Students were fully engaged and had complete ownership:
The learning was in the hands of the learners. They put on the coats and were transformed! They became their famous person. This sparks the imagination and divergent thinking giving children an opportunity to pretend. We are always talking about walking in a character’s shoes – why not make this abstract notion a reality by creating context to do just that.
Students engaged in self directed rich conversation as they assumed the identities of their famous people:
This is more than “doing research” it’s living research. This work allowed students to make swift connections from static facts to personal lessons learned. Authentic connections are being driven not by a teacher prompt, but genuine interest.
Students were making a variety of connections (comparing and contrasting, categorizing, analyzing) all of which driven by their conversation.
Choice equals engagement – we know this but it’s quite something to observe it in action. Students were actively constructing meaning on a number of levels. As they taught each other about their person, they naturally began to compare and contrast timelines, top ten facts, movements, and so on. They began to self govern and categorize themselves into groups that reflected accomplishments. Some the discussions that followed focused on an analysis of different eras. For example: Ruby Bridges was a girl when Dr. Martin Luther King was spearheading the civil rights movement. At that same time in history Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Each child played a role and clarified multiple perspectives during the same era. We did not plan this – it just happened this way. Children are natural collectors, and when given freedom for self expression this childhood strength came through in their work. Their research enabled them to be well informed and confident. Resulting in purposeful talk that was relevant and meaningful.
English Language Learners were immersed in authentic discourse with their peers engaging in academic conversations
This was especially rewarding. Prior to the celebration we grappled with way to support our ELL students just enough – we did not want their conversations to be stilted by using sentence stems. While this is a good practice, we wanted to use the celebration as a vehicle for formative assessment. We were excited to see the independent transfer of academic English to their discussions. Whether they were discussing: Christopher Columbus, Jane Goodall, or Ruby Bridges the conversation were natural. We attribute this to the multiple encounters they had researching their famous people. They had deep understandings and their talk came from a sense of ownership of their own learning.
This celebration brought the entire third grade together as a community. This was powerful in a number of ways. The duality of the roles as speakers and listeners propelled pragmatics into the forefront. This was cooperative learning at its best. Each class gathered to share the collective learning that united the grade level. Remarkable. This provided an opportunity for colleagues to view students with a broader lens. It created an opening to assess transfer, not just the research knowledge, but also their verbal discourse, and students’ abilities to work collaboratively and with purpose.