7. THEMATIC LEARNING
Case Study: "Ponds," Bilingual Kindergarten, Meriden Bilingual/Migratory Summer School
It is my firm belief that students benefit greatly when new material is presented in multiple settings for authentic purposes. The conviction that experience is one of the greatest sources of information is also at the foundation of my teaching philosophy. As an educator, these aspects of my teaching philosophy make thematic learning particularly attractive.
During the summer of 2003, I created a thematic unit on the outdoors, focusing on ponds, for a class of fifteen bilingual kindergartners in Meriden's Bilingual/Migratory Summer School. Throughout this unit, the study of ponds became a backdrop for everything from reviewing basic math skills to conducting observations of unfamiliar plants.
During the course of a typical summer school day, students participated in activities, planned around the central theme of ponds and outdoor life, that reinforced basic skills and enriched their knowledge of the world around them. Following are images and descriptions of a variety these activities.
Each morning began with the discussion and shared writing of the day's news. This provided an opportunity for students to practice letter and sound identification. Corrections to the news were an opportunity to discuss proper letter formation and the uses of upper and lower-case letters and punctuation. Observing and discussing the weather provided an important tie to our overall theme of ponds and the outdoors.
Throughout the summer, special visitors to our morning meetings introduced important concepts and encouraged the use of specialized vocabulary.
Visitors included a spider, who sparked interest in the letter S and the number eight, and a walrus who's enthusiasm about the letter W inspired an art project.
Observation and experience are a critical part of the learning experience. One week of summer school focused on the letter W. In addition to practicing letter formation, students learned poems and finger-plays associated with the letter, observed water lilies and experimented with wind. Creating associations between our study of the letter W and our observations and experiments provided students with an authentic purpose for learning the letter.
As mentioned in the previous section, I enjoy using bulletin boards to reinforce learning. Students in my summer school classroom worked to fill a bulletin board decorated as a pond with the animals and plants we studied. This bulletin board became a focal point in our room, the catalyst for discussions about ponds, a connection to books that were read, and reinforcement of the literacy and numeracy concepts that had been taught.
Our pond grew to include frogs, fish, water lilies, dragonflies, turtles and snakes.
Summer school culminated in a trip to Hamonasset State Park, where students were able to see snakes, turtles, and other animals we had studied.