Over the past year, I have been part of a group of teachers who come together for this program called LCI--Learner Centered Initiatives. The basic theory is that if we can teach students authentic curriculum and assess them on many different levels, learning will become more meaningful for them and they will have more success as learners. We were challenged to take the curriculum we have to cover and find new ways to present it to students. The curriculum gets focused around a central core --which should be an open ended question that students have to answer. A bad question would be: What happened at the Boston Tea Party? A better, more open-ended question would be: How did the Patriots fight back against British imposed laws? An even better question might be: Why war? The last question can move on to many topics and students have a better range of interest. They could look for a central theme: freedom (as with the Am. Revolution), beliefs (Am. Civil War), religion, land (Fr. and Indian War), etc...
I actually tried this last year with my fifth graders: Our central question was 'Why Migrate?' Each time we examined a new era in SS, we looked back at the question--it even crossed into our science curriculum with animals. We found out that people move for all different reasons: new opportunity (Westward Expansion, Gold Rush), War (Holocaust, Civil War, WW I and II), Land (Remember the Alamo? :), Freedom (Underground RR, Holocaust), and so on.
I also examined the way in which I assess my students. I was please to see that I was right on the money that most of my assessments are informal and come from a lot of observation (use of individual dry erase boards was key) and conferring with students about reading and writing. My informal assessments were mainly in the forms of actual tests and final products--published writing and proof of reading (reader response notebooks, post-its).
This coming Thursday, I get to join this group again. We will be looking more deeply into the creation of rubrics to assess student learning. While I already create rubrics with my students, I am interested in seeing what else I could do to make them better and more useable.
While I hate (yes, I know it's a strong word--but I feel strongly about this) being out of my classroom, I feel that LCI is worth it. It has shaped me into a more thoughtful, reflective teacher and I look forward to learning more.