In first grade, we know that students learn best when their learning serves an authentic purpose, and they know what that authentic purpose is. So, for each of our four Modules throughout the year, we plan our work toward a final product that responds to a genuine need within our school or our within the broader Detroit community.
When Ms. Jackie and I saw a huge shipment of disassembled desks arrive to furnish our new Detroit Prep building, we had an idea.
During our first unit of study in first grade, we learn all about tools. We thought-- it definitely takes some tools to assemble a desk! What if students used their expertise on tools to assemble these desks for the new building- the very desks they themselves might be writing on in second grade? Assembling desks for the new school would serve an authentic purpose and allow students to do some hands-on work, but we had to ask ourselves, “How will assembling these desks help students achieve the writing skills we need them to by this November? How will this task allow students to expand their understanding on non-fiction texts?” When we opened the boxes and saw the lack of directions, we knew what our final products could be-- student- written and illustrated How-To books explaining the steps in detail to assembling desks. This way, anyone who might help assemble desks for the new school could use our directions. Students could do hands- on work assembling desks, as well as pushing their cognitive writing abilities while making their how-to books.
Students were thrilled to learn that their help was required with this task. We added further urgency and excitement to their mission by asking our Facilities Manager, Mr. Bobby, to write a letter to first graders explaining the problem and asking for their assistance. During the days we spend writing, revising, and rewriting our How-To books, we continued to write notes to Mr. Bobby updating him on our progress. We cannot wait to see the looks on our students’ faces when they get to present him with their final products!
Each module provides an exciting opportunity for students to build their reading and writing skills and to contribute to their school community by fulfilling an authentic need. We love planning Modules where students serve as experts. We find that students can always do more than they (and we!) think they can. As one of my first graders said, “I never thought I’d be an author and illustrator already!”