Friday, August 31, 2012

1st Grade Research Making Connections and the Common Core

I spent 2 days volunteering this week showing how to teach research skills to 1st grade students.  Research can be developmentally appropriate and connected to a young child's egocentric sense of self.  Actually it can be fun!

I'm volunteering at a beautiful new school that was completed last December, so the children made the move after the winter break.  Here is some history on the school.  I actually attended this school when I was in 3rd grade (long ago:) as did all 3 of my children (now 20, 26, & 28).  So I have history with the school climate, but am experiencing it in a new facility.  Wow, it is so beautiful and much deserved.  They work on integrating the arts throughout their curriculum and the building itself lends nicely to this endeavor.  I only took a few pictures that didn't have students in them, but these might help you get the feel of the physical environment.
Art Work on Walls

Actual Flat Screen Televisions with a Real View of this Aquarium

Performance Theater in the Media Center for Classrooms to do Reader's Theater or other Dramatic Arts' Performances

Each Grade Level Pod is a Type of Tree with Art Work to Match

Close Up Details on the Paintings that Line the Hallways

Entrance into a Grade Level Pod
Our first research project was to learn about our school.  Now I know what you are thinking.  We all do that "annual" "first of the year" building tour where we learn where everything is.  It usually takes place the first or second day of school.  Yes, we did that tour.  It served its purpose of locating "where we need to go" for all the different parts of the day.

Since the Common Core has really bumped up the writing for K-2 (early childhood), we need to think of ways to help our children connect to their writing.  We do this by providing them with experiences to write about.  So that's how this first research project started.  It was to lay the foundation of what is to come over the next year in this first grade class.


Yes, I put that in bold and in all caps.  Sometimes we forget to put the procedures into place to do a project and then it is not successful.  We tend to throw some valuable educational experiences "out the window" because they failed, or the children didn't follow through the way we intended.  Instead of "throwing out the idea" why not step back and see what needs to be taught first in order to "do the activity."

A walking field trip in the hallways of a building they are familiar with sounds easy right?  Not really.  Throw in notebooks, pencils, and movement . . . Now you are getting the visual.  Those procedures need to be taught in a small environment before we open up the "doors" to larger places.  So we practiced by taking a walking field trip in our class.   We talked about what it would look like, sound like, feel like.  We modeled that sometimes we draw pictures, sometimes we write words, and sometimes we do both when recording information.  All of these are critical components of beginning research. We did a "turn and talk" to your friends about what they noticed in our classroom to get the vocabulary and thinking flowing.  And then we did the most important part . . . we called up a few children at a time to actually take their spiral notebooks and pencils to start recording what they saw in the classroom.  The rest of the class observed what it looked like, sounded like, and felt like.  That's crucial.  You have talked about it before, you let the class see a few doing it, and then you release more children (about 4-5 at a time) to join in until the whole class is walking around the room on their "walking field trip."  We made notice of students who were researching their classroom appropriately.  I took pictures with my iPhone to show them instantly what they looked like when they were working.  Young children need to "see" what it looks like when they are doing it right.  

After about 5 minutes of the whole group participating, we called them back to the floor to share what they recorded.  It wasn't a long process.  Just basically making a quick auditory list of what we found.  Then we lined up (those procedures were already in place), but once again talked about what it looked like, sounded like, and felt like to line up with something in our hands.  And again, we chanted, (teacher) "Who's job is it to keep you safe?"  (students) "You and me."  You can see my previous post on classroom routines for more information on this.  

So now we were ready.  We opened the door slowly, and began our walking field trip through the school.  And guess what?  They did it!   And they were great at it.  Why?  Because we laid the foundation, modeled it, practiced it, and discussed it in a smaller setting before the actual release.  Did we have to remind or regroup?  Absolutely!  But it was easy because they had the terminology and the experience to do it successfully.

Each child documented what they saw in the building that was important to them.  This was their first writing attempt of documenting evidence and it was interesting to see the different levels of writing. Some attempted to draw pictures or representations of what they saw, some drew the actual pictures, some drew pictures with inventive spelling, and some wrote lists with just words.  That is very important.  We allowed them to use the format that makes them successful writers.  Young children progress through different phases in literacy at different paces.  We need to provide them with opportunities and support to become writers.  And you need a purpose to your research.  The ultimate goal that started it all was to connect it to adding our own art to the building.  The students finished their project by painting the different parts of the school.  Yes, it would have been easier to say, "Stacee you paint this, Kathy you paint that, Dalton you paint this."  But where is the learning in that?  Where is the student "ownership?" We were able to go deeper and make connections which is what the Common Core and Language Arts is all about :

Going deeper and making connections to learning
Building vocabulary that is rich and varied
Exposing children to research and creative thinking

And they CAN do it with supports in place.  This post is for Sam from Mrs. Kelly's Klass.  She is a new teacher this year and was wanting advice for the first of school.  She asked that other teachers start posting their procedures on their blogs.  So Sam . . . This one's for you:) I am a quote person and a teacher who likes to make up chants for learning.  So here is a my new quote or mantra for all early childhood teachers to think about when planning any activity.  "The end result is what you prepare for.  Kathy Griffin"  I know that sounds so simple, but true.  Try making a list of what you want your students to accomplish.  Then think of all of the steps required to get there.  And this is for every activity.  See how you can build successful steps for your students to complete the activity.  Start small for success then build their stamina for more. What should it look like?  What should it sound like?  What should it feel like?  Pretty soon you will be a "pro" at classroom management and procedures.

Here is the end result of their research.  What a wonderful way to add to the beautiful artwork in a school that focuses on the "arts." And these students feel even more connected to their learning environment.

Thanks for stopping by.  


  1. That was a really great post! I like how you described exactly what it took to make the experience successful. GREAT!
    Heidi Butkus