Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Bulbs
Catch Them Thinking
by Eve Pranis
"Early in the year, I suggest classroom plant investigations, model how to develop predictions about what might happen, and help students set them up," reports second grade teacher Diane Gore from Durham, NC.
As time goes on, explains Diane, students take these responsibilities on themselves. "I use a number of means to assess where students are in their understanding and use of inquiry skills." For each GrowLab investigation, for instance, students make scientific booklets. Before beginning a unit or investigation and after participating in a class discussion, students write in their booklets what they know about a topic or concept and questions they have. After planning in small groups, students describe how they'll explore a question and predict what they think might happen. Later, they record relevant data they gather.
"I make time to conference with students while they write in their booklets, and periodically review each one on my own," says Diane. "In doing so, I learn so much about students' thinking, and can readily see where they need more support, with measuring or graphing, for instance."
Diane also captures students engaged as scientists on videotape. "When I review the videos, I can tell which students were engaged and what types of misconceptions students had," she explains. "I might have a follow-up discussion with a group to determine whether students were actually developing concepts." She sometimes has students view selected footage, then document evidence of having met standards, such as "collaborating with others."
"I was given the go-ahead to use our school garden as a context for interdisciplinary learning as long as I managed to address our state standards," reports first grade teacher Kathryn Muzikar-Dull from Newport, VT. With support from a local continuous assessment (and gardening) project, Kathryn learned that by documenting what students are saying and doing while they are engaged in gardening investigations, conversations, writing, and so on, she was able to better tailor learning situations to meet kids' needs. And because she presented her teaching and learning goals in relation to the standards, she and her students had clear and up-front targets for teaching, learning, documenting, and assessing.
Using child-appropriate language, Kathryn shares these targets with the class, models them, and engages students in making the standards "their own." For instance, the class might discuss, brainstorm, and post on a chart what's entailed in "being a good observer," then routinely use that as a reference throughout the year.