Monday, September 15, 2008

Tools of the Trade: Study Guide

When I began teaching one of the first “real world” moments came to me when I met with parents at conference time especially when the student had a “C” or worse in my class. I’d ask parents:

*Has your child been bringing home his/her textbook and reading a little each night?
*Has your child asked for your help regarding the unit vocabulary?
*Have you seen your child’s Social Studies folder?

Invariably the answers would be:

*I thought they couldn’t bring their book home, or…..textbook? What textbook?
*What vocabulary words? You mean his/her spelling words?
*What notebook? You mean his/her Trapper Keeper I picked up at Walmart?

At this point I’d bring out my copy of the state objectives for social studies and I would go over the items students were to master. As of last year our standards are now printed in our textbook so that makes it a bit easier to share with students and parents. Most parents are simply blown away by what their child must know at the fourth grade level....sometimes I am as well.

In Georgia, fourth and fifth graders complete the very same content they will see again in their high school American History course. Fourth graders journey from Native Americans prior to 1500 to 1860…just shy of the Civil War, and fifth graders continue by beginning with the Civil War and on through present day. It can be quite a daunting journey for students and their parents who are not used to the large amount of content, new vocabulary terms, and intricate details. For example, the new standards for third grade contain 10 main standards with 25 elements. The new fourth grade standards show 16 main standards with 42 very detailed elements. From third to fourth students are expected to take a skip, leap, and a very high jump in the amount of content the state of Georgia wishes to cram in little heads. You can view Georgia’s fourth grade standards here, and fifth grade standards here.

For the last several years Georgia Standards in all subject areas have been revamped and then slowly rolled out by subject matter. The 2008-2009 school year is the year Social Studies standards are being rolled out. Realistically there is nothing new for me and my fourth and fifth grade colleagues other than the stopping and starting points involving the Civil War (I have always taught the Civil War since I began teaching fourth grade). The other main difference with these “new” standards is a few things have been deleted or worded a bit different. For example, in the old standards I was to make sure students knew about the Native Americans groups in South America….Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas. Now that standard is gone, yet magically these native groups appear from the fog to become the nemesis of various Spanish conquistadors.

Getting back to my study guide I knew early on in my teaching that I had to provide something for parents to use as tool. I also needed a tool to help students get an overview regarding what we would be studying for the unit, and I found that the study guide could serve to help me as well. By providing the study guide I indicate I’m willing to help, willing to provide more information, and I’m there for parents. Once I’ve “taught” parents to look for the study guide many of the phone calls, notes in their child’s agenda book, and emails cease because the study guide has everything a student and parent needs in order to be successful with the content.

The image I’ve placed here with this post is a typical study guide for one of my units. If you click on it you will get a much larger image. I’m also reproducing the text for you below if you would like to cut and paste.

Over the years I’ve had to tweak my study guides depending upon vocabulary changes, a new textbook adoption, and even due to the lesson plan format requirements my school system metes out. This particular study guides goes along with the Learning Focused theories hawked by Max Thompson….notice I have an over-arching essential question for the entire unit and further down a set of key questions that also serve as the various lesson questions.

Essential Question: What was the Age of Exploration, and what effect did it have on the Americas?

Following the essential question are the standard elements for the particular topic. I think it is important for students and parents to know exactly what is expected. Students cannot hit a target unless they are shown where the target is. Reading through the standards I’m sure you understand that nine and ten year olds would not understand the language. This is why I generally spend the time following a unit test handing out the new study guides, and I go over it in depth with the kids. We find the verbs in each standard….describe, explain. We discuss various words in the standards such as reasons, obstacles, and accomplishments to determine if we know what they are and so on through each and every standard. Sometimes I have students write a clue word or words out to the side of each standard to job their memory. Here are the standards as they appear on my study guide:

Standards: Students should be able to:

*Describe the reasons for, obstacles to, and accomplishments of the Spanish, French, and English explorations including the explorations of Cabot, Balboa, Ponce de Leon, Columbus, Hudson, and Cartier.

*Describe examples of cooperation and conflict between Europeans and Native Americans

*Describe how the early explorers adapted, or failed to adapt to various physical environments in which they traveled.

*Explain how the physical geography of each colony helped determine economic activities practiced therein

*Describe opportunity costs and their relationship to decision making across time (such as decisions to send expeditions to the New World).

The next two sections of the study guide are fairly simple…..I provide students with a date for their unit test, and I provide the textbook pages. The page numbers help the parents out more than the students. Students cannot go home and say they forgot or more importantly cannot tell their parents I didn’t tell them. My rear end is covered because parents know I always give a study guide at the beginning of a unit…..come Hell or high water. Here are the test and textbook sections:

Final Unit Test: The unit test will be given on Wednesday, November 1st.

Textbook: This unit of study is presented in the following pages of our textbook: 84-119.

As I stated before the key questions serve as my lesson questions for the unit. This study guide indicates six questions so I have at least six lessons in the unit. This doesn’t mean my unit is six days. Lessons can last two, three, four, even a whole sometimes depending on the content. Sometimes I allow the content itself to drive the number of lessons or the lesson question. Sometimes our text does this. Notice the sixth question involving latitude and longitude. This is a skill students should know, and it happens to be a lesson included in our text so in this instance the text drove my decision to add the question/lesson. Notice how I explain a little about the key questions. Students should be able to answer these questions following a lesson. The purpose of the lessson is to find the answer to question. I begin the lesson by identifying the question, and I close the lesson by revisiting the question and we look at possible answers. Here are the key questions:

Key Questions: The following questions will help students review the information presented during the unit of study. Answers can be located in the textbook or class notes:
1. How did early European, African, and Asians trade?
2. What new technological advances led to the discovery of North and South America?
3. Who were the early explorers in North America and what did they discover?
4. What was the effect of continued exploration in North and South America?
5. What types of people lived in New Spain and what kinds of lives did they lead?
6. How can lines of latitude and longitude help us locate places on Earth?

The final section of the study guide is for vocabulary. Notice I have divided it by lesson and have seperated the words into columns. I also provide some hints regarding where definitions can be found. While many of these words are in the text I often have words that aren’t. Students have to resort to using their all important notebook which I teach is the most important tool they have for learning. When we go over the study guide I say each and every vocabulary word and then ask students to repeat them after me. This particular activity is usually fun as I try to use proper pronuciation of the Spanish and Portuguese names. We all usually resort to fits of giggles as the kids try to pronounce the names like I do. Some are really intently serious about it. Students usually ask to go over the names one more time.

Here is the vocabulary section (I only included the first column of words….you can refer to the image for the rest):

Vocabulary: You should be able to identify the following terms in multiple choice format. Students can locate the words in their textbook or class notes as we progress through the unit. Vocabulary flashcards for each word including definitions and illustrations are due on test day.

lesson 1
Mansa Musa
Marco Polo
Kublai Khan
the Silk Road
Zheng He


Teacher Mom said...

This is so well organized and focused! I will adapt this at the secondary level. Thanks for the excellent post!

EHT said...

You're welcome. It really has saved me some major headaches with parents and administrators over the years when it comes down to that question, "Why isn't Johnny learning?" As some point Johnny is responsible, you know?

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that "Johnny" is responsible for his learning at a certain point. I do think that adults need to do what they can do make learning fun, approachable and engaging for children. We like online learning games like the ones at Kids can learn about educational subjects they would see in school, like spelling, math or reading and others. But it is fun and entertaining and they enjoy playing the games. I think parents need to do more so that children approach learning with a sense of fun and enthusiasm.