The other week in my placement the students were learning about non-fiction texts. Some of the lessons we taught the students involved being aware of the author’s purpose and being able to tell the difference between important facts and interesting details. I found myself constantly thinking to myself, “What is the purpose of these lessons?” We were following the pacing guide and these non-fiction lessons where what was supposed to be taught at this specific time, but it lacked any real context or purpose to engage the students. Both Routman and Tovani write a great deal about the need for students to see a purpose for their reading and writing. They need to see the lessons that they are learning as a part of a larger picture. The learning needs to be authentic and not simply isolated lessons that focus on skills or strategies. If students are to apply what we teach them, they need to be learning these lessons in context. Students need to understand “why” they are learning what we are teaching them.
There were times in the lessons where the students were told that this information would be helpful in the future when they would be asked to do a research project. They were asked to go back to their readings and use sticky notes to write down when they noticed something in their non-fiction reading that connected to that day’s lesson. It all felt so forced. I did not feel that the lessons were being taught at a time when the students could really use the strategies and retain what they had been taught. I asked my cooperating teacher about this. I asked why we were teaching these lessons now if the research projects were not starting until next month. She told me that she found that it was best to “front load” the information. She thought it was better for the students to be taught all the lessons before they needed to apply them. I asked her if she believed the students would be able to retain and apply this information a month later, she said that she believed they could.
She has been teaching for 6 years and I believe that she is a good teacher who knows what she is doing, but I still struggle with accepting her answer in full. I do agree that you cannot begin teaching about the features of non-fiction texts at the same time that you need the students to begin a research project. The students do need a bit of background knowledge and the project would likely move too slowly if it had to follow along with the entire non-fiction unit. I do think though that the project and the unit should overlap at some point. If I was sitting there thinking “what is the point to all of this?”, the students were likely feeling the same way. These lessons didn’t seem to really connect with the kids because they didn’t see the purpose.