Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thinking about Purpose for Students

As the district's new Writing and Social Studies Coordinator, I am leading the development of a whole new curriculum for the sixth grade social studies. To further complicate this challenge, we decided that we would integrate and embed writing instruction into content areas and reading. Throughout the year, I have met with teachers to develop essential questions, learning outcomes, and enduring understandings that mesh with not only the Common Core State Standards, but also with our state frameworks and the rest of the units in our district in different grades. At this point, we have chosen resources and set up the units and yesterday, we met and began structuring a learning plan.

At the recommendation of a colleague, I began the day by showing the teachers the Alan November TedTalk where he emphasizes the importance of purpose for students. He told story after story about the quality of work students of all ages created when they felt that their work had purpose. Because one of the end-of-unit assessments will be creating a travel brochure of one of the places we will study, some of us wondered out loud about linking up with a local travel agency to see if they would consider being on the receiving end of a multi-media presentation about Brazil, Tanzania, or Australia, the three places where we will focus our studies.

Today, I called a travel agency to see if they might be interested in using student work. As she understood what I was suggesting, she realized the potential win-win scenario this could offer, since students could research and present parts of these countries that she doesn't have materials about. She was not only interested in receiving and using well-done presentations to show clients, she also is collecting resources and is willing to offer guidance and feedback to students about what sort of products would be useful for her business and how they could tweak their projects so that she might be able to use them. I am so excited about this concept and hope that we really do get to implement it in the fall, as what an amazing purpose for students! If anyone has seen this work or has other ideas for setting up authentic opportunities for students as they study geography, culture and interactions, I would love to hear about them.
Take care,


  1. Absolutely a win-win for all- this is authentic and experiential learning at its very best. The work you are doing now is exactly what I coordinated with our sixth grade block team (language as, writing workshop, social studies) two years ago, Melanie. Crafting those essential questions and enduring understandings was the key to everything else, but it also involves so much hard work! Bravo to you for all that you are doing.

  2. Actually, I have been searching around for good reading formative assessments all year and finally decided to to take a look at what my state, Illinois, has decided to do . I was pleasantly excited about how meaningful they were in the midst of what I think is pretty crazy. I know that they are ELA and K-5, but I like what they have done for informational and literature. xo Bless you Melanie... I know that you will stay the 'best practice' course!

  3. Thanks for the link to that Ted Talk. I'll be checking it out next.

    How lucky for the students and teachers that you're so thoughtful about what you do!