Thursday, March 15, 2007

Language and math (Part 2)

(Part One, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five)

Language Arts, continued

So just to summarize what the language arts/reader part of the curriculum looks like: the readers are The Three Dollar Mule, The Sword in the Tree, King of the Wind, and Johnny Appleseed, about two chapters a week over 30 weeks. The last few weeks don't have readers scheduled. The language work usually goes in three-week segments (so you could still be working on a reader but doing something else for language): The Three Dollar Mule, Nigerian folktales (The Dancing Palm Tree), The Sword in the Tree, two Bible lessons (around Christmas), King of the Wind, letter writing, poetry, two weeks of insect lessons, Johnny Appleseed, choice of The Old Nurse's Stocking Basket or The Peterkin Papers, some newspaper lessons, and a Bible unit. If that sounds like an old Learning Language Arts Through Literature book, it's no coincidence: LLATL was developed from Ruth Beechick's theories and based on the skills for each grade listed in her booklets and in Teaching Children. Now you know.

One more point about the difference between the readers and the readalouds: if I were teaching this, I would concentrate narration efforts on the readalouds since they're generally more challenging. The readers could be used in any way that suits you: the student could read them aloud to you, or just to him/herself, and for some children that might be enough; or you could invent some way of following up on them (other than the language lessons). Just don't turn them into a page of questions: "Where did Don find the mule? Why did he buy the mule? What did his father say?" :-&


The only math books in the original shopping bags (I did find something else later on) were two slightly-used Golden Step-Ahead workbooks, one for Addition and Subtraction Grades 2-3, and one Skillbuilders book for Grade 4. I didn't start with the workbooks, though; I took a piece of paper, wrote the numbers 1-36 down one side (the number of weeks in a typical school year), and looked at the Mathematics sequence in Teaching Children. (My Beechick Arithmetic booklet (which has some excellent math activities in it, whereas Teaching Children has only the list of skills) had temporarily disappeared.) The list of typical skills is pretty reasonable: number awareness, emphasis on addition and subtraction, some multiplication and a bit of division, some fractions; plus a few extra topics like geometry and graphing. So beside the numbers, I started writing in topics. Beside the first few weeks, I wrote "skip counting" and "read/write numerals and number words." A few weeks down, I started adding in "addition/subtraction review" and "place value activities." By week 15 I was up to "Time review" and "more subtraction work"; by week 30 I was writing "Rounding off (review), money problems, multiplication." If I wrote the same topic for several weeks, I would skip a couple of weeks and pencil in some review; then again a couple of weeks after that; and probably once more somewhere along the line. Again, I was just thinking "typical" in plugging in these topics; some third graders might be able to jump in further along the line, not need any time review and so on; that's fine.

So then to the workbooks. With the first few pages of the Addition/Subtraction book filled in, I figured on using it starting in Week 5; whatever pages corresponded to my topics, I wrote into the schedule. Pages 6, 8, 10, 11 were a simple review; they went into Week 5. Addition with regrouping was already planned for week 10; pages 21-23 of the workbook were about addition with regrouping. (Workbooks, even cheap ones, usually make this easy for you by putting the topics somewhere on each page, or at least in a table of contents.) The first workbook covered about the first two-thirds of the year; during the last third, I used the second workbook, but only the pages that I thought were most appropriate for a third grader (The Easy Ones).

And for the rest of the activities? Because I was deliberately limiting this to the chosen resources, I tried not to include games or activities that I had learned elsewhere, unless they were commonly known anyway. Some things you just have to teach or practice (no worksheets required): you practice skip counting, you practice writing numbers, you practice math facts. To make things more fun, you can think up games: there's one good one called "The Greatest Number" in Ruth Beechick's Arithmetic, listed under Second Grade (it helps to read the whole booklet!). Briefly, you take turns turning number cards over (most third graders could handle three cards, maybe four), make the biggest number you can with them (if you turn over 4, 5, 6, 7, you can make 7654); whoever makes the biggest number gets a point, ten points wins the game. (It works best if you have a whole pile of cards--Dutch Blitz cards work well.) Painless place value/reading numbers practice.

Ruth Beechick also suggests making up word problems out of "paper that comes into your life": receipts, advertisements, bills.

Some people might feel this is enough math already: a few worksheets a week plus oral and hands-on activities (if you're still feeling hesitant about that, read through Ruth Beechick's booklet: it's very reassuring). For the extra topics, I had planned on fudging just a bit by using Janice Van Cleave's Math for Every Kid, which I really did get for a quarter a few months ago; I wasn't entirely happy about that, though, because I've been using it with my fourth grader this year and she finds it pretty challenging. But on my "extra trip" at the end, I did find something more grade-appropriate to supplement with (okay, I'm still teasing you--but I don't want to wander into that yet).

Again, a kind of disclaimer on my part here: if you can find a textbook or some other math program you like (we use Miquon in the primary grades), then go with it: there is no special reason you should try to teach math with only a couple of used workbooks, and it's definitely more work making sure you've covered everything and finding ways to do that and keep it interesting (although the teacher tools do help a lot). But if you find yourself stuck with less-than-perfect materials, take this as reassurance that you can still cover what needs to be done.

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