by Sarah Forbes, K-1 ELL Teacher at John F. Kennedy Elementary, Winooski School District, Vermont
This year, the Winooski School District’s Family English Classes took on a new project. Women in their third year of after-school English classes explored the world of biography with the goal of writing their own autobiographies. ELL teachers and classroom teachers teamed up to create a year-long project-based learning (PBL) curriculum.
During the fall semester, students read biographies on historical figures. Winooski school libraries provided a variety of reading materials for students at different levels. Students participated in a combination of shared read alouds, independent reading and choral reading. The class explored the characteristics and features of biographies, such as sequential life events written in a timeline, or a central message to a person’s life story. The teachers used elements of responsive classroom, a greeting meeting and team building activity, to create a sense of community in the class and to introduce elements that scaffolded biography work. For example, when discussing how stories often share memories linked to emotions, students could play “feeling” charades to preview vocabulary and assess understanding. While reading, students were encouraged to make connections with text and extend their learning through speaking and writing.
In the second semester, the focus shifted to students creating their own autobiographies. Literacy levels within the
class varied, so much of the preparatory work was oral. As students were asked to tell or write memories from different times in their life, the women found similarities between their tales. Each story showed emotion: sadness, joy, and laughter were all present as students creatively put all of their English vocabulary to use to convey their meaning. All students made incredible effort to put their words on paper, which were typed up into formal autobiographical texts. Teachers asked questions to make writing more detailed and encouraged verbal recounting and peer sharing. In the end, the students published their work into a book, and each student chose one memory to tell for a movie. A public showcase celebrated their hard work.
The women graciously agreed to put their book up for sale in order to help the district raise more money for future family literacy work. If you are interested in supporting this cause, please follow the link.
You can watch the movie on YouTube.