Building a Back to School Foundation

by Helene Solomon

BuildingStructuresI know the old adage, the best thing about teaching is June, July, and August, but in reality, isn’t the best thing about teaching the fact that no two days are ever the same? Change is healthy and exciting. As the state of education continues to evolve and grow, I know I must as well. So, as another school year gets underway I am committed to presenting a rigorous, deep, and inspiring curriculum for my learners. To my benefit, I have just had an enriching and stimulating learning experience myself, having presented and modeled at the Oceanside CAG Conference and Demonstration School.

In Oceanside I taught several lessons that were familiar and a part of my repertoire, but I was also introduced to new material, and I was eager to take it back into my classroom and make it my own. This is a quick peek at my first few weeks, and how I implemented Depth and Complexity.

I teach elementary school in a socio-economically disadvantaged part of a large metropolitan school district. The learners enrolled in my classroom are identified gifted, high achieving, or able underachieving.

3DstructureOur overarching theme for this year is Structure. When examining the Common Core standards the concept of structure is heavily emphasized. I have a clear vision of how it fits into our studies: the structure of a paragraph, the structure of a story, how to structure a science experiment, the human body as a structure, the structure of the periodic table, the structure of mathematical expressions and equations… We started right off with an art lesson, creating original 3-D paper structures on 6”x6” platforms. From there the learners “built” upon their understandings of STRUCTURE. I saw this as a way to take the learners from a concrete idea to a more abstract concept.

The artwork then became a tool in developing the ability to judge, and an introduction to the art of criticism.

We investigated scholarly behaviors and created a list of behaviors we want to reflect on over the course of the year. I started the lesson with a partially filled bottle of water and we discussed “half full vs. half empty”.

My old stand by lesson, an introduction to the dimensions of Depth and Complexity stood tall as we read The Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry. Again the universal theme of Structure loomed large. This was a review of the standard prompts for my learners, but it can be used for an introduction as well.

Among the lessons new to me were the introduction of eight new prompts of depth and complexity. The learners took to them with immediately. In just a few short weeks we have been able to clearly connect motives and impact to the stories and novels we are reading. We employed the prompt of context to our understanding of the civil rights movement as we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington and to several readings we are doing on and around that subject. The prompts for judgment, proof and original(ity) were applied with equal ease to our art criticism lessons and the skills of peer editing.  The prompt translate came in very handy when renaming decimals. We learned the process of building structures and drafting our written assignments, and of course, the “scientific process” is another structure to master this year.  We also went back and connected the new prompts to The Kapok Tree.

I love to try new things and my classroom has always been an evolving study of learning, this year we are off to a great start!

HeleneHelene Solomon is a 30+ year veteran teacher of the Los Angeles Unified School District. National Board Certified, she teaches the fifth grade School For Advanced Studies class and serves as the school’s GATE Coordinator. Committed to ongoing professional development, she considers herself a devoted student of Gifted Education. She has a Master’s Degree in Counseling and is credentialed in both Multiple Subjects and Pupil Personnel Services.

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