In third grade, students transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Reading units are no longer structured around foundational skills like decoding, blending and sequencing. Students begin to learn how to be thoughtful and analytical readers. During our recent Research Club unit, students worked collaboratively to build “reading to learn” skills by thinking deeply about nonfiction texts.
During the first part of the unit, students work collaboratively to research an animal. They learn how to organize nonfiction texts, identify important subtopics, and take detailed notes. They use cross-text synthesis (and, yes, they know what that is!) as they combine and grow the information they gather about each animal. As their comfort with research grows, the students divide research jobs among themselves. Pretty soon their notebooks are filled with lists of expert lingo (vocabulary), notes on subtopics, diagrams with labels, and their own wonderings and ideas.
With a new toolkit of research skills, the clubs take on a new challenge. Each student selects a new animal to investigate. This time they are “reading to learn” so they can “write to teach.” The research they compile is incorporated into a collaborative nonfiction book for second grade readers. With an audience in mind, the third grade researchers become authors. Using published nonfiction mentor texts as examples, they write the content of each chapter, plan the layout of the book, and format each page. This year they even typed their final drafts so they books would look professional. The teamwork and excitement around this project is contagious once the audience is introduced. There is now purpose behind the research and writing. The classroom is filled with pride when the authors’ finished books are shared with the second graders.
This is an important project because it involves cross-curricular knowledge. Third grade is the first time at Aspen Academy that all students have three academic teachers. Content-area learning is divided and the transfer of knowledge between subjects is challenging. In an effort to assist with this transfer, Rob Cooper and I align our units on Structures of Life and Research Clubs. The students are amazed when they hear the same vocabulary used in science and language arts. Slowly, the transfer of knowledge begins. Our goal is to teach students that one subject’s learning doesn’t stop when you leave that classroom. It is all connected. They learn more and learn deeper when they investigate these connections. They see the purpose behind the integration and begin to understand the power of “reading to learn.”
Student choice and ownership are at the forefront of our language arts curriculum. At Aspen Academy, all of our language arts teachers pride themselves on tapping into the personal interests and learning styles of each and every one of their students.
About the Author: Joanna Weisel is a 3rd Grade Language Arts Instructor, Language Arts Co-Chair, and Student Leadership & Entrepreneurship Coach at Aspen Academy. Joanna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Studies from Dickinson College and a Masters Degree in Early Education from Lesley College in Cambridge. She has been teaching since 2012 and at Aspen since 2014. She taught kindergarten for three years before moving into her current role with the 3rd grade. She loves the supportive community of teachers and parents at Aspen as well as the opportunity to be creative with her students. Outside of teaching, she loves running, hiking, camping and traveling around Colorado and beyond with her husband and their dog.