during the unit.
It hasn’t all been bad. There are good moments in each of these units. I learn something about the way I teach with every unit that goes by. I always think I’m going to repeat units the following year, but that’s true only about 25% of the time. I feel like I’m always starting over and then the real planning doesn’t happen until the end of a unit. Not the best cycle to be in as an instructional professional. I want to start building some really solid units and that’s a challenge for me to do the first time through. Reflection really does help me become a better teacher. I have to really really work on the instructional part of being a librarian. It’s hard for me to analyze a lesson or unit ahead of time and determine what needs to be improved before I teach it. I envy those that have the knack to pull it all together.
I have many more thoughts about unit planning that have come to me in recent months; I am determined to move forward with confidence!