Thematic Units

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Text of Thematic Units

  • 1. Dr. Magda Enriquez BeitlerOne Click! Your Solution

2. People acquire knowledge best when learningin the context of a coherent whole, and whenthey can connect what theyre learning to thereal world. It seeks to put the teaching of cognitive skillssuch as reading, mathematics, science, andwriting in the context of a real-world subjectthat is both specific enough to be practical, andbroad enough to allow creative exploration. 3. Thematic instruction usually occurswithin an entire grade level ofstudents. Teachers of all the different subjectstaught in that particular grade worktogether as a team to designcurriculum, instruction methods, andassessment around a preselectedtheme. 4. Themes often involve a large, integratedsystem (such as a city, an ecosystem, andso on) or a broad concept (such asdemocracy, weather, and so on). Instructors often strive to connect thetheme to the students everyday life. Insome cases, students participate inchoosing the theme or themes. 5. The learning objectives of the corecurriculum (both process skills andcontent knowledge) is organizedaround the theme. 6. In the study of a river basin, for instance:1) Math might involve calculating water flow and volume;2)Social Studies could look at the nature of river communities;3)Science might study phenomena like weather and floods;4)Literature could study books and novels that focus on rivers, such as the works of Mark Twain. 7. This usually involves making changes to the class schedule, combining hours normally devoted to specific topics, organizing field trips, teaching in teams, bringing in outside experts, and so on. 8. Becausethematic instruction is often project-oriented, it frequently involves students giving collective presentations to the rest of the school or the community. Plus, students commonly create extensive visual displays. 9. Whenplanning, it is important to select themes that are not only interesting to students, but are meaningful and substantive.A theme such as "Challenges" enables students to learn about people who have struggled and won. 10. A theme on the environment helps students understand the importance of preserving and protecting the Earth. Forexample, students may understand the necessity of recycling aluminum cans and Styrofoam cups in their own communities, but they may not know anything about the destruction of the Amazon rain forests. 11. Relatingand connecting these two ecological concerns through appropriate reading and writing tasks enables students to move beyond their own lives into the larger world. 12. Once themes are determined, thegoal is to select tasks that encouragestudents to investigate, speculate,and problem-solve, asking questionsthat enable them to explore othertopics more fully. Key concepts for a theme shouldprovide a clear focus for all instructionand learning. 13. For instance, the key concept for atheme on the environment might be: "We should respect and preserve the natural world because our lives are linked to it." 14. Thus, this key concept guides allactivities and lessons, and thereading selections emerge naturallyfrom it. It is expected, by the end ofthe theme, that all students will beginto internalize, build upon, and transferthis key concept to their own lives. 15. Within cross-curricular instruction, skills and strategies become the means for developing reading and writing abilities, rather than the end result of the thematic study. Specificskills, such as comparing and contrasting, can be taught through structured and carefully planned mini lessons, or through more interactive lessons for those students requiring in-depth teaching. 16. Forexample, during the reading of Like Jake and Me (Jukes, 1987), fifth graders might complete a Venn diagram in which they compare themselves to members of their own families. This activity relates to the story in that the main character, Alex, ponders whether his soon-to-arrive twin siblings will be more like him or like his stepfather, Jake. Most important is that the skill is being taught and practiced within the context of the story and theme, not in isolation. 17. Also, if it is necessary for students tohave further practice comparing andcontrasting, they may at a later pointin the story complete another Venndiagram, this time analyzingsimilarities and differences betweenAlex and Jake. 18. The reading materials for the theme are variedin terms of interest, genre, origin, and level ofdifficulty; and may come from a variety ofresources. Students may be involved in sharing otherreading materials, such as thematically relatedbooks from their personal libraries, articles,family memoirs, computer software,newspapers, videos, etc. 19. Some teachers prefer "theme immersion," in which the entire day, week, or month and all subjects of the curriculum revolve around the theme (Manning, Manning, & Long, 1994). Otherschoose to plan themes for several weeks around core subjects, such as language arts and social science (Fredericks et al., 1993). Stillothers choose to integrate primarily the language arts, and incorporate several subject areas, if appropriate, for a small portion of the day (Vogt, 1994). 20. Whatever the choice, it is importantto keep in mind students interestsand attention spans, the availability ofresources and reading materials, andcurriculum guidelines. 21. Whenteaching a theme for the first time, ithelps to monitor students interest andinvolvement and to be ready to modify thetime line, if necessary. If it appears that students are ready tochange to a new theme before all plannedactivities are completed, it is better tomove on and begin something new. 22. Becausethematic teaching is flexible and adaptable, changes can be made in the schedule with little or no disruption. 23. At times the role is to facilitate, atothers to provide explicit instruction,and sometimes simply to serve as aresource. Activities may be directed by theteacher or, occasionally, by thestudents themselves. 24. Whether an activity is more effective with whole-class, small-group, or individual instruction depends upon the difficulty of the reading selection, the nature of the activity, and, of course, the abilities and interests of the students. 25. Students may work together inheterogeneous cooperative learninggroups, for example, having the opportunityto take leadership roles, developunderstanding, and improve social skills(Slavin, 1990). At other times, however, students may readand study with partners or "learningbuddies," or in triads. Grouping decisionsmay be made jointly by the teacher andstudents based upon which configurationmight be the best for any particular activity. 26. Opportunitiesare also provided forstudents to work individually. Students are given time each day for self-selected reading and writing. In addition,whole-class instruction for some activitiesis efficient and appropriate. The type and difficulty of reading material,the nature and scope of the dailyactivities, the learning goals, and studentsstrengths and needs all affect scheduling. 27. Support in Advance" for StrugglingStudents; It is beneficial to provide additional support forstudents who lack background knowledge, orhave difficulty understanding vocabulary andconcepts. For example pre-teach potentially troublesomewords or concepts before introducing a piece ofliterature or informational text, 28. Prior to reading about the devastating fire in Yellowstone National Park in 1988, children in a fourth-grade class who would benefit from support in advance gather with the teacher, along with, perhaps, a couple of more prepared students who would like to join the group. 29. Forapproximately ten minutes, thissmall group examines thephotographs in the text, The GreatYellowstone Fire (Vogel & Goldner,1990), and lists ways in which theforest and wild animals might beaffected by a forest fire. While this activity is taking place, therest of the class is engaged in journalwriting related to the piece they willread. 30. Following the brief support in advanceactivity, the small group and the teacherrejoin the rest of the class for a discussion ofwhat the students know about forest fires. Because the small group has received a"jump start," they are ready to participatefully with the rest of the class and can addtheir newly learned information to thediscussion. 31. Also,since later mini lessons and majorstrategy lessons are contextualized by thetopic that all students have been readingabout, it is easier for students who struggleto make connections about what they arelearning. Skills and strategies are modeled andscaffolded by the teacher and otherstudents, and all students are provided timefor group work and a chance for leadership. 32. Therefore,in thematic teaching, opportunities for success are plentiful for all learners. 33. Forstudents who are acquiringEnglish as a second language, thesuggestions described above areequally effective. Because thematicresources include a variety of ideasand perspectives, potentially difficultconcepts may be explained andmodeled. There are also many opportunities forrich cross-cultural sharing. 34. Support in advance activities, along with attention to idioms, multiple- meaning words, textual clues, pictures, and various grouping configurations, assist all students in participating with the class (Ernst & Richard, 1995). 35. Teachersmay also help studentsacquiring English by providing carefulmodeling, demonstrations, andscaffolding, and by having readingmaterials available at various levelsof difficulty. Opportunities for students todemonstrate their competence in avariety of ways, such as with art orrole-playing, are included. 36. Mostimportant, students acquiring English are encouraged to participate in group activities, are allowed to share whatever they can, and are motivated to take responsibility for their learning. 37.