Project Information – Jennie Cho
Project Title: Author Experts!
Number of Students Impacted: 45 students
Grade Level: 4th
Subject Area: Language Arts
1. PROJECT DESCRIPTION/RATIONALE
In my fourth grade classroom, I only use authentic texts (novels, trade books, etc.) during my reading class with students. The feeling that students get while holding a book, and actually reading it from cover to cover, brings such a sense of accomplishment to them. I provide regular opportunities to my students to read independently, and encourage them to try a variety of genres at their independent reading level.
The Author Experts project is designed to expose my students to the writing of two specific authors who write in two different genres. Bruce Coville is a celebrated writer of science fiction books for children and young adults, and Jerry Spinelli is a wildly popular writer of primarily realistic fiction for the same age range. My students might pick up a book by one of these authors in the classroom library, but often don’t know what makes each writer unique, or how to look for similarities across books by the same author. At this point in their schooling, fourth graders are ready to begin really examining the differences between genres – in this case, realistic fiction and science fiction.
The Author Experts project will encompass two author studies in my literacy curriculum. Students will be placed into groups by ability or interest, depending on the books selected, and the groups will each be assigned a book by one of the authors. Through independent reading, buddy reading, word study, and literature circle discussions, each group will decide on the pages they will read each day and conduct a discussion about their reading together as a group. The teacher will visit each group each day to participate in the discussion, as well as assess student learning and group dynamics. Student groups will have an opportunity to also participate in mixed group discussions – groups made up of students who are reading different books by the same author – to give them a change to talk about the author’s style in different books. Once students have had a chance to read 2 books by the same author, we will start an author study for the second set of books, using the same process, but adding an element of comparison across genres. Throughout the process, students will keep a reader’s response journal that the teacher will journal in as well to continue the dialogue.
2. STUDENT IMPACT/ASSESSMENT
By having an opportunity for focused, extended reading of a particular author, with teacher and peer support, students will gain confidence in their reading and analytical abilities, build their skills in discussion and critical reading, and expand their writing skills in response to literature. My homeroom class will be full involved in the roll out of this program. I then hope to start an “author exchange” program with the other 4th grade classroom at NTA, so that students in both classrooms can read the same book, and share dialogue journals back forth about what they think and feel about the books they are reading.
To assess student learning, I will develop, along with the students, an evaluation rubric for an effective book discussion. Students will self-assess, and I will assess individual students and groups of students on their discussion skills. I will pull common vocabulary from the books that students will work on together during word study, and genre-specific literacy elements will also be introduced and assessed. The reader’s response journals will provide me with data on student growth in their comprehension skills and their reflective writing abilities.
Students will be examining and reading authentic texts in 2 different genres. They will have the opportunity to read several books written by the same author to analyze the craft of writing more closely. Students will work independently and in groups to read the books, and to pose reflective questions about their reading to their peers to generate discussion. They will also be identifying important vocabulary words in context of their reading to add to their working vocabulary sets. All of these activities related to the Illinois Learning Standards – not only do these activities address the writing and reading standards, but they also address speaking and listening standards. To be effective group members, students must listen to and respond to their peers in a clear, effective way. Book discussion skills are often the most difficult to teach in the intermediate grades, but I place a high priority in this particular learning style because I believe that it bests prepares students for high school and college level coursework.
Finally, students will be producing materials and posters for the classroom that describe the characteristics of both the realistic fiction and science fiction genres, which is why I would also like to purchase a laminating machine to make the materials more durable. I will also use the laminating machine to laminate the group discussion rubrics so that we can reuse them each week, rather than copying new rubrics.
Character Education Bonus
1. CHARACTER EDUCATION INTEGRATION
All of the books I have selected for the Author Experts project deal with social and emotional issues that are critical for fourth graders to contemplate, write about, and discuss in order to further explore their own identities. Using real literature to do this, instead of pre-packaged character education programs, is more organic, more authentic, and ultimately, more effective. My students seem to crave a safe arena to explore issues that are important to them; as their teacher, I can participate in these discussions focused on the literature while also keeping my finger on the pulse of what is happening in their own lives as well.
2. STUDENT IMPACT
Book discussion groups are a great way to build classroom community and to encourage students to rely on one another for their learning. Students learn to take ownership, understanding that their preparation for book discussions will impact the quality of the discussion for the entire group. They also learn how to question their peers, to agree and to disagree respectfully, and to build off one another’s ideas. v
4. BUDGET EXPLANATION
The notebooks purchased with the character education bonus would allow my students to record their Author Experts vocabulary, discussion questions, and reflective journaling all in the same place. This would also provide a vehicle for the dialogue journal writing that I would participate in with my students to help build their thinking about their reading. Having students take ownership over their learning by keeping a dedicated notebook for this work would build responsibility and a sense of commitment to their book groups. By journaling about the themes of growing up, right and wrong, choices, and other critical themes, students will be better able to articulate their thoughts about these topics in their discussion groups. Finally, if I am awarded the character education bonus, I will add Stargirl to the Jerry Spinelli “rotation” for my higher level readers. This book deals with themes of difference and acceptance and is something that I think my fourth graders will be ready for by the end of the year. All of the books I have selected deal with social and emotional issues that are critical for fourth graders to contemplate, write about, and discuss in order to further explore their own identities. Using real literature to do this, instead of pre-packaged character education programs, is more organic, more authentic, and ultimately, more effective.