For students at Atrium, the third grade year is one of significant transition. With the days of “Choice Time” in the second grade receding in the rear view mirror, third graders face a more rigorous set of academic challenges and the responsibilities of daily homework. They are increasingly conscious of growing gender differences and how they appear to others, complicating the process of learning to work better in small and large groups. We challenge third graders to realize that they can break away from their core group of friends and successfully collaborate on projects to produce excellent work.
Cooperation, compromise, and caring carry the day, as we use role playing, discussions, and games to build bonds with each other and to reinforce acceptance of all people. As we emphasize awareness of how actions affect others, students learn to take responsibility for their actions and the choices that they make.
Third Grade Theme: "What Is a Community?"
Thematic study is a way of focusing all aspects of children’s education at the Atrium into a central idea. This interdisciplinary focus allows all kinds of learners to develop skills and experience success in their academic lives. Throughout the year, students have opportunities to share their work with their community and make connections between their learning and the world around them.
Our theme in third grade centers around the question “What Is a Community?” Grade 3, alongside Grade 2, continues to study this question through the lenses of our classroom community, our school community, and the larger communities that make up our world. We build off of the second grade’s study of “What Is a Human Being?” to explore the similarities, differences, and types of connections among people in a community. We look at the many different roles in a community, how our strengths and interests–as well as our challenges–can inform the roles we choose, and how each role is important in creating a safe, peaceful, and functioning community. Through this we seek to instill a sense of respect and appreciation for the diversity among us.
We explore these questions through a variety of hands-on, cooperative learning projects both in the classroom as well as outside of the school. In these projects, students are asked to look through the lens of what makes a community successful to identify factors that add positively to–or detract from–the success of a communal venture.
In addition, third grade students have multiple opportunities to be community leaders in their own right, such as by mentoring younger students, which helps children see ways to create positive change in the world around them.
In Writer’s Workshop, children write about topics that they choose from a list of guiding suggestions. We help them to think about events, activities, people, or places that they know well and topics that interest them. Students share their stories with friends to get suggestions. This is a time when students can share their works-in-progress with a part of the class to get feedback. Teachers confer individually with children to help both with story construction and with the mechanics of writing at the level at which the child is working. These conferences inform mini-lessons and provide useful opportunities to individually assess the creative and mechanical aspects of each child’s writing. Grade-level-specific sets of expectations inform our work with all of the third grade writers.
Reader’s Workshop begins with the entire class gathered in the meeting area for a mini- lesson. During each mini-lesson we explicitly teach word solving and reading comprehension strategies. We discuss how to choose books that we will enjoy; genres, series, and authors; what kinds of writing make us want to keep reading; how to give a book a good chance; and how to know when it is time to put a book down and choose another. We study literary fiction, various kinds of non-fiction, and poetry, nurturing and celebrating connection to reading.
All of our lessons are designed to teach children to be “good readers.” Good readers read for meaning, and use a wide variety of strategies to solve words. They learn to tell which books are “just right” for them. They reread sections that don’t make sense in the first reading and ask for help as they need it so that they always understand what is going on. After the day’s mini-lesson, the children go to their special reading spots, where they read independently from books that they have chosen and keep in their classroom book bins. This quiet stretch of time to read is something many children look forward to, and is a crucial part of becoming a strong, independent reader. During this time we confer with individual students and keep track of their progress, making sure that they have “just right” books that hold their interest and teaching reading strategies.
Third graders are also part of reading groups throughout the year. Reading groups are small groups that meet to read the same book together. These groups are made up of children who are at similar reading levels or who have in common the need to learn a particular strategy. Much of the sharing and discussion in these groups mirrors that of adult book groups, and we purposefully choose books that we think each group will find engaging.
During Word Work, the class engages in becoming word solvers and learning how the English language works. Word Work is a time of direct instruction as well as practice games. As much as possible, we try to make Word Work interactive and fun. As in other subject areas, our lessons and expectations are informed by specific grade level benchmarks, as well as by our knowledge of each child and where he or she needs extra practice or challenge.
Third graders work on a special research and writing project, R.A.P.P., during some Writer’s and Reader’s Workshop times in the first semester. R.A.P.P. stands for “Researching Amazing People (Places, or Things) Project.” By the end of this project they:
• Know a lot more about their chosen topic
• Have lots of practice picking out what is important as they read, and writing down useful notes
• Know what a paragraph is and how to write one
• Know how to take other people’s ideas and put them into their own words
• Know how to use writing style and layout to get others interested in and excited about their topic
Upon finishing their projects, students share their knowledge with classmates. Each student’s oral presentation is accompanied by a visual presentation such as a poster, book, diorama, or skit.
Math is taught in a workshop model similar to those used for reading and writing. We use the Investigations math curriculum developed by Technical Education Research Center (TERC). Children come together in their math meeting area to discuss a mathematical concept and then work individually or in small groups on an activity or problem that is appropriate for their level of understanding. Sometimes this means that children work on the same problem and extend it according to their abilities. Other times, there are two or three choices of math problems that range in level of difficulty. Much of our math work is done in a hands-on way, with materials available for use throughout math times. The group comes back together toward the end of the math hour to share ideas and strategies and to summarize the work done that day.
We cover specific areas of physical science as they relate to our overall theme, “What Is a Community?” We begin the year by learning about the scientific process, which hones the students’ abilities to make observations, ask questions, and perform experiments. They later apply these strategies during our soil and weather units. During the soil unit, students investigate the properties of soil by working with sand, clay, and humus. During our weather unit, students make predictions about the weather in their own environment and compare and contrast their predictions to those of a local meteorologist. Related geography is also incorporated into these studies.
Homework folders are sent home with third graders every Monday to be brought back on Friday. Students have four nights to practice spelling, fill out their reading logs, and complete any additional homework.
Third grade requirements include weekly spelling sheets, memorization of spelling words, thirty minutes of reading twice a week, a journal entry, and a math page. Extra credit is offered for students who enjoy the challenge of more independent work, and children are able to decide if they want to do the extra credit on a week-by-week basis.