Monday, March 19, 2012

Discussing the Purpose of Units with Students

When I was a student in school, I repeatedly asked, "Why do I have to do this? When will I ever use this?" I'm sure I'm not the only one out there who asked these questions to their parents and/or teachers.  When I became a teacher, I made a promise to myself to always make the purpose of "why?" we are doing something clear to my students so they can understand the importance and the value in what we are doing.  My teachers, unfortunately, rarely made that clear to me so I was left to figure it out myself when later in life, I really did use those skills I learned years ago. 

So for each unit that we immerse ourselves in, I make the time to discuss the purpose with students and create a chart listing their ideas for "why?" we have this unit of study and what is the purpose.  Trust me, I know that time is of the essence in the classroom, but this is time well spent because the students' engagement and motivation levels increase when they understand the purpose of "why" they are doing it. When I stop and think of myself as a learner, I also put forth more effort and motivation towards a task when I understand the purpose of why I'm doing it. 

Today we launched books clubs in our classroom for our Social Issues Unit. Staying true to my promise of always making the purpose clear to the students, I had them turn and talk about "why" they think we have book clubs and why it is important.  As I listened into their partner conversations, I jotted down some ideas students had onto the chart paper that was titled, "The purpose of Book Clubs - Why do we have book clubs?" These were some ideas my students shared:
  • To share and deepen our thinking as readers
  • To change our thinking by listening to different perspectives
  • To learn how to have good conversations
To lift the level of their thinking even higher, we had the students think about how these skills and strategies will help them in real life, beyond the classroom (we constantly connect our learning to real life in our classroom because I think it is so important for students to see this connection).  These are two statements that my students shared:
  • It will help teach us how to keep an open mind instead of being narrow-minded
  • It will help us work better as a team because teamwork is important

Chart with students' thinking about the purpose of book clubs
Tomorrow's minilesson and conversation will begin to focus on identifying what we need to do as readers and book club members in order for all of the above statements to come true.

I'd love to hear other examples of how you share the purpose of lessons and/or units with students so they understand the "why" behind it and see its connection to real life.

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